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Look Behind You. You may get a better picture.

May 9, 2012

We all know the importance of perfect light when photographing landscapes, or cities when travelling. Those transient magic moments when the light is just perfect and the picture almost takes itself. The sun peeping through the clouds after a storm, that intense sunset, or sunrise sparkling on the water.

However, what happens when you book that trip of a lifetime, arrive and it rains the whole time, or the legendary sunsets just don’t happen? The universal comment is “You should have been here last week, the ……. was the best we’ve ever seen!” Hmmm! Should you leave your camera in the bag and hit the bar? Go home? Extend your stay until the light is just right?

Emphatically NO! NO! NO! Go out and shoot! Modern cameras can handle conditions undreamed of 5 years ago. Fast lenses, increased ISO, flexible white balance, low noise.

On a trip to New Zealand, I set up my camera and waited, (and waited) for a sunset that ended up not being spectacular. The clouds were wrong, the intensity just wasn’t there.
Bored and disheartened, I turned around and behind me, the trees and rocks were bathed in a velvety golden glow. I photographed them instead. Close-ups, distance, mid ground. I ended up with a magnificent set of totally unexpected photographs. Not what I’d intended. Far, far better.

I was admiring some recent work by a landscape client of mine. “They’re brilliant.” “Congratulations.” I exclaimed. “They weren’t what I went for” he replied. He told me he had climbed up a particularly difficult rocky outcrop to photograph an expansive scene, but the light was wrong and the vista was flat. He remembered what I had said and looked behind him. Amazing contrast, a spectacular sky and some great shots.


FOOTNOTE: I would extend the advice to look down, and look beside you as well. The real message is flexibility. If things aren’t as you expect, look around. You will end up with a better result.

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