Nature/landscape photographers tend to become creatures of the twilight.  It only makes sense, seeing as the light is best for those few soft hours at the start and end of the day.  Mid-day is shunned as shooting time and is instead given over to other necessities – breakfast (pancakes!), editing, and siestas.  And for the most part, this is a reasonable setup, since mid-day light does tend to be hard, contrasty, and a bit flat.

But what the hell…sometimes it’s fun to tilt at windmills.

Basically I was bored yesterday afternoon and, being my last Friday off for a while, I felt obligated to do something fun with it.  Fun=camera in hand, so gathered up some little used gear and rode out to face the noontime sun.  The photo above is one of the better results, and one of the few photos that survived review.In reality there’s no reason why you can’t shoot during mid-day, it’s just not advised.  The odds are less in your favor and success is going to require a bit more work.  For the shot above, I parked the tripod-mounted 7D + 17-35L almost on top of the goldenrod, down at about kneeling height.  Landscape photography benefits from having subject matter in both the foreground and background; in this case the idea was to anchor the foreground with the plants and give the impression of peering through them to the mountain beyond.  The sense of distance is greatly aided by the line of clouds in the sky.

I’m shooting f/11 to keep everything in focus and I’m using both mirror lock-up and the 2-second self-timer to avoid any camera shake.  Got two filters in place, too: a circular polarizer (CP) and a graduated ND.  It’s that combination that makes it possible to balance the sky exposure with the rest of the shot.  It’s also the cause of the rather intense blue at the very top.  I could write it off as “artsy,” but it bugs me.  The fact that I kind of like it bugs me more.

Essentially the same setup here, although shot from a higher vantage point.  This shot got a bit more post-processing to make it behave (more to come on that soon), but even so it suffers just a little from that typical mid-day flatness.  There’s contrast in the scene, but it falls just short of being enough.  Yet try and kick it up in Photoshop and suddenly you’re back on planet Velvia.  The trick is trying to find just the right balance between too much saturation and too little contrast.

Or you can simply duck under some cover and try to hide from the sun:

I always think of dappled forest scenes as having “shotgun light.”  Sure, there’s plenty of nicely diffused shadow, but mixed in is that shotgun spatter of sunlight that makes it through.  And there just ain’t no way you’re gonna’ balance them.  From here it becomes a creative choice: do you shoot for the highlights and let the shadows become black holes, or try the opposite and accept a few blown-0ut spots?

The shot above is clearly the later, and the mid-image blow-outs catch the eye more than I’d like.  I used the grad ND filter here as well, even though there’s no clear horizon to work with.  Instead, I aligned it so that the gradation kicked in at about the same place where the focus began to fall off, compliments of f/3.2.

This is the time to set the WB to Shade, although if you study my image, you may notice that the white balance is still ever so slightly off.  That’s the filter’s fault – in addition to the CP and grad ND, I threw on a 1-stop ND as well.  No real reason for it, I was just playing around.  Turns out that stacking three filters gets you a strange red cast throughout the photo – and processing the red away leaves you with super-saturated greens.  Even after a lot of tweaking, it’s subtly out of whack.

And that’s what you get for playing in the mid-day light.  It’s certainly possible to make images, but it’s a challenge.  The next time you’ve got a free afternoon, give it a try.  Better yet, shoot in the afternoon and then come back again as the magic light starts and compare the two images.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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