Sunday, February 26, 2017

Just Follow the Light

A slow shutter speed blurs the white ibis wings, giving this well-lit scene an abstract quality.

Most of the time, I go out to photograph something specific; birds, waterscapes, spiders. But sometimes, I have no specific subject in mind. Recently, I spent a morning chasing only the light, with no particular subject in mind. I began the morning on Biscayne Bay, minutes before sunrise. The sky was mostly cloudy, dampening the sun light. Not exactly the colors I was hoping for, but there was an appealing subtlety to it. Using long exposures (greater than 30 sec), I attempted to capture the moody scene with some details in the clouds and foreground rocks. I pointed the lens to the left of the sun instead of directly toward it. In this way, the available side light added dramatic textures to the clouds and their reflections.

With enough angled sun light, clouds can appear dramatic; the reflections are a bonus.

It can be argued that light is the most important element in photography. This makes sense to me because the way I approach photography is by seeking out the "best" light in my subject. I am not sure how to define best light, except to say that I know it when I see it. On this particular morning, I wasn't focused on any one subject, although with Biscayne Bay spread out in front of me, it commanded the morning. But then at one point, the light behind me grabbed my attention. As the sun rose over the water to the east, behind me was a scene of brilliance that otherwise would not have gotten a second glance. The clouds broke just enough to allow a warm glow to bath the palm trees. I turned my back on the water and examined the trees through the viewfinder and began composing. Seconds later, clouds covered the sun and the brilliant light was no more. I turned back to the water.

These cabbage palms just light up with the warm glow of the morning sun.

In the meantime, white ibises were flying across the cloud-covered sky, punctuating the whiteness with their flight formations. Using a relatively slow shutter speed (1/60), I captured them with some blur on the wings. By that time, the combination of sun light and clouds offered pastel colors to add to the fanciful flight of the ibis (top photo).

Soon, the birds were gone and I had worn out my welcome at Biscayne Bay. I headed to another location with an idea of recapturing black vulture silhouettes in the Australian pine trees. I wanted to create more images similar to this one, but with a variety of bird poses, including some spread out wings.

If only that bird had spread its wings.
Unfortunately, the vultures were not there that morning, but something else presented itself. A few killdeer were in the water-covered parking lot. Trees reflected on the water and this looked beautiful. No one was there, just me standing in an empty parking lot with a few small shorebirds. It was an easy scene to ignore or disregard. The skittish tiny birds were too far away from me to fill the frame. But, the light on the water was attractive and I didn't care that it was on a parking lot. I stayed with the unassuming killdeer long enough to witness a few fly in, such as this one.

Glad to have captured some action on the water, but I probably would not have tried without the beautiful reflections appearing on the water.

I drove out of the park toward the main entrance. Before leaving, something distracted me. It was just a tri-colored heron standing next to a small pond, but it looked so beautiful in the morning light. I parked the car and walked to the pond. I stood on the ground that was slightly higher than where the bird stood next to the water. I saw an opportunity and got on my belly. I wanted to isolate the bird's profile by adding out-of-focus grasses to the foreground. I waited for the bird to move it's head so that the sun light captured its red eye. I have captured so many heron profiles over the years, so seeking out another one is not a priority. But when I have a well-lit profile against a natural background and foreground, I don't mind adding another to the list.

I love to isolate a bird and the out-of-focus grasses help to emphasize the bird's profile.

Later, I came home and while downloading the morning shots, I stepped outside and noticed something rather interesting. Hundreds of tiny tadpoles were swimming in the pond behind my house. It was irresistible. The sun was high and at an angle. I attached a polarizer filter to the macro lens and set out to capture the tadpoles. Totally unexpected, I spent about 30 minutes or so composing various scenes of an unlikely subject.

Chasing these tadpoles through the messiness of a pond was challenging.
I think what impressed me most about that morning is how most of the shots taken were unexpected and varied. But they all had one thing in common; the best light.

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