The steep hill behind me faces north, and in the dead of winter the sun never clears the hill to shine on my house. But now, a month well past the equinox, it has crept north enough to slant through my oak trees. With glorious spring rains the light glows through the grass.
Capturing light is one of the hardest photographic challenges and yields some of the most exciting photos when you can find something special. I love shooting with backlight – shooting into the sun, to capture the glow. The biggest challenge is not lens flare, or the contrast, or the washed out color. All these can create mood if done with intention. The challenge is to know what mood to capture because the camera meter will not help you.
A camera meter is calibrated to produce “average” exposure. It will read all the light values in the frame and combine the information to equal a neutral gray. Ever wondered why a snow scene comes back gray ? The camera meter thinks it is seeing something that is neutral gray. Unless the photographer over-rides this and uses manual controls to correct the exposure, the meter will faithfully make every frame a mix of tones that equals average gray.
When there are dramatic differences between the bright and dark areas, such as backlit landscape scenes, the photographer really has to know what to tell the meter. Manual controls are a must (or a good knowledge of PhotoShop). In this case I felt all kinds of moods. I took many exposures as a cop-out.
My first mood I felt was being pulled out of the shadowy woods into the light of the setting sun. I underexposed the settings my meter suggested, knowing the “average” setting in the first frame (at the top of this post) would not accent the shadows enough to set the mood.
But as I stood there for a moment, feeling the wonderful power of the sun, the light surrounded me. I overexposed my camera and let the light dominate the mood.
Now that I have several very different photos, I am still not sure which one I like: drama ? light ? rich ? airy? I should be more decisive, finish this photo, and move on. Hmmmm. I put off my decision while I look at other photos I took this afternoon.
In the grass, on the far right past a Madrone tree, are the native Grass Iris (I. macrosiphon) only a few inches tall. I literally stopped dead in my tracks when I saw their glorious blue. They are new to my hill this year. I will play with my flower picture and let you guys decide which sunset photo has the strongest mood.