Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Revisiting the back-lit landscape

I've written a bit about how a particular type of back lighting - rim light - can emphasize a subject. For portraits of people, this can add a very nice accent, as long as there is a suitable pattern of main light for the direction of the face. For horses, with their manes and tails, it may even work with only a little skylight for fill.

For landscapes, side light is often ideal, because it emphasizes textures, whereas front lighting - the sun directly behind the photographer's back, tends to be boring. Front lighting equals flat lighting, with minimal shadows and not much to add interest.

Full back lighting can be tricky to capture with a camera. The sun is in the field of view, perhaps even close to the center. If it is almost hidden by clouds, then really the light diffused by the clouds and approaching from many directions becomes almost as strong as whatever portion of the sunlight gets through directly. When the full intensity of the sun is aimed at the lens and the sun is part of the picture, it is hard to compete!

One way to deal with this super brilliant light source, while taking advantage of the pattern of shadows it paints on the land, is to arrange to have a natural object in place as a block. Trees are obvious choices for this role. In winter (even the not-so-icy winter we've experienced this year in the NC piedmont), deciduous trees become very bare, and don't help much as light flags, unless there is a trunk or very thick bough available.

So, on to this afternoon's photo. I revisited, yet again, a spot near the Schenck Memorial Forest that I have used as a photographer's playground several times recently. My happiest catch was spotting the shadows cast by the sun directly in front of me. The shadows of the tree reached toward me, and worked together with the curving dirt road to make nice leading lines. The textures of the grass and the roof of the shack were also emphasized by the light. What made it all possible was that the sun was sufficiently blocked by an intersection of two boughs of the tree. When clouds were in front of the sun, the scene lost its interest. While the sun was in the clear, yet blocked from the camera lens, everything came together.

Here is the result.

[17 mm tilt/shift lens, shifted upward ~7 mm]


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