I once heard photography described as “the art of bending light to your will”. I have always felt it was somewhat the opposite – that it is in fact the art of making the best of what nature (and physics) provides, of working *with* the light. This viewpoint has shaped my photographic style from the proverbial Day One.
Different photographers have different approaches to light. Some prefer the 100% controllable environment of an indoor studio, some prefer to use natural light but modify the scene through the use of reflectors and flashes, and still others eschew artificial light entirely or nearly so.
I fall into that last category. I do own a good flash, and it does get used on rare occasions (dark, nighttime indoor work), but for the most part I really prefer to try and find ways to work with the light available to me. Often times, I really have to work to get a good shot. Other times, mother nature provides lighting so spectacular that it’s hard to take a bad shot. I had one of those days while shooting this past weekend on Maryland’s eastern shore.
This past weekend I accompanied Marc to Providence Farm, an 18th century farmhouse that is being renovated and turned into a private residence. The Queen Anne’s County Historical Society had asked for reenactors to come and act, essentially, as set dressing during a fundraiser hosted at the site, and Marc and a few other members of the Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment gladly obliged. As the afternoon wore on, I noticed that the light was starting to do some unusual things, and lo and behold, by the time that our demonstration time was over, the light was the stuff of photographer dreams. Dark semi-stormclouds darkened the sky overhead, while the rays from the sunset pierced through at the edges, bathing the ground in a beautiful golden light and tinting the clouds with whole swaths of purple.
Here is what resulted:
I am forever indebted to Marc and our friend Kurt for putting up with me clicking away incessantly for the 15-20 minutes that the light lasted, and I am extremely pleased with the shots that I got. As I was editing them, I felt like rolling around on the floor with joy like a dog with a ham bone. The best thing about good light is that it makes editing so much faster, because there’s less of it to do. Shockingly, these shots are only minimally edited – a little boost to the saturation and some occasional dodging (lightening) of the faces is all I did. All of these shots were taken with no artificial lighting – no flash, no reflector, nothing. For the shots facing into the sun (such as the last two), the house was behind my shoulder acting, for all intents and purposes, like a giant, if subtle, reflector. I used the terrain and my surroundings to make the best use of the glorious spectacle that mother nature had already provided. I’m just glad I had my camera!