As photographers, we work with light. It is the basis of our work and it is what sets a great photo apart from a mediocre one. Just having light isn’t enough. You need to have quality light. My favorite kind of light takes on a warm glow. It oozes across the frame as if it were made of honey. This week, we’ll explore a photo by Scott Baldock, Lighthouse, which was created with some great light.
The Golden Hour – that time of day just before sunset – has long been a favorite time for landscape photographers. It is the warmest sunlight available to you throughout the day, and it can change the feel of the scene. It paints the lighthouse in shades of pink, orange and gold. I’m personally a fan of the directionality of the light, which helps to add a great deal of depth to the scene. Textures are enhanced by directional light. This is most apparent in the lighthouse siding; the face with the window reveals more about the vertical slats than any other face because of the angle of the light. As the light skims across the shallows, the ridges of soil are highlighted on just one edge, revealing more about the texture of the ground plane. If you can imagine the sun high in the sky hitting this landscape, shadows would be minimized and the scene would be flat. The siding of the lighthouse wouldn’t pop, the ridges in the sand wouldn’t be as apparent, and the photo wouldn’t be as powerful. It’s not hard light either; it wraps around things the same way a softbox would in a portrait. The secret behind soft light is the size of the light source. At sunset or sunrise, the entire horizon lights up, making the largest light source imaginable. See how the left (back) side of the lighthouse is still lit? Clearly, the light is much dimmer and far less direct than the opposite side, but the light soft, warm and present.
I feel Scott has found balance in Lighthouse between the structure and the rippled sand in the foreground. These elements are polar opposites as they are placed within the photo. But consider how this scene would play off without the sunset. The rippled sand wouldn’t even be a factor. I don’t know how Scott planned this shot, but I don’t suspect he happened upon this scene at this specific moment and just managed to get the shot. There is too much evidence in his other works to suggest that Scott completely planned this shot. I am sure Scott was on the scene well before sunset. Maybe he wandered into the scene and saw the potential, set up and just waited for the sun to get into position. Perhaps he planned the shot at a familiar location with researched sunset times. It’s possible that Scott visited this site several times to get the light just right. The process doesn’t really matter, but his vision does. It was Scott’s vision that saw more than just the lighthouse here. He saw a potential for a well balanced shot at sunset with the play between the structure and the rippled sand. This is the result of a great vision. And Scott’s vision included the best quality light he could find.
Scott Baldock is a landscape and architectural photographer. He has a great deal of patience and it shows in his photographs. Each and every one of his photos effectively illustrates how Scott builds his photos. Maybe he’s layering together a number of techniques to get the shot. Or maybe a certain photo is a product of research and multiple visits. Regardless, the results are impressive. You can find more examples of Scott’s photographic skill on Flickr or at his personal website.