It’s about the light. Any photographer will tell you that. As soon as you get beyond the concept of composition, you start to look at the qualities that really impact your perception of a photo. Light isn’t enough. What you really need is good quality light. In a studio, that’s easy enough to control. But outside where the wild light lives, you really need to bend to nature’s schedule. You really need to plan around the best times of day to get that great warm light. To demonstrate how important that really is, I bring you Doug Waggoner’s photo, Pyramids II.
For comparison, I’d like to also link to another one of Doug’s shots, Pyramids,which was taken in the morning. Pyramids II, shown above, was taken near sunset. Though the framing on both photos is slightly different, the angle of the shots is roughly the same. Comparing the two photos really gives you a great idea of how much the light changes the quality of the photo. I prefer Pyramids II, but each can easily stand on its own as an inspiring photo.
The reason I prefer Pyramids II has to do with both with the directionality of the light and the color. In the morning, the peaks of those buildings are in full-sun, and shadows are cast across two of the structures. From this perspective in the evening, the peaks and the right faces of each building is in shade, which makes the forward faces of the building really stand out. It’s a geometric repetition (the building block we refer to as pattern). That element alone anchors the image quite well. But then we get the pattern mirrored in the textured water. But the element that really pulls everything together is the warm glow of the setting sun.
The setting sun is powerful. As the atmosphere bends the light spectrum, it shifts the color temperature of the sun from the white mid-day sun to warm tones. This brings out a lot of color in an otherwise colorless world. But not everything will reflect warm colors so readily, and this creates a bit of a surreal look to an architectural shot such as Pyramids II. The blue glass of the building doesn’t reflect the sun so well; and so the glass appears grey. The pale skin of the building, on the other hand renders the stonework in a much deeper, warmer tone than it would in full sun. Of course when it comes to the sky, nothing is more dramatic than the rising or setting sun, especially as it is reflected in the water.
My point is that time of day really makes a difference in the quality of your outdoor photos. A site that would seem bland and boring mid-day will be far more dramatic at sunrise or sunset. The directionality of the light is what will ultimately impact your decision to shoot at sunrise or sunset. Each will have a slightly different effect, despite the similarities in the quality of light. But such time and effort – and whatever caffeine that would be required – is absolutely worth it.
Doug Waggoner is no stranger to the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Pool. In fact, we’ve featured one of his photos, Bluffs Barn, here before. Doug shoots a lot of architecture and travel-style photography. His focus on the quality of light – especially in his evening shots – is inspiring. I would greatly recommend you spend some more time with Doug’s photostream if you haven’t already.