Untitled by Ash Kapoor (Or Taming the Sun)

Untitled by Ash Kapoor

Untitled by Ash Kapoor

Nothing tops natural light.  Whether your subject is a beautiful model or one of the largest Ferris wheels in Europe, the earth’s largest light source does not disappoint.  Of course Europe’s largest Ferris wheel happens to be the London Eye, the subject of this week’s inspiring photograph.  Ash Kapoor is the talented photographer behind this shot, and he clearly demonstrates that the sun provides the best light available.

Sun is not an easy light source to tame.  It’s not like your studio strobes that can be modified with an umbrella or a snoot.  You can’t control it’s intensity, it’s softness or otherwise.  You must bend to the will of the sun and if you expect to get any quality out of its light, you can only wait and be patient.  We have a few tricks up our sleeves.  We have the sunset and sunrise where we can at least predict to some extent the quality of the light – assuming the weather holds up.  There are tools that help us find the sunset and sunrise, and we can get moderately accurate weather forecasts in the palm of our hands these days.  But there are still going to be a lot that we cannot predict.  I’ll reiterate:  Natural light requires a lot of trial and error, a lot of waiting and a lot of patience.

But nothing can match the quality of natural light, especially with such a large subject.

So let’s get back to Ash’s photograph.  The composition of the shot is formal but playful with the London Eye as the terminus to a formal allée of trees.  Timing is perfect:  The time of day puts the sun in an ideal location vertically, just below the visible skyline.  But it’s the time of year that places it in an ideal location horizontally.  Sometimes that wouldn’t be an issue with a single element, but with the allée, horizontal placement is major factor.  Every aspect about this composition is formal except for the slight tilt of the camera; the playful aspect.  It pulls the London Eye off to the left side slightly, and I feel that it cements itself as the anchor of the image.  But even with all of this excellent composition, we still don’t have the powerful photo without the natural light.

I don’t believe that Ash happened upon this shot.  Maybe he planned every aspect of the shot, or maybe he took several shot from and around this vantage point during the course of a few hours and this was the shot that clicked in during post-processing.  When dealing with the sun as your light source, your plan can be specific, or it can be vague.  But you need that plan.  You must have some semblance of an idea of how you want to frame and set up the shot before the light source gets into place.  Because once it’s in place, you really don’t have that much time.  I suspect that Ash fully intended this to be a sunset shot for the back-lighting of the London Eye. It faces west, so that is a no-brainer.  But the quality of the light at sunset is full of nice warm tones.  Back-lighting increases the contrast which can really drain the shot of color.  However, the light source is a setting sun, which licks this scene with it’s yellow light. This is when we realize that the light is the true focus of the shot.  The V-shaped wedge of the tree canopies and the golden path of light converges into the distance, terminated by our subject, the London Eye.  And all of this has been made possible by the sun, our largest and most favorite light source.

Ash Kapoor hails from London, UK.  His works follows a travel photographer’s style featuring a mix of architecture, cultural portraits and landscapes.  So natural light is the core of his works, and it shows.  Whether his subject is a street performer, a carnival ride or a landmark building, his patience shows through in the quality of light in each shot.  So if you would like to learn more about natural light, or if you would simply like to be inspired, you should be following Ash Kapoor’s photostream on Flickr.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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