Everyone has probably heard by now that the best times to shoot landscapes and wildlife are early morning or late afternoon to evening. The best light is at sunrise and for two to three hours thereafter, or two to three hours before and including sunset. So armed with that knowledge, many photographers will check the forecast the night before a scheduled sunrise shoot. If the weather looks like it will be overcast and dreary they will opt to stay in bed and sleep through it; after all, the light won’t yield anything special. I don’t subscribe to that theory. Every sunrise and every sunset will yield something — you just have to look for it.
I remember shooting this scene a couple of winters ago in Alberta while I was on a photography vacation. The morning was as dreary as you could imagine, and cold — the perfect recipe for staying in a nice, warm bed and dreaming about beautifully lit mountain peaks during a perfect sunrise. Today this was not to be, so I gathered my gear, as did the other photographers in our group, and we made the best of it. We were shooting Abraham Lake during sunrise. We arrived at the lake in the dark, chose our locations and prepared for the sunrise. Did I mention it was cold, and dark, and dreary? Yeah. Real nice. Why was I here again? Oh yeah, making something work, no matter what. Part of the process was to get out of this mood and begin enjoying what good ol’ Mother Nature had prepared for us. Once I did this I began to see. The dreary sight became converging lines in the clouds. Then I began seeing in my favourite compositional shape, the triangle. I composed my shot with several triangles in mind. Can you see them? Now this was coming together for me.
Sure, the light was not super-magical, but it was pure and clean and as crisp as the cold morning air. The ice had a beautiful turquoise cast to it, which played nicely off the browns in my foreground. To finish off my scene the shadowy mountains in the distance provided a mood, which was echoed in the clouds. A winner? It is for me.
Sometimes large landscape vistas may not speak to you, and you just don’t feel the moment. In times like that I change my perspective and shoot something more intimate and close up. Take this image, for example. I isolated the ice and the water, creating a juxtaposition of hard, static ice and moving water. To further accentuate this juxtaposition, I used a slow shutter speed on the water to give it that soft feel.
I also used a polarizing filter, which made the water darker by removing the glare. My image then had the elements I was after – hard vs. soft, static vs. movement and light vs. dark. This image was originally shot in colour, but I changed it to black and white to further tell my story.