Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photographers and the sun

click photo to enlarge
Photographers love the sun. Look at any gallery of outdoor images produced by a group of amateurs or professionals and you'll usually find the majority (often a big majority) were taken in sunlight. The colour, contrast and feel that it brings to a photograph are clearly the qualities that attract us. So alluring is the visual "punch" that sunlight brings to an image, many are given to boosting the saturation to make their shots even more eye-catching. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether a photographic equivalent of the arms race has begun in the past ten years or so, as photographers push the boundary of what is deemed acceptable saturation ever further, perhaps responding to the glowing colours of competition-winning images, and those that are feted in magazines, newspapers and online.

I was thinking about this as I processed a few shots of Lincolnshire's South Forty Foot Drain, a watercourse with origins dating back to the 1630s, that I took during the recent hoar frost. The top photograph was taken after I'd walked a little way along the bank. I was captivated by the way the frost subdued the colours, giving them a blue/green/grey cast that I found very attractive, so I used the sharp outlines of the fence, gate and stock-pen as a middle-ground point of interest and composed this image. Then I walked on, through the open gate, and started to compose another shot using a piece of eroded bank as foreground interest. As I looked through the viewfinder a shaft of sunlight passed across the area in front of me. It worked its magic on the exposed soil, giving it a deeper, redder colour, made the frozen surface of the water more reflective, and changed the colour of the grass and frost that it rested on - it transformed the scene.

I imagine that if asked to choose which of the two images they liked best, most people would nominate the one that is partly sunlit. I like it for the qualities that I cite above. Yet, to my mind the first image is preferable for reasons that are both photographic and personal. I like the muted colours that stretch completely across the image of the first shot and the way they support the feel of the coldness of the day: they tell the story better. The sun, I feel, brings an unwarranted lift to the scene in the second shot: a note of gaiety where none is required. You might argue that both are accurate reflections of the scene as it presented itself to me, and that is of course, true. However, my recollection of the time I spent here is better reflected in the first image. It says "cold" so much better! I'm aware that this is an unfair comparison: the same shot, both with and without the sun's presence would be better. But, hey, sometimes you have to work with what you've got!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 70mm
F No: 7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On