Good pictures in bad light
Regularly photographing in natural light, it is not difficult to notice that a really good light (not abundant, but good) is a frustratingly rare phenomenon. Let’s be honest: beautiful lighting lasts no more than a couple of hours a day, and then provided that you are lucky with the weather. Every photographer who shoots mostly outdoors knows how important it is to choose the right time for shooting and how long it sometimes takes to wait for suitable weather conditions. Unfortunately, this is almost the only reliable way to create any outstanding landscape photos: first you explore a potentially photogenic place, and then you try long and hard to find it in the most favorable light. Sometimes we are lucky, and the circumstances immediately turn out the best, and sometimes the wait can last for years. The problem is that you do not always have the opportunity to return to an interesting location again and again. It’s good if you live nearby. And what if you are traveling with a group to some beautiful places, saw something worth shooting, but the light, as luck would have it, leaves much to be desired? In most cases, no one will agree to stop for the sake of your whim and wait for favorable conditions for shooting, despite the fact that you may not have another chance to be in this place. It’s a shame? Not the right word. But don’t be discouraged. I will tell you about some simple techniques that will not allow you to forget about the differences between good and bad light, but at least will not allow you to return home empty-handed.
First of all, let’s define what we consider bad light. We are not talking about a lack of light. Just the same weak light is sometimes very beautiful-take a tripod and shoot. By bad lighting, I mean situations where the amount of light we are quite satisfied with, but its quality causes certain complaints. That is, technically, shooting is quite possible, but photos with annoying persistence are quite dull. There are, by and large, two such situations: a cloudy sky and a bright midday sun. Both situations are unpleasant in their own way, but at the same time, neither of them is an insurmountable obstacle to successful photography. Let’s look at them in more detail.
For a temperate continental climate, cloud cover is the norm rather than a deviation from it. For example, in Belarus, the sky is covered with clouds for more than half of the days of the year, and if the summer can still be more or less Sunny, then a dozen clear days rarely occur during the winter. There is nothing to say about the North-Western regions of Russia – there the sun is shown only on holidays and then with great reluctance. Does this mean that most of the year is unsuitable for photography? Not at all. Clouds are not a hindrance to a good photographer-you just need to show a little diligence.
Watch the sky
The most boring element of the landscape in cloudy weather is usually the sky. Not only is the sky covered with whitish clouds not too aesthetically pleasing in itself, but it also creates difficulties with exposure. Being much brighter than the actual landscape, the cloudy sky forces you to resort to one of two extremes: either to exhibit across the sky, severely underexposing the landscape, or to exhibit across the landscape and get the inevitable clipping in the sky area. Worst of all, when there is a lake or river in the frame. In this case, the faded sky and its reflection take up most of the image, making the viewer feel bored and hypochondriac.
Example of poor lighting
A good example of a bad photo
The problem is solved quite straightforwardly. Usually in cloudy weather, I try to simply avoid getting the sky in the frame, although this greatly limits my choice of angle, and sometimes it is not possible at all. The easiest way to exclude the sky from the composition in a mountainous or hilly area. It is much more difficult with open flat landscapes.
By the way, in cloudy weather, you should not get too carried away with wide-angle optics – using a telephoto lens is much easier to build a selective composition and not accidentally capture a piece of the sky (See also “Focal length and perspective”).
In cases where a reservoir is an important element of the image, you can use a polarizing filter to get rid of the whitish reflection. The water will darken, and the image will acquire some volume.
Of course, there are enough exceptions to any rule. For example, the presence of fog reduces the contrast between the sky and the earth, so that the sky seems to merge with the fog and looks quite organic.
Winter snow-covered landscapes also sometimes look very good in cloudy weather, especially if the tree branches are densely covered with frost.
Nesvizh Park in winter
In addition, there are quite frequent cases when the sky, although covered with clouds, but these clouds, first, are quite dark in tone, and secondly, are not monotonous, but create a kind of relief pattern. Such a sky usually foreshadows rain or snowfall and looks interesting enough to let it into the frame.
Cloudy weather is a great reason to go to the forest. For shooting almost most of the forest scenes, the lack of direct sunlight is not a hindrance, but a help, because with the sun disappears and so common in the forest diversity, from which ripples in the eyes. Reducing the overall contrast is valuable at least in that it allows you to identify the local contrast, the variety of small details and the delicate play of light and shade, which in Sunny weather simply drown in a mix of shadows and sunbeams. In addition, it is much easier to keep the sky out of the frame in the depths of the forest than in the open.
Especially attractive on a cloudy day is shooting forest rivers and waterfalls. Here, the abundance of solar glare is absolutely useless, and the lack of lighting is only to our advantage, because if you have a tripod, the forest twilight allows you to increase the shutter speed with impunity, achieving a beautiful blur of water flows.
In search of color
Photos taken in cloudy weather, in some cases, may be no less colorful than images taken on a Sunny day. The colors become softer and more delicate, but they can maintain a high saturation. After the rain, the greens and flowers look the most juicy and fresh. About autumn forests and parks, there is nothing to say – the richness of color is available to the photographer regardless of the weather.