BRIGHT, MID-DAY SUN

Photographers live for the sweet light. The early morning or late afternoon light that is so flattering to even the worst subjects. A lot of us even like the light left after the sun goes down. It makes for very long exposures but has a look and feeling that can’t be described. At just the right time, everything seems to glow.

If we photograph in the middle of the day it’s usually out of necessity. Fill flash helps with people and open shade softens the blow. Most photographers don’t go looking for it. I live in Texas and photograph a lot in the Southwest and we get used to hot, blazing sunlight. It’s almost a shame not to photograph because it is part of our landscape and can be made to work in our favor.

EssexI made the photograph above just off Route 66 in the California desert. There aren’t a lot of people living in Essex, but it does have a tire shop that can repair trailer tires that pop in the heat. It’s one of the few instance where I take a picture in bright, harsh sunlight, but it also made me think a little of the conditions and the result.

If you live in Texas, California, Nevada or any of the other Southern states you learn to love and hate hot summer temperatures and bright mid-day sunlight. Photographic materials such as film and digital sensors do not respond well to harsh, contrasty light. That doesn’t mean we should stop making images. While this photograph isn’t a good example, bright, directional sunlight can turn objects, even large tracts of land, into shapes that can make for very interesting photographs. Don’t try and expose for the highlights and shadows and expect detail everywhere; our materials aren’t made to handle that range.

Look at the shapes the sunlight creates or the shadows and contrast that only happen with direct light. In my photograph, the hard light made the background go to almost full black, making a nice frame for my phone booth. A frame for a frame. The little sliver of sky on the left reminds me of the time of day and conditions.

Study what you’re photographing and learn to see in your head how the subject matter and light will respond with your photographic tools. Reflections become interesting and you can always be certain you’ll have fast shutter speeds for nice, sharp images. Turning the subject matter into graphic elements is a good exercise and you can start to see how different things look when you turn highlights and shadows into pure black or pure white (if photographing in black and white). If you’re photographing in color, sunlight can make colors pop or turn them into surreal elements in your photograph. Whichever way you go it’s always fun to experiment and see what happens. Nowadays, it’s not even a waste of film!

I have some images on Photoshelter, a web-based stock agency.

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