THE POWER OF LIGHT

This is another image that made me stop while driving. I’m still in work-print stage as I think the file can be tweaked further to improve the sky and foreground. The fence was that white and it’s what caught my eye. It’s a great example of what light can do that dodging and burning, flashing or contrast masking can’t do as effectively.

I was driving west on Interstate 30, just east of Dallas, Texas approaching the town of Mount Pleasant. There were storms moving along to the north and south but I hadn’t hit a lot of rain or weather on the thruway. The light from Texarkana into Rockwall was fabulous…a soft chalky yellow that made everything come alive, as it did the fence.

East TexasThe brightness of the white fence grabbed my attention immediately. It’s almost as if a sliver of light was hitting only the fence, separating it dramatically from the green pasture surrounding it. I wasn’t going to stop for the photograph; I had already made plenty of pictures that day and knew I’d be arriving in Austin late. I made a U-turn 4 miles down the road.

I took quite a few shots of the scene and bracketed heavily. I knew noise might be a problem and the slow shutter speed was going to compromise sharpness. I didn’t have a tripod and I don’t like parking on the shoulder of the interstate, it’s dangerous.

The results were exactly what I expected. I actually like cloudy, overcast days. For those of us who have worked with studio lighting, strobes and floods, clouds are the ultimate softbox in the sky. During storms, especially in Texas, that lightbox takes on some very interesting colors and tones. The best thing about the light on days like this is that it seems to wrap itself around everything in sight, transforming mundane objects into something that they wouldn’t be under normal circumstances.

As a result of the color of the light, the location of the storms and the way the remaining sunlight hit the scene, the fence became very bright white. You can’t (easily) create that in the darkroom or on the computer, it’s just the light. That’s precisely why I made the U-turn.

Ted Orland once told his workshop participants to “photograph the air”. That was good advice. Light can turn the simplest objects into something special; next time you see a sunset, don’t photograph the sun hitting the horizon, turn around and photograph the light transforming your world.

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