Monday, January 2, 2012

P23: soft light

A muggy day following a muggy head - today was a perfect chance to work on this project, high cloud providing an even illumination.  I headed back to an industrial area north of the city, used in my work for Projects 1 and 2.  The area offers a mixture of edge of the city, commercial and farm land, plus some elevated points from which to shoot.

The benefit of soft light is that there is limited shadow and a far better reproduction of the colour in the landscape.  Strong sunlight washes colour away and can hide detail in the strong dark shadows cast by any buildings.  This sort of light is good when working in city streets as it better illuminates the street level, avoiding the huge shadows cast by high buildings.  However, today I felt a need to get into the countryside a little and have some space to breath.  I also felt that the longer sight lines would suit the type of photograph I was attempting to make, one with foreground detail, but also depth of field.

Choosing only 3 photographs was as ever impossible and as this is a project I will not limit my comment to just 3 images, however, I have selected 3 that best reveal my reaction to the lighting conditions of an overcast mid-winters day.  My first shot is of the Allianz corporate HQ, built in a green field location in the midst of farmland.  This enabled me to create a strongly horizontal composition with bands of grey and green.  A blue sky would have lost the tonal harmony of this shot and strong shadows would have made the background line of buildings too strong.

My second chosen shot is a more conventional landscape composition using lead in lines and a division of the frame into distinct elements.  Here the soft light means that the colour in the frame is strongly prominent, especially the red element on the top left of the frame.

My final selected image is a much tighter composition containing far less depth, but much more colour.  I have aggressively processed this image to push the orange and blues.

All 3 of these photographs fit into my current mind set of examining the urban landscape, and the use of strongly horizontal elements.

During this 3 hour walk I had many more opportunities to explore compositional ideas.  The following is again horizontal, but far more broken up.  I like the idea of the rocks blocking a road that goes nowhere, although that nowhere is actually one of the worlds largest financial institutions.

Back to the very horizontal approach, railway lines yield great foreground detail:

As I walked along the railway I came to this hut set against a backdrop of a large hot water generating power station.  The first shot is quite conventional, again dividing the frame up and providing a lead in line.  The second shot is more my current thinking, kind of an in your face study of a feeble attempt to remove some graffiti.

Cropping in tighter, improves this shot a lot, it is now much more about the textural detail of the building rather than the shape of the building.  The flat overhead light helps to avoid any shade issues that could exist.  This building faces almost due North and would yield a very different photograph on a sunny day.

Although the light was soft, this did not mean it was completely bland, shooting up to the sky from under a bridge generated strong contrast.

Away in the distance an orange line delineates the Alps, enjoying a sunny day, whilst in the lowlands we languish under the cloud.  This shot shows that the cloud cover is at least above 3000m.

Finally, on a flat day, colour makes a stronger statement than it would in strong light.  The final 2 shots explore the impact of a strong single shade of colour on a scene.  The orange sign has a much greater impact on the shot than the blue containers.

I have used this project as an excuse to get out my new X100 once more and check out its capabilities in lower light, enjoying the simplicity that the fixed 35mm viewpoint brings to my photographs.  It is not at all constraining.  I enjoy this type of lighting, I find the softness liberating and have to be far less concerned about where the sun is and how shadows can impact upon my photography


  1. In flat lighting, colour can have a far greater impact on an image - although the photograph may appear flat a strong colour will draw attention much faster than in a brightly lit image
  2. Flat lighting enables a complete sense of the scene, nothing is hidden in shadow
  3. Lack of shadow offers greater freedom to shoot North facing buildings

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