Lesson 17: Choosing a Vantage Point for Lighting

Continuing on yesterday’s lesson about choosing the time of day for the best outdoor lighting for landscape photographs, today, we’re going to talk about picking your vantage point based on the lighting.

I took the following two photos 5 minutes apart:

Because it was fairly early in the morning, the sun was still at a sharp enough angle to put the West side of the bridge in shadow while the East side of the bridge was brightly lit.  My moving my feet from one side of the bridge to the other, I was able to capture two completely different lighting moods 5 minutes apart.

Which one you like better is a matter of what appeals to you–they are really an apples and oranges comparison.  The composition changes dramatically depending on which side of the bridge you are on.  If I wanted an image of the bridge intersecting with one of the Tennessee Aquarium buildings with a dramatic quality to it, I would like the photo from the West side better.  If I wanted to show off the blue of the draw bridge and the Delta Queen, I would like the photo from the East side better.

The point is that even though you can’t control the light, you may be able to control where you’re shooting from so that you get the best advantage of the light.  And, multiple vantage points will yield very different photos with very different moods when the light is at a sharp angle.

I went back and repeating this exercise in the evening to demonstrate another aspect to getting some control over outdoor lighting for landscapes:  by applying my knowledge of the lighting at different times of day, I can choose which mood I get for each composition.  Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the East and West views in the evening:

Now, compare the morning and evening West view side-by-side:

And, compare, the morning and evening East view side-by-side:

I went back earlier the next morning, just past the golden hour and repeated this exercise.  Notice the difference in the tone of the lighting looking at the East Side:

And, finally, compare what the two images look like from the West side–the sun was still lower enough in the second photo that light was coming under the bridge, making quite a difference in the photo.  This demonstrates what a difference an hour can make!

Your Assignment:  Choose a convenient outdoor landscape scene–it could be the street you live on, for example.  Get outside early enough in the morning that the shadows are still long.  Take a photo (I suggest using the Camera Awesome app so you can adjust the exposure and focus separately) with your back to the sun and then facing the sun.  NOTE:  do not point your lens directly at the sun–keep it pointing at the earth.  If your scene doesn’t offer East/West views but more North/South views, try picking a tree or something that you can move around to photograph from both directions.

If possible, try taking the same photos in the evening when the shadows are about the same length as they were in the morning.

Now compare.  Which vantage point and time of day work best for your subject?

Something to think about:  is taking better photos important enough to you to plan your activities around the sun and weather?  If so, you might find the Magic Hour (free), The Weather Channel (free), and/or Weather Plan (free, but paid subscription for some features-$1.99/year) apps interesting.