Friday, 16 November 2012

Exercise 31 Light through the day

The objective of this exercise was to investigate what happened as the sun moved throughout the day and the quality of the light changed in response to the angle of incidence.  The scenario specified in the study notes was to find a landscape where there was a broad view and one where the sun would impact upon it throughout the day.  The plan was then to photograph the scene at approximately hourly intervals from the same place, obviously so each image was exactly the same with the only variable being the light.
I did not feel I had the time to wait for an infinitely clear day, nor the opportunity to return to the same spot a dozen times, so opted for a slightly different strategy which I felt worked out well.  If time and opportunity were unlimited I would have set the camera on a tripod aimed at a classic landscape (whatever that is ..) and used my interval timer to take a series of images at specified time points.  I was not prepared to leave the camera set up anywhere (if you stand still for too long where I live you will have your pockets emptied, so no hope for a camera remaining anywhere), therefore I opted for some shots in the garden as the sun moved round over the course of the day.  To get a range of images I did this over a couple of weekends to get different light and avoid the endless rain and clouds, although the changes in weather conditions made this more interesting than I was expecting it to be.  All photographs were taken with a Canon 5DMkII with a 24-105mm f/4 L IS zoom lens set at 24mm attached.  I also used a Lee 0.3ND soft grad filter with transition area of the filter set along the tree line to make something of the sky as most shots were taken shooting into the sun.

My first shot was taken at about 08.30 with the sun beginning to emerge over the trees to the left.  The low light angle picked out part of the garden and as the direct and un-obscured sun represents a small light source, I saw hard shadows and a lot of contrast in the grass area that was illuminated.  The second image was taken at 09.20 a week later (so slightly different in terms of comparative time between the two sessions), and this was a frosty day and with an equally clear sky.  The reflection from the white frost on the ground made a marked difference and scattered more light (obvious in the originals and in the shutter speed, which was a whole stop faster); the cloudless sky again gave me harsh and well defined shadows.  The third shot was taken at 10.00 when the sun had climbed above the line of the trees and was illuminating far more of the scene and shining directly towards the camera.  The higher light source was throwing shorter shadows than previously and the scene appeared to me to be flat and rather uninteresting compared to the earlier times where the light angle had created more contrast and made more interesting detail and structure in the image.


Next was 10.50 and I’m aiming straight at the sun.  The shadow detail in the trees in the distance has gone and they have been thrown largely into silhouette, although much of the foreground detail is picked out quite harshly by the angle of light.  The sun hitting the front of the lens has caused some flare and the image is generally lacking in sharp detail.  The next shot is 11.40 and there is cloud, which has caused the sunlight to go from being a small light source to a large and well diffused one.  The soft light has wrapped around the objects in the scene and the shadows have gone, making the image flat and uninteresting (not that my garden is interesting anyway, but hopefully you get the point …).  12.25 was my next timing and although the clouds are still with us, there are some breaks which made the scene rather brighter and added some colour and texture to the yellows in the leaves on the apple trees.

It’s now 13.20 and the sun has deigned to make an appearance, this time from the right of the image.  The angle of incident light is now throwing some quite long shadows and the side of the house is also in shadow, so there is no longer any reflected light from the white render.  Details in the grass and pebbles are sharp and harsh as the light angle picks out the details. At 14.35 the lower sun dropping behind the house is throwing a longer shadow across the grass and really lighting up the apple trees and bringing out the best of the leaves that had been largely in shadow up until then.  The partial cloud cover was also providing some diffuse light which was helping the foreground detail.
By 15.45 the light was beginning to fall as the sun by now had just about disappeared behind adjacent buildings; a wheelbarrow has also magically appeared in the scene ..  Only the tops of the trees were now catching the light and rest of the scene had lost lots contrast and detail.

My favourite shot was the penultimate one taken at 14.35 and I liked this because of the richness of colour introduced by the low sun angle and the fill that came from the diffuse light provided by the clouds.  The second shot in the sequence, which was obviously from the frosty morning pictures, I thought had more atmosphere to it and it really feels like a chilly morning with the sun’s rays defined by the mist, but the lack of colour gave it less appeal I felt.


There was a lot to be learned from this exercise and it could be argued that it might have been better placed later in the sequence of exercises as a number of aspects that cropped up in the artificial lighting exercises are pertinent to outside natural lighting as well.  Just as well I did these out of order then!  Although I went away from the guidelines of the brief in order to get this completed I felt this was ultimately more beneficial than just setting up the camera and interval timer somewhere and leaving it to run for the day, which would have been the alternative, as I just don’t have the time to sit around for the hours of daylight!  The varying light and weather that occurred throughout the two days I conducted this gave me more to consider in the images than I believe would have been apparent from a perfect blue sunny day from start to finish, although that would have been a good option if I was shooting a traditional type of landscape shot.


  1. "shooting a traditional type of landscape shot"
    Having done this exercise Dave you are one exercise up when you do Landscape. It is exactly the same routine for one of the exercises and the notes say that if done in TAOP then not to do it again. For my Landscape module I probably talked about the colour temperature as much as anything and how that changed during the day.

  2. Dave,

    I adopted the very same strategy as you and for very much the same reasons. I couldn't spend the only sunny day in weeks waiting at a suitable landscape location, family pressures so I took pictures of my garden, a series at the back facing east, and a series at the front facing west. Although useful and instructive, I think the sun in the extremes of the day being below hedges, trees, other houses affected the outcome. Nevertheless, a lot of the learning from these exercises comes from how we manage the difficulties of meeting the brief, rather than following it to the letter.