Patterns in the Sand

Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens; exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/9, ISO 1000
Patterns in the sand along the shore of the Great Salt Lake, Saltair, Utah. Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens; exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/9, ISO 1000 Copyright 2009.

One of the photographic conditions that I never had too great an appreciation for before I switched to digital capture in 2003 is the classic, cloudy day.  Overcast skies can yield striking images because the light is delightfully even, not “flat” as too many casually dismiss it.  Working to minimize shadows by photographing on sun angle (with the sun 180 degrees from your lens) or on a cloudy day does not mean that you’ll be working without shadows.  However, it certainly lets you study the shadowed areas much more closely, and the gradation between dark and light tones becomes far greater.

It’s the reason people love the “Shadow/Highlight” tool in Photoshop, or the “Fill Light” slider in Camera RAW / Lightroom: we like shadow detail.  So, consider how much more shadow detail you get on an overcast day, and reconsider any bias against the giant diffusers in the sky known as clouds.

In this case, along the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake in Saltair, Utah, I was actually photographing on a brilliantly sunny day, and the light was about as harsh as can be.  I achieved the soft light by using my body as a gobo, and I photographed in my own shadow. It’s a useful technique that I had forgotten about until I saw Artie Morris using it in the Galapagos to photograph a Lava Lizard.

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