Waiting for the Best Light.

Early spring stream

I am sure there are lots of photographers that have discovered a special location, or scenic spot, that looks good, but when the photograph just isn’t working out and the day just isn’t making things look good, photographers return again and again, hoping for the light to be just right. That bridge on the way to work or the gnarled tree outside of town bent from the wind, that never looks the way we want it. That was always the problem with a location that my wife and I regularly drive past along Highway 97 south of our home. We always, winter, summer, spring, or fall, slow down at a bridge crossing a drainage stream that flows out and onto wide lush hayfields. The stream turns a corner as it flows past bushy native shrubs and out of a pine forest.

The image I mention is a grass and foliage lined stream that for the past six years is usually  a shady, dark, flat, and poorly illuminated possibility. The elusive landscape is perfect with a fence in the foreground that creates three-dimensionality. Depth is easily achieved as a viewer’s eye easily moves from the objects in the fore, middle and background.

I always want a center of interest and the reflective meandering stream becomes that. The composition follows the rule of thirds without any effort. Walk off the road, stand in the deep grass and put a shoulder to the bridge-post to steady the shot, and the rest just comes natural. All that is required is interesting light (that has not been cooperating) to bring everything together to create interest.

At last, this week on a clear spring morning about 9:30am, the light was working. There are times when that open space along the road actually has had an all-illuminating bright light , but that defuses detail, or sometimes it’s cloudy and overcast with everything to be lost in shadow. However, to my great pleasure, this time the light was cool, and without glare, and the shadows weren’t dark and deep. I couldn’t have asked for a better morning to stop and make an exposure or two.

As I wrote earlier, we always slow down, and cast a glance up the stream (the constant traffic willing) as we cross the bridge in hopes that the light is working. I have even parked on a sunny day, got out and walked across the road, only to have some large cloud move in.

This location has been frustrating, but I just add it to the many other landscapes that I refuse to waste my time with unless the conditions are what I want. I recall the concrete bridge on the Thompson River that I watched every morning and evening for years as I drove to work. Everything has changed now, but once there was a young tree and a grass edged road leading to that bridge. I wanted to stand in the middle of the small road and make a low-angled photograph of that grey bridge. When the light was perfect I didn’t have my camera, when I had my camera there was no light. I struggled for five or six years with that picture. Film ruled photography in those days and I was determined that when I made the picture it would be with my medium format Hasselblad camera.

When the day finally came about 7am one foggy morning the low-angled light thinned at the bridge entrance and gave the young tree a golden glow and I was, for once, ready.   I originally called that image “six years” because that’s how long it took me to take the picture. However, when I sold several copies to an organization that gave them as gifts to visiting NASA scientists from the United States, they renamed it “Pathway to the Future”.

Well here I am again at another six-year point and thanks to my wife demanding that I stop the car and pull over, I finally have the image I have been after for all those years.

Photography can be a patient thing and I like having the time to think about my subject. Six years might be a long time for some, but I have always liked the process, and there are a few more landscape scenes out there waiting for the light and me to come together in agreement in the next few years.

As always, I remind readers that I really enjoy your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

12 responses to “Waiting for the Best Light.

  1. Love the notion of patience… and having those personal and powerful places in our viewscape often helps build the connection between you and the landscape. Kind of like “knowing your subject” really well – only helps lend itself to a powerful image. Thanks John 🙂


    • Thanks Kathryn, I like that you so thoughtfully wrote, “often helps build the connection between you and the landscape”.
      I really appreciate your taking the time to comment.


  2. Wonderful description, John. Patience and persistence more often than not pays off. But preceding that is not only your recognition of the perfect location for the image, but also that you would have to wait for the conditions, particularly the light, to be right. There’s a real lesson there – don’t take a photo if it’s not going to look the way you want it. That’s easy to say, but requires real discipline to live up to it. Your image shows that you have the discipline, the patience and the persistence to make it all finally work. Well done!


  3. and I though I was a little crazy going back to the same place over and over again just to get another the perfect shot with a different type of light, less or more clouds in the sky, different reflection of the sun …….. I feel better now 🙂


  4. A vey enjoyable read. The right light makes all the difference, and having learnt from film, you have learnt patience which many do not have these days.

    I also have spots I’d like to photograph properly, if only the conditions were right. For now I only have snapshots of them, for a reminder and planning purposes.


  5. Good read – my problem is the sun, more than I want and always in the wrong place……. 🙂 I find a Guinness helps while waiting but six years, that’s a large amount of the stuff.
    Admire your patience .



    • Thanks David. Well, sure I expect sitting back drinking a beer and waiting for the sun to become more favourable is a good idea…….Regarding my photo of the stream…not so much patience as just remembering to stop when the scene looks good.


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