When travelling there are often times that we encounter certain lighting scenarios, those that present us with amazing photo opportunities but are rarely encountered in our day-to-day life.
While elusive lighting scenarios present us with a great opportunity to create dramatic and memorable images they can also be tricky to handle if we haven’t experienced them before.
Photographing scenes with dramatic light rays is one example of an elusive lighting scenario that can lead to dramatic images if handled correctly but just as easily can lead to frustration.
Below I want to walk through two of my own examples of elusive light, in the form of light beams, and discuss how the first experience in Morocco helped me to achieve the second.
Many of the souks in Morocco are havens for dramatic lighting scenarios. The shoddy and often random coverings on the roof, the bright Saharan sunlight and the dusty, sandy floor are all important components for creating light beams.
Light beams only occur when a concentrated shaft of light, at a specific angle, interacts with dust or smoke particles in the air. The nature of light beams means that they can come and go in an instance and even from different positions in the same location they can look completely different.
Above is a series of four images, in chronological order, from my time in Rissani souk. When I entered the huge market (top left) there were some faint signs of light shafts forming in the dusty market atmosphere.
As I wandered further through the market (top right) the position of the sun changed slightly and the light beams began to form. I hurried through the market to find somewhere that was both interesting visually to add a story to the lighting scenario.
Luckily for me, the most visual area of the market, the meat section, was both very busy (and dusty) and also visually interesting. In the space of about 5 minutes the light beams intensified (bottom left + right), I captured the image I wanted and then the light beams disappeared for the rest of the day.
What did this experience teach me?
- Light beams require a very specific set of conditions.
- You have to act fast because they don’t hang around!
- Position matters greatly and the intensity of the beam varies as you move around.
Sibiu Region, Romania
The second example of capturing light beams was in quite a different scenario. I was visiting the house of Vasile, a local clothes maker, who hand-makes clothing for the shepherds in the hills around Sibiu.
Whilst Vasile proudly showed me through his house (which also doubled as a make-shift factory). I noticed up in the attic of his workshop that there was a small opening in the wall and an intense patch of sunlight on the hay. Alongside that were lots of sheep fleeces which I thought were quite visually interesting.
With my curiosity going into overdrive, I asked if we could climb up and check it out. Once up there I was greeted with 1 of the two ingredients to create light beams; strong, directional light.
At this point my experience shooting the light beams in Rissani taught me that I was missing the final piece of the puzzle; dust.
Noticing a fork lying in the hay, I asked Vasile if I could photograph him moving the hay for two reasons:
- I wanted him moving hay in my final image.
- By moving the hay, he would create dust in the air and hopefully create dramatic light beams.
The short animation above shows the moment Vasile began to move the hay, kicking up dust into the air and forming the light beams which eventually made the image below.
Mastering Elusive Light
It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the dramatic nature of natural light and rely on luck to see you through, especially in scenarios that may be unusual or unfamiliar to you.
As photographers we should try to observe and understand elusive lighting scenarios, even if we can’t shoot them all the time. Having the knowledge and understanding as to the conditions that cause particular lighting scenarios to happen is very useful. It allows us to actively put ourselves in the right places to photograph these dramatic scenarios ourselves.
Have you ever photographed a scene like this? Was it luck or intentional? Did you end up with the image you wanted? If so, i’d be interested to hear your experiences in the comments below.
This post originally appeared here.