I joke with both my clients and other photographers how all I need every morning is 1 minute of really screaming light and I’m good for the rest of the day. My fellow photographers usually chuckle at me when I make this comment and while I say it partially in jest, I’m also mostly serious.
Truth be told there are many types of light and depending on what kind of conditions you are experiencing out in the field it all about adapting your photography to work for the lighting conditions you are currently experiencing.
Diffused cloudy conditions allow you to photograph all day long provided your subject is conducive to diffused light. Fall color, waterfalls, and macro all work well under these conditions. Flat diffused light does not tend to work well for traditional large landscape images. Contrasty, colorful light found right at the start and end of the day tends to work best for dramatic large landscape photography.
This morning while out photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park I got my ‘one minute of light’ moment. Landscape photographers want dramatic clouds in the image in order to add depth and drama to the scene. Clouds are awesome but there is one problem with clouds when trying to photograph large landscape scenes. Those clouds can be both enemy and friend to a photographer. They may light the sky pink and you may hit a home run with a colorful and dramatic image. On the other hand those clouds may play foe to a photographer.
The same clouds that can make a landscape image portfolio worthy may also block the sun out leaving a landscape photographer high and dry with flat uninspired lighting on the landscape. Sometimes its only a small sliver or break in the cloud cover on the horizon thats the difference between going home elated or waiting for your next chance. This is where the ‘one minute of light’ of light comes into play. If that break in the cloud cover is big enough to allow a minute or so of beautiful light on the landscape, everybody goes home happy.
This morning near Lily Lake in RMNP I went home happy. It looked very promising heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park this morning but by the time I arrived in Estes Park, stubborn cloud cover over the plains was not breaking up as anticipated. I had fairly low expectations with the amount of clouds to the east of Rocky but as always make sure I setup and get in place just in case. Nothing is worse than watching a good sunrise from your car or home after talking yourself into believing nothing is going to happen.
I setup near a small seasonal pool and watched and waited. I could see some color forming on the horizon to the east and the clouds east of the Twin Sisters were starting to turn pink. Before I knew it Mount Meeker and Longs Peak started to glow in pink as the clouds above Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest peaks also turned pink. With camera setup and ready to go I was able to fire off about two dozen images before the light faded away and became flat.
The entire light show lasted a minute or less this morning at Lily Lake but it was just long enough that I was able to avoid heading back home empty handed. That minute of light was all I needed today.