Weather and Light

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Every time there is sunny weather and blue skies someone suggests to me that I should go out and take some photographs. And I look out of the window with weary eyes and seek for a polite answer…

People seem to think that lot’s of light is always good. As it is so nice being outside during sunshine, it must be good for photography too. But light is like wine. Too much of it just gives you headache. But good wine in moderate quantities – ah, that is a whole different story.

This means, like most photographers, I am a gourmet not a gourmand of light. Sunny days do have good light: one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. That makes in Southern Finland during summer about the same hour, between 1am and 2am. But once your humble editor-photographer deigns to rise at, let say, 5am the sun already has turned every surface into a glittering mess without any texture but with shadows of the deepest black.

This is one of the foremost reasons why people are unsatisfied with pictures they take. Therefore, repeat after me: sunny weather makes flat photos. You don’t believe me? Have a look yourself:

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Too sunny
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Same area – different weather

If I (hopefully) now convinced you that sunny weather is no good, what is then good weather and light? The English language has a word for it. Ah, I love the English language, but when will it actually start loving me back? Anyhow, the word is: inclement. Which is the nicest and longest way to avoid the word s..tty. Inclement shares a meaning with merciless and now we get the idea. Whenever you’d rather not be outside, that typically makes good weather for a (landscape) photographer. Coming or leaving storms are real good, fog is excellent, frosty to the bone is magical.

This is no different from when you go to a photo-studio to have your portrait taken. You won’t like the results if the photographer just hangs a bright light bulb above your head. But s(he) won’t do that. Instead s(he) will use diffused light and/or pointed light coming from the side. The same applies to photographing outside. If the light is directed and coming from the side (like during sunset or sunrise) textures will appear and shadows will be soft. If clouds or fog diffuse the light everything will look even, calm and soft.

There are, as always, exceptions. I mentioned already sunny days during early or late hours. But also deep inside the forest good photos can be found even during sunny days. Lastly, not all sunny days are born equal. Scattered clouds on a summer day can make a whole world of difference to the quality of the light.

But as a general rule, on a cloud free, sunny day I’d rather go swimming than photographing.

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