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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Working with Muddied Light - Drakensberg Workshop

The Drakensberg like any other mountain, or for that matter anywhere in the world, varies seasonally with the type of light that the photographer is likely to encounter. Although winter can be extraordinary with thick blankets of crisp white snow covering the escarpment, it can also be dreary, hazy and flat in terms of lighting. This last weekend on a landscape workshop with African Impact was pretty much like the latter. No clouds, plenty of smoke in the air from the controlled burns and an infinity of haze. Does this mean you give up on the photography though? Hell no!

Surprisingly one of the best times to shoot in this muddy light is slap bang in the middle of the day. Bearing in mind one large caveat: You're shooting for black and white. The harsh hazy air often seems to compliment the black and white oeuvre. The above image is an example of this. We stopped on the side of the road near the top of Oliviershoek Pass on the way up to Witsieshoek in the Northern Drakensberg. The light was flat and dull with a featureless sky. 

Working through previsualisation I saw the image as working well in black and white. Originally I had intended a dark sky, but found that adding a gradient of tone in Lightroom worked more subtly. Something to bear in mind while shooting is that the flat light is going to translate onto the digital sensor as an incredibly low contrast 'flat' looking image. For once, the camera's sensor actually has a greater dynamic range than the scene being photographed. All this means is that during post-production you will have to build back contrast by setting white and black points closer to the middle grey tone (use the white and black slider in LR, or the black and white slider in the Curves or Levels dialogue of Photoshop or similar editor). The above image was also shot as a stitch as I wanted a large print potential out of it. Still, here is a quick comparison of straight out of camera colour image. 

Hazy light doesn't mean that you only have to struggle with the distant scenes that are most affected bit. Close up scenes once more take on contrast and clarity because you are not pointing the lens through a veil of haze. The image below is a focus stitch (3 images shot at different focus points and merged together) near the mouth of Rainbow Gorge in the Cathedral Peak Section of the Drakensberg.

 Or alternatively there are the very close up subjects that don't rely on much ambient light at all such as this seed clinging to a strand of spider web.

This particular image was shot using a mixture of ambient light filtered through the forest canopy above and a small LED torch that I carry everywhere to enhance the light that was already falling on the subject. 

The point then is that you don't need to give up simply because the light...well because you think it sucks. Light never sucks. It's just different. 

The group over the weekend worked hard, and as far as could tell, enjoyed their time in the mountains, despite the light ;) Thanks to the group who made it such an excellent weekend. 

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