A few weeks ago I taught a one-on-one workshop focusing on architectural details and abstracts. He had been focused on that great light we all love in the early morning and late afternoon, but found himself missing a big portion of the day and struggling with how to best utilize that midday light.
So many photographers get caught up thinking that the only good time to shoot is during that warm, golden light. The thing is, you can create compelling images in any kind of light if you know to use it to your advantage or how to shift from one aspect of your subject to another.
While that warm light is great for cityscapes and wider shots of architecture, I actually tend to prefer shooting in the middle of the day for abstracts and more detailed images. Don’t get me wrong; I love that warm golden light as much as any photographer, but I also love the harsh midday light and can even tolerate those dreadful flat, gray skies…kind-of 😉
The strong contrasts created with sunny midday light works well when focusing on shape and form of your subject. Plus the shadow-play from this type of light can also add another element to your compositions. While flat, gray skies might not give you great contrast; you get a soft, even light that works well too, especially for fill-the-frame abstracts.
My point being, don’t rule out certain lighting conditions as a reason to put your camera away. Know your subject and know how to utilize that light to your advantage.
In this first post from this half-day workshop, our first stop was Aqua. I’ve shot this building dozens of times and every time I come away with something different. It really depends on how the light interacts on each visit, whether there are clouds and what types, and what lens I’m using.
I’ll share images from this workshop as well as images from past visits so you can see how different times of day, different light and different lenses affect the final outcome.
This first set of images, and the one above, are from this workshop. I shot with my 70-300mm lens around 8-9am. Initially there was a warm light on the building but it was replaced with cloud-cover, resulting in relatively dull, flat light. Therefore, the reason for mostly fill-the-frame compositions and black and white processing.
The next image was the first time I shot Aqua, in April of 2013. As you can see it was nice and sunny with clear blue skies. This was shot late morning but there’s still this great warm light on the building which works well in playing off the bright blue skies, hence the reason for processing in color (though I edited in B&W too). This was shot with a 24-70mm and because of the light and the nice contrast between warm and cool colors, I wanted to keep a bit of a wider composition.
This was shot midday in July 2013 and you can see those dull, flat gray skies. While still a wider shot, photographed with my 24-70mm again, I chose B&W processing along with composing the shot to play off the geometry of the reflections and arrangement of the buildings to create a more interesting composition.
Kind-of a long break from the previous shot, as this was taken in January of 2015. In this instance I utilized the spiral staircase on the east side of the building to frame the tower behind. Again going with B&W to put the focus on the form and shape of the structures. This was shot around 1pm with my 14-24mm.
Back to using my 24-70mm and again shooting around 1pm in April of 2015. However, the light was interacting completely differently than the previous shot and I loved the play of the wispy clouds against the building. The bright pools on the building have a similar feel to the white wispy clouds and there’s a nice sheen to the edges of the balconies and glass on the building from the bright sunlight. Once again I liked the B&W processing to focus on the various forms, both on the building and in the sky.
This next one was taken in June 2015 and shot with a 70-200mm I rented for the day. I specifically wanted a long lens to create tighter abstracts of the building, though I have no desire to use that specific lens again…way too heavy! I shot this and many other images in late afternoon. The light was nice and warm and most images I processed in both color and B&W. I do like both interpretations but generally have a tendency to prefer the B&W, especially on abstracts because the focus is more strongly on the form of the building.
Back again, July 2015 around 7am. I met here, again, for a private workshop and arrived a bit early. At this time I had started working on my Cloudscapers series and love the clouds interacting with the building and thought it’d be a good fit for that series. That’s the reason for the square crop and B&W processing. Once again, to focus on the form and that specific interaction between the clouds and the building.
Back about a week later and the next two images are from that morning around 7am. Once again color and B&W processing on most images but the warmth the sunlight creates on the building contrasting with the cool blue skies makes the color version interesting. B&W just allows more focus on form. In the first shot, the reflections from across the street add another element of interest.
As you’ve seen so far I have many abstracts of Aqua, but this was a perspective I hadn’t seen before this visit. Again, both shot with the 24-70mm.
October 2015, 24-70mm (again), around 10am. You can see the light at the top of the building and the lower half in shadows. So many visits and still finding new compositions of this…loved the waviness and the brightness of the glass at the bottom mimicking the brighter sky above the building and the progression from dark to light on the waves.
June 2016, again with the 24-70mm and around 10am. You can see those blown-out, dull skies. Yet, sometimes they work in wider shots like this, it acts like negative space and allows your subject to have all the attention. Here, I’m including a bit of the awning on the south side of the building to act as a foreground and the contrast in vertical lines on that awning against the horizontal lines of the balconies creates a point of tension.
This was made on the same day as the previous shot but I switched to my 70-300mm lens to focus on the details more easily.
The last two images were made this June (2017), again around 10am and with the 70-300mm. There was sun, but not much on this side of the building. However, the skies were really blue and reflecting in the glass. I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the white and blue and actually prefer the shots from this day in color (though, of course, most were processed in B&W too).
While that blue isn’t in Aqua on this shot, it was reflected in the building behind, making it fit well with the other shots of the morning.
There you go, every visit to Aqua since 2013 😉 You can see how revisiting the same location can yield very different results and how different light and lenses can dictate how to approach the building on that given day. Bottom line, don’t let what you think is bad light ruin your shooting for the day or because you’ve photographed it before that you can’t get anything new. You can still come away with compelling images, you just have to adjust your frame of thought and approach.
If you want to see other images from each of these dates, all of my Aqua images are here.