During my workshop in the historic village of Waterford, Virginia earlier this May, we had an interesting change in lighting conditions throughout the afternoon. Lucky for us, we were able to dodge the rains that have been so frequent this spring.
First, the day began with dramatic, stormy clouds, which would have provided a delightfully moody and textured background for the homes and gardens. As the day progressed, the sun started breaking through the clouds, until we were eventually left with a clear blue sky.
Changes in sky and lighting made it necessary to adapt the kind of photos we were looking for. From a stormy and moody sky to fluffy white clouds against a blue backdrop to a blue-bird sky, the ever-changing environment provided us different photo opportunities. Let’s look at some of my photos to see how I approached these vastly different conditions.
Cloudy skies offered a dramatic textured backdrop to this backyard garden. The eye is drawn through scene with the leading line of the stonework, then the trees frame the view beyond the garden.
When the sky broke open, there were wonderful clouds to work with, but they were changing quickly so we had to act fast. For this photo, I went wide to include as much sky as possible to show off the expansive cloud formation overhead. The shed anchors the scene and offers a sense of scale, while the fence line moves the eye across the field.
The bright sunny conditions provided strong contrast to the scenes. This scene was a challenge with the heavily shaded tree and barn combined with the sunlit grass and bright sky. I was worried that my single exposure was not going to be able to have good detail in the sky and shadows. Luckily, I had my wonderful raw file (Fuji X-T1) that offered a broad dynamic range to work with. In Lightroom, I was able to darkness the sky while lifting the shadows to bring out more detail.
Contrast can be your friend as well--you don't always have to fight it or complain about it. In this photo, the bright sun highlights the water pump while providing a dark shadow in the background, helping to isolate the subject. Direction of lighting was also a key factor in creating a more interesting photograph. When front lit, the pump's features were lost, making it appear flat and unappealing. By changing my angle and moving around the object, the side lighting accentuated shapes and textures, bringing the pump to life.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, there were opportunities to work with dappled light and shadows. A large tree on the left was throwing an eye-catching shadow pattern on the house. I included the azaleas in the foreground to add depth and more color to the scene.
We had access to various gardens where we found colorful details like these pots and flowers. Even when it's sunny, you can still look for patches of shade and work with low contrast, diffused light. When processing the photo, I wanted to eliminate distracting light tones. I applied selective darkening along the bottom edge, to a couple pots, and to some brighter stones going up the center. This keeps attention on the scene as a whole instead of drawing the eye to bright spots in the photo.