Techinques For Flat Light

18th Apr 2013

I recently returned from a 3 day trip to Cornwall, the weather wasn't good for making high impact images (hasn't that been the case over the last 18 months)? oh well, at least it makes us think about using what light we do have in a more 'creative' way and it alos means we have to hone our compositional skills a litle more.


Port Nanven


A lovely boulder strewn cove, I have heard the large boulders and rocks reffered to as 'dinosaur eggs'. They are mostly rounded due to the erroding effects of the twice daily tide and are found in many different sizes. If you should visit the cove then be carefully climbing over the rocks as they can be very slippery and be aware of the tide times as you don't want to get caught out, it can be very engrossing, hunting around the beach for good compositions. When at the coast or near water in overcast conditions, often refered to as 'flat light' - where there is no direct sunlight creating harsh shadows long exposures can work very well.


For this image I got down low and used a Lee Filters Big Stopper, which is the equivilant of a 10 stop ND fliter and a Lee circular polarising filter. (For more details on how and why I used the filters see my Featured Image page)

The combined filters allowed me to use a shutter speed 12 stops slower than I would have been able to use without the filters - in real terms this increased my exposure time from 1/60 sec to 117 seconds. The increase in exposure time allowed me to loose the detail in the incoming tide, rendering the sea silky and smooth.

I carefully placed two creases in the foreground rock to point out to the rocks in the distance, tying the two parts of the image together. I also spent some time deciding on how to place the two far rocks in the image - did I want them centrally on the horizon between the two big framing rocks or offset with the peak of one of them centrally. I eventually chose the latter and this creates a slight 'tension' in the image. If I had palced them centrally then I would have lost connection between the creases in the foreground rocks and the horizon rocks. Sometimes composition is all about compromises.



Another image from the beach at Porth Nanven, here I found a small group of rounded rocks nestling among some larger ones with  stream of water rushing through and around them. I carefully composed the image ensuring the small boulders were central and the water rushed out of the image to both the bottom left and right corners of the frame.

It took my quite some time to get the tripod set up in just the right position and at the right height for the composition to work. I also visualised the finished image before I pressed the shutter, knowing the final image would be a square crop I was able to ignore part of the image shown on my rear LCD screen and concentrate on the important area.

I took a few exposures, varying the length of each exposure until I rendered the flowing water just as I wanted.

Pre-visualisation of an image - seeing the finished image before you take the exposure, really helps you to focus your mind - I work to the maxim -'the better the RAW image, the less I have to do in post production editing'. So try to get your images right 'in camera', it really does improve your photography skills rather than your Photoshop skills.

So next time you are out in 'flat lighting' try using neutral density filters to slow your exposure time down and make yourself some stunning images.


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