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Tag Archives: Light

table and window

…a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.

So sings Leonard Cohen, one of my favorite songwriters.  And like most good song lyrics, they can be taken literally or metaphorically.

I couldn’t help thinking of those lyrics as I was shooting in an abandoned building on Moloka’i last April.  It was precisely the cracks and the holes in the wooden walls that let the late afternoon sunlight come streaming in, created those beautiful sunbursts, and softly illuminated the scene.    (This image was shot with only existing light.)

I have no idea what this building was used for.  I don’t know what was in the bottles and jars on the counter.  You can see that everything had a thick patina of dust on it.  I didn’t move a single object, but shot it just as I found it.

If it wasn’t for the cracks and the holes in the walls, this image would be dark and lifeless.  It is precisely the cracks that make it beautiful…at least to me.


Havana night

Photographers who put their cameras away right after sunset miss some cool stuff.  I know, because I used to be one of them.

Fortunately, no one seems to mind too much if you lug a tripod around in Havana.  I mean, you get a lot of quizzical looks just because you’re American, and you dress differently and talk funny.  (And despite over three decades of practice, I know my Spanish still leaves much to be desired!)  So the tripod and camera gear don’t add that much interest.

One thing that makes night photography that much more challenging in Cuba is that there simply isn’t that much light…even in Havana.  I thought the buildings would be much more brightly lit, and I had high hopes for the dome, but the lights were never turned on!

So even though this image was taken right in the middle of Havana, it has a different look than, say, an image taken at night in San Francisco or New York.  Times Square this ain’t!

With a long exposure, the light-colored buildings reflect enough light from the widely scattered streetlights and very occasional headlights (this was a 30-second exposure between sunset and dark–notice how little traffic there is on the street?) to give them a pretty and yet almost surreal glow.

So my night images in Havana weren’t what I was expecting…but I like them even more because of that!

Today we return from the Land Down Under to look at some American grave markers.  All the images in today’s post were taken at Sebastopol Memorial Lawn Incorporated (yup, that’s what it’s really called) in Sebastopol, California.  It’s on the small side, as cemeteries go, but dates back to the early 1800’s, which is pretty old by California standards.  And they’ve got a lovely assortment of grave markers there.  The young woman above looks very pensive.

This angel is stunning!  I don’t know how they get the “skin” to look so real…and I love how she looks so innocent even though her gown is about to slip off her shoulders!

This is a closeup of the hands of the previous angel.  I love the contrast of her smooth “skin” with the rough texture of her gown.  Whatever they painted her “skin” with retards the growth of lichen, which loves the acid in the granite.  What a neat juxtaposition!

Compare the hands in the previous image with this hand.  This headstone is marble, which doesn’t hold up as well in the elements as the granite in the previous image.  But the broken top tells a story.

I like that the break left the hand completely intact.

Here’s an example of an angel silhouette.  As I said in yesterday’s post, I think these work the best when the angels have their wings outspread.  (And did you notice how asymmetrical this angel’s wings are?)  But go ahead and experiment with different views of different statues.  Profile shots can also be very dramatic, and in a side profile, folded wings might look the best.  I’m putting that on my list to try the next time I go to a cemetery.

Finally, be alert to changing light conditions.  The day I was shooting all these images, there was a break between rainstorms, but the sky was overcast.  The light was great for shooting the statues, nice and soft, no shadows, but the landscape views just looked flat.  So I focused on the statues and the individual headstones and their details.  Just as I was despairing of getting any good evening light, and thinking about packing up my gear and taking off, the sun burst through the rain clouds and bathed the cemetery in that beautiful golden light that only comes during breaks from rainy weather .  In the meantime, the storm clouds were gathering on the far horizon, turning it almost black.

These are exactly the conditions I was hoping for when I began shooting.  Optimistically, I had scoped out an area that I wanted to shoot landscapes in, that would take advantage of the golden light from the west and the dark sky in the east.  The far west side of the cemetery downslopes, and I knew that if I went to the bottom of the hill, I could shoot up at the headstones and get a dramatic perspective.

I had also selected a huge chiseled lichen-covered cross for my subject.  And I knew the golden light would accentuate the yellow lichen on the cross, and really make it pop against the dark blue sky in the background.

Fortunately, I was about 100′ away from the cross when the sun broke through the clouds.  Knowing that sometimes this light only lasts for seconds, I sprinted to a spot downhill of the cross, crouched down on the wet grass, and set up my shot.

I was truly blessed, because the light held out for over ten minutes, allowing me to get a number of different shots from the downhill side of the cemetery.

I would’ve been quite content if I had gotten nothing but the statue and headstone shots you see above, but getting the storm light images like the one below was truly the icing on the cake.

There’s a saying that luck favors the prepared.

And it just goes to show that the key to getting successful images is to be in the Right Place at the Right Time (even if you have to run to get there)!