Posted on March 6, 2014
The wisdom of Jerry Garcia resonates with me as the wrathful fingers of winter turn into the chilly, wet hands of spring. I search for my path. A place to watch and dream from afar; to quietly witness the darkness of winter transform into the dawn of spring.
Standing against an ancient wall, spread across the plains of Bagan is my first Myanmar sunrise. With the break of dawn, my slate is washed clean and ready to be filled up again with dreams that come my way.
There is a saying, “Dreams die at dawn…” which I never cared for, as I believe dreams begin at dawn. Then I saw a quote by Oscar Wilde, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world”
Perfect. Dawn, a dialectical point in time where dreams may wither and die yet at the same time be realized; the dreamer is there to witness both the inspiration and sadness. For me, this is the definition of dawn.
As a kid, I never gave much thought about the beauty of early morning. I stayed in bed as long as possible…even though many of my dreams originated in books and folklore that romanticized this part of the day.
Mornings were written beautifully, where cowboys, explorers, Native American heroes and adventurers always touched upon the magic of dawn and daybreak.
Daybreak would be accompanied by the glow of an early morning fire, whether to bring warmth to the beginning of the day or to brew a cup of coffee.
While reading, I would dream of sitting alongside the men and women as they drank their coffee…quietly pondering the day of uncertainty that lay ahead. To this day, I believe this is one reason I savor my morning cup of coffee.
Watching the early morning sky, I think of dreams drifting aimlessly like a balloon, its path relying on the wind. The land below contradictorily familiar, yet exotic.
The pre-dawn moment where dreams either move forward to live another day, or silently drift into death…
I once wrote: She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of our dreams we had during the night are out there for us to see…and it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside.”
Dawn allows us a moment to see and grasp at these dreams before they disappear.
It is funny how vivid the mind can become in the quietness of dawn. We can sense ourselves doing something extraordinary, just as we did when we were kids. It seems when we were younger, dreams were more intense and crazy, and as an adult they become more serene, perhaps even mystical.
I suppose there is no comparison. On one hand we have the younger mind of a rabid idealist versus an older mind of cynic: a cynic who realizes how much unclaimed potential we all leave out there.
It is this strange contradictory nature of dawn and maturity that makes life interesting. In our youth, we revel in the late night/early morning hours. Intrigued by the peace of a post-midnight sky and the eerily quietness of the streets and the wilderness.
Breathtaking to feel so alive with energy in the dead of night, as if this moment was created for the young: the world waiting to be explored. All the action and chaos of the previous day and night comes to a crescendo and slowly unwinds in the peaceful stillness of darkness.
Come adulthood, for me this youthful fervor of post-midnight revelry has been replaced by an aching love for the early morning.
Being in a place like Myanmar, I feel the same wonderful spirit of daybreak that I have whether looking over wheat fields of Pendleton, pink rays breaking over Mt. Rainier in Seattle or the incredible Hong Kong harbor coming to life bathed in gold from the morning sun.
Dawn creates this state of bliss, a start of every beautiful day.
James Douglas wrote: “it is a good idea to be alone at dawn, so that all its shy presence may haunt you, possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.”
There is much truth to this saying, which is why I enjoy this time of peace and solitude alone. However, it can be special sharing such moments with others; to occasionally open up this time to share dreams and thoughts…
The two weeks I spent traveling in Myanmar had endless moments of amazement, and I was so happy to be able to share it all with my sister, Sandi. While we enjoyed our photography, the endless talks and creating adventures is what made the trip so eventful.
What good is the happiness of early morning dawn, the moment to wander among dreams, if you can never share it with others?
Best wishes to Ajaytao 2010, for bringing inspiration to many…
Posted on June 5, 2013
In my previous post on the ‘Blue Hour’, I insinuated shooting the blue hour provided more of a challenge to achieve a great exposure than one could get in the golden hour. Quite a few people disagreed with me, with the complaint that shooting into the sun (and handling the glare of the sun) was much more difficult to manage.
Granted, these two aspects of shooting a sunset can be difficult, but my point was that if you are shooting the sun, it is your only subject. There are no other distractions to worry about, and if you are not incorporating the sun into your shot, you have the greatest light in the world to work with. Conversely, with a lack of light and quickly changing shadows on your subject during the blue hour, the photographer needs to juggle more variables and therefore an inherently more difficult task.
However, I do agree with the difficulty of shooting into the sun, as I love the flare of her rays; a testament to the original beauty and variability of every singe sunrise/sunset. Some examples:
The great thing I love about the disappointment of seeing lens flares is that while I know most stock agencies and companies would refuse such a photo…I still find the photos themselves pretty awesome to view. Not to say flares are bad, because if you can get it right in a photo – nirvana. And while I may be disappointed in the result of the flare, I do learn from my mistakes and slowly these errors become fewer (or, I am just blocking them out…).
But for me, the Golden Hour is a time of pure adrenaline because weather permitting, it produces a precious light handed down from the Gods, and that makes it hard not to take a good shot. Therefore, I do stand beside my belief that the Golden Hour sunrise and sunset is the easier environment of the two “magic hours” to photograph. As for a choice between sunrise and sunset, as there is nothing more difficult for me that the pre-dawn battle of crawling out of bed: sunset wins.
One thing I have not yet mentioned in either my Blue Hour post or this Golden Hour post is inspiration. The bewitching hours of photography are perhaps the most inspirational time any artist will always have at their disposal.
Whether you are a writer, musician, poet, painter, photographer or simply enjoy the skills of other artists (which is where I fit in), the golden hour is the time of the day that excites the soul. The lighting is special: slightly cool in the morning but with a glow that you can carry into the day…and in the evening, you can wrap yourself up in the warm light and its creativity. Inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration, to all the bloggers out there that share your great ideas. You all spark the creative fire in others. From a post back in February from Yinyin in Vietnam (http://yinyin2412.wordpress.com/), I caught sight of a nice photo on her site of the sun breaking the horizon…with a great caption of “the scent of sunshine” which I loved.
“Scent of the Sun” is a perfect description, especially for a sunrise. I think every artist has a feel for the sun, besides just making the body feel good (and giving us vitamin D), the sun can open a corridor between our soul and the outside world.
So, to loop back to the beginning of this post: Blue Hour is the most difficult to photograph and is part of the reason why I like it so much: if you get it right – it can be amazing. However, when I was looking at what photos to add to this blog…I could not believe the number of Golden Hour shots I had to choose from in my collection. Viewing photos on the internet or in magazines and you will find that sunset shots not only dominate – but almost all of them are terrific shots.
My feeling is therefore, the Golden Hour is like the golden child…everyone loves her, for she is beautiful, intelligent and can do no wrong. The Blue Hour is the less appealing little brother who pales in comparison to the more famous golden child. Personally, for me growing up the only brother in a sea of three sisters, I think I can rationalize my admiration for the Blue Hour as I relate to its “unfair situation.” 🙂
Photography, and to a certain extent my writing, has been my artistic release, but perhaps my calling is more towards admiring the work of others.
A couple of weeks ago over lunch, a friend was planning to go to Lamma Island to shoot the sunset, and asked for advice. While I told him I am not the right one to be asking, there are three general pieces of advice I can give (or rather pass on from what I have learned):
And then the best advice I gave him was to go and checkout the work of others on the Internet. Check out what the professionals do, and then try to dissect how they achieved their shot.
For me, the big three: John Shaw, Darrell Gulin and Adam Jones. And then, from my time in San Miguel de Allende (https://dalocollis.com/2013/05/25/a-holy-time-in-san-miguel-de-allende/), Raul Touzon is one of the more creative users of light in photography that I have seen.
One thing that I have picked up from Shaw and Jones, is that the details in landscape and the nuances with how light works in those compact areas require a zoom or longer lens. In the past, rarely did I ever pull out my zoom lens (200mm), instead I shot with my wide-angle or mid-zoom lens. It was through looking at their work where I really learned the value in pulling out my longer lens for landscape and sunset shots.
I figure we will all continue to evolve, as photographers. New equipment and ideas will ensure this happens, but also every time we go out we see & learn something new.
The idea to capture as much of the beauty I saw in front of me, often led me to pull out my wide-angle, to bring it all in…but instead at times I would miss out on the wonderful nuances of her beauty that are even more stunning. Be flexible and creative in these hours, and go for the original shot.
FYI: For the next 3+ weeks, I will be in Northern China and the DPRK and will not have access to the Internet. So see you at the end of June.
Posted on June 3, 2013
Through ‘bending of light’, an artist is able to create unique, emotional and stunning photographs. Unfortunately, light also is the most destructive force as well, as I have an endless supply of photographs with blown-out highlights or underexposed noise (aways sad news after a shoot, but good to learn from those mistakes). I have learned that while the scene may look beautiful, if the lighting is flat and harsh, it is more difficult (if not impossible) for the camera to capture all the beauty we see.
Light is the piece of magic that fuels photography, and there is no better time to ‘bend the light’ to your imagination than the bewitching hours of photography:
During these hours, the creativity of the artist is allowed to flourish as the lighting provides a window of opportunities…the artist is allowed to dream, and if everything flows together the results can be spectacular.
The blue hour is the topic today, mainly because I found out that historically the ‘blue hour’ meant the time between 3:00pm and 6:00pm where the pubs in England, Wales and Scotland by law had to close their doors. Very sad for photographers, as in the summer those are the hours when light is often at its worst (harsh and flat), and to enjoy some spirits during that time would help the creative process prior to the magical shooting hours…
Why I am attracted to ‘dawn and dusk’ is simple: great blue hour lighting is rarer than great golden hour lighting. The photographer needs to pay more attention to both exposure and the subject at this time, more than at any other time during the day. A great sunset alone is worth a photo without regard for any specific subject other than the light. However, once you get into the blue hour, having a nice subject to help accentuate the wonderful light is needed.
The above shot at MaWan is perhaps 15 minutes after the official ‘Blue Hour’ but the glow of dusk to the right made this an interesting shot, so sometimes it is worth while shooting deeper into twilight.
Another reason I enjoy the blue hour so much, is from an explanation I received about the electricity of dawn from a photographer in Hokkaido, Japan. She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of all our dreams we had during the night are there for us to see, like frost resting on the trees along the Setsari River (Tsurui, Hokkaido). And it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside. This makes the moment before dawn so special.”
As a photographer, we have the opportunity to shoot and record such scenes…to keep the dreams alive. I also really liked her description, kind of a reminder that each day is a time to start anew, to look beyond at what the day can and will be. The above shot was taken in the fleeting moments of dawn with the sun ready to breakout in the bitterly cold, grey morning on the Setsari River with red-crowned cranes.
The blue “hour” is a bit of a myth, as the length of time varies greatly, but on average there is about 30+ minutes of great shooting. The website: http://www.bluehoursite.com is an excellent tool to use for planning your shoot. Once you have your time worked out, then choose an area that has interesting subjects: landscapes and cityscapes work well and also think creatively with some soft light for portraits shots; a bit more difficult due to slower shutter speeds but results can be interesting.
The fisherman shot above was f/4, and hand-held. Jacked up the ISO a bit and shot wide-open, but overall the results turned out OK.
Probably a good idea to also think ahead about “How to Shoot Blue Hour”, a worthwhile topic and I have been fortunate to shoot with other photographers who like to pass their wisdom on to others. The piece of advice I have always received: checkout the landscape, the time of year and weather because each day the available light will be different and so your exposures and shooting plans may change.
With limited lighting, it is important to determine how the slower shutter speed is going to affect the shot. Camera shake is the first issue, so a tripod is needed. If there is any motion in the scene, then take into account that there will be blurring and then try to make that an interesting part of the shot.
For the Blue Hour, generally I shoot at f/11 or higher as I want that great depth of field and detail, and by stopping down I am better able to achieve that ‘starburst’ quality with distant lights that can create just a little more intrigue within the shot. However, it can also be fun to shoot wide open, especially with great foreground activity, and being wide-open gives greater stability and allows you better opportunities to hand-hold your shots.
Getting the exposure correct during Blue Hour is a bit more complicated as well, so fire some quick shots and check your histogram. For Blue Hour, I use both spot and center-weight metering, depending on the shot, and will meter off the darkest point of my composition that I want to bring out. Checking the histogram (even if you bracket, which I often do), should result in technically better photos.
If I am shooting any landscape, I bracketed my shots (3-7 depending on lighting conditions), so I have the option of layering my photos in Adobe or run my files through the HDR program Photomatix, which captures the details of the shadows without blowing out those bright points of lights that make the scene so attractive.
For choice of lens, it is a personal preference but a fast wide-angle lens is one I use predominately, both to capture the “total essence and ambiance” of the scene…and when the camera is off my tripod, a quicker lens allows me to shoot crisper shots during the light-deprived Blue Hour, such as the above shot of a ferry, on a ferry heading to Hood Canal.
Blue Hour shooting is fantastic, as it also serves as a good warm up to shooting a sunrise and a warm down from shooting a sunset. Either way, you are going to learn a lot more about both photography and the area around you. Creative lighting situation always can be little challenging (I have walked away from many shoots with nothing to show), but there is always something new and interesting to gain.