Following the Light

Sunset and Keyhole Arch. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Sunset and Keyhole Arch. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

If you know any photographers or spend much time around a photographer, you’ve probably heard the term “magic hour” or “golden hour.”   They refer to the first and last couple of hours of sunlight during the day – when the sun is near the horizon.  That’s the time when the light radiating from the sun is warmer and softer.  Conversely, the light during the middle of the day can be and is generally harsh and unflattering to both human subjects and non-human subjects such as landscapes, flowers, waterfalls, or just about anything you want to photograph.  “Following the Light,” though, means more than just shooting during the magic hour.   Read on.

I read and study many of the great photographers of our times.  Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe are few that come to mind.   The late Galen Rowell, an amazing photographer and a pioneer of participatory wilderness photography (goggle and read his bio if you don’t understand what that means), noted in his book, Mountain Light, he “couldn’t bear to photograph a landscape in ordinary light” and he would “search out special light to enhance landform and the mood of all my landscapes.”   This is Following the Light!  Not settling for just any landscape composition even if it is the magic hour.    

I recently attended a photography workshop in Carmel and Big Sur lead by landscape photographer extraordinaire, Don Smith.  Don made sure we followed and, more often than not, chased the light from one location to the next from the time we left well before the break of daylight for our morning shoots until we arrived back after our sunset or evening shoots.   If someone wasn’t quite sure of a composition or what to shoot, Don would encourage him or her to “Find the light; then you’ll find your subject.”  Don is an exceptionally talented workshop leader.  He knows the times and locations to put us in position to capture incredible images.  His workshops include daily image reviews and instructional periods.  If interested in taking a workshop and moving your photography up a notch, check out Don’s website at .

The image above taken just before the sun sank into the ocean is of Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur.  It is probably one of the most photographed arches with thousand of photographers each year vying for real estate large enough to set up their tripod and try to capture the exquisite and dramatic light show.   The sun only lineups with the arch from about  mid  November through January.  Plus there is limited time at the end of the day during which the sunlight shines through the arch.  Following the light often times means chasing the light and then working quickly before it disappears.

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Moonset over Garrapata Beach, Big Sur

This next image taken from Garrapata Beach just off Highway 1 south of Carmel received its light from the setting moon.   The sun had not yet risen but would shortly.  Like the first image, this shot would not have been possible in another 15 to 20 minutes.  The moon would have set and the rising sun would create an entirely different mood.

The image below was taken at Point Lobos State Reserve, just outside Carmel.   The light from the setting sun lit up the underside of the branches of this beautiful tree.  Again, a different time of day or  a foggy afternoon, the tree, while still beautiful, but could not have put on the show it did with the sunlight playing off the branches just before the sun slipped beneath the horizon.

Golden Light, Point Lobos State Reserve, Big Sur

Golden Light, Point Lobos State Reserve, Big Sur

A take away from this blog:  If you want to capture extraordinary images, first Find the Light, and then find your subject.  In the words of Don Smith and the spirit of Galen Rowell   Follow the Light, Your image Will Materialize.  There is also great light other than at dawn or dusk, think foggy or cloudy days when time doesn’t matter as the sun is hidden and therefore, no harsh light or heavy contrast.   During a clearing storm, the first glimmer of sunlight can create extraordinary scenes.   During the Dark of Moon, stars seems to literally pop out of the sky.

So, pick up your camera or even your smart phone, get outside early in the morning (and I mean early like before sunrise), look for the amazing things nature and light can produce.  You will See the Extraordinary in the Ordinary.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  To see more of my images, click   Check out Gail Berreman Photography Facebook page.    If you like it, then please LIKE it!