Light Quality & Dynamic Range

Today I just feel like putting up one of my images from my March trip to Iceland. It was shot on film (I'm 100% film, no digital). Fuji Velvia 50 RVP Film, and a Mamiya 7 (Mk1) camera.

 Shot on Fuji Velvia 50 RVP Transparency film, Mamiya 7 (MK1) camera with 50mm lens.

Shot on Fuji Velvia 50 RVP Transparency film, Mamiya 7 (MK1) camera with 50mm lens.

I've tried shooting this waterfall many times now, but this has been the most successful effort by far simply because of the colour response. This image was made at sunset and it turned out to be a specially beautiful one.

I visited the falls in the middle of the afternoon and stayed until it started to get dark. I don't like to rush around locations preferring to focus on two or maybe three locations per day. So I was here from around 4pm to 7pm and the timing was just right.

I prefer to get to know a place. Over the space of three hours, I'm able to build up a mental map of the location as I find out more about the vantage points. Since I had been here before, I knew where my favourite composition position would be and it was just a case of waiting for the right quality of light.

Although the horizon in the photo is level, the camera was not. I always balance the scene in the camera against the four sides of the frame - not with gravity. In this instance, the false-horizon you see in this photograph was actually slanting - if I'd levelled the camera with gravity the horizon would be sloping uphill from left to right.

 I find spirit-levels completely useless in this regard and I wish people would throw them away. I often notice participants focussing too much on what the spirit level says and not what is in the actual photo. No one knows where gravity was, nor do they care when they look at the final photo - they just want to see that any horizon, false or otherwise is level, and that can only be done by balancing the photo against the frame its enclosed in.

I'm just so delighted that I managed to be here, in winter, when the light was right. My other attempts were not as strong as this one, and it was simply because the light wasn't working during the other visits. 

Which brings me on to the subject of dynamic range. My film only has around 3 to 4 stops, but it turns out that most of the beautiful light we are seeking tends to happen within this small dynamic range anyway. I'm never too sure why there is such a desire at the moment to get more and more dynamic range, as I feel that one of the skills of a photographer is to learn to work with the confines of what we're given.

The bottom line is that we work with sunrises and sunsets because the quality of the light is soft and beautiful, not because the dynamic range is easier to work with. You can ask for as much dynamic range as you like, but it won't mean you'll shoot more beautiful images, it will just mean you're able to shoot in more different types of light :-)