The Light First

In looking around this interwebs thing – looking at photographs trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong and what I can do better – I came across the bromide, “Find the light first, the background second, and the subject third.”

I thought and thought and it finally began to make sense. Find the light first.

The problem in that here in Texas, the light is either blinding nuclear-hot sunlight, or the pitch darkness of night. Either one – except for a few tiny minutes at sunrise and sunset. This time of year the sunsets aren’t very interesting because of the lack of (or complete coverage of) clouds. Still, maybe there is something.

I’m often driving to work at dawn. Going west, I saw a distant skyscraper illuminated by the orb just peeking over the horizon. It was lit like a fiery finger pointing skyward. Ordinarily, I never even notice this building, but today, it was all in alignment and the orange sunrise was bouncing off the glass just right…. I thought about that and realized that it was the equinox, so the sun would be rising exactly east-west. Though that would mean nothing downtown – I realized that the President George H. W. Bush Turnpike tollroad ran east-west as it crossed highway 75.

I had been walking under there a while back exploring a new trail that has been built under the highway. I was taken aback by how high the tollroad soars as it goes up and over. The High Five near where I work gets all the attention, but the George Bush interchange is as dramatic in a more stark and brutal way.

So that evening, a few minutes before sunset I loaded my camera and tripod up and drove to the Plano Parkway exit – right behind the big Fry’s Electronics store. There’s a parking lot there, under the tollroad, and I lugged my stuff a bit into a weedy field and set up directly under the roadway far overhead and pointed my camera due west, right into the setting sun.

I set up for three exposures per shot on the tripod – then merged them with the HDR software. Since traffic was going by on each image and they would not match, the cars became ghosts in the final tonemapped images. Since a highway interchange isn’t very interesting by itself I played with the parameters until I came up with a hyperactive, over-saturated, surreal result.

Which is what I wanted. Find the light first.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

So I have my light. And I even have a background. What I’m lacking is a subject. Pictures without anybody in them can be fun and pretty to look at but they aren’t good enough. They don’t tell a story. I need to figure out how to get people into these HDR composite images – I haven’t seen many people try that. I can’t figure out how to get something interesting – something that tells a story – how to get someone to stay perfectly still while I shoot the multiple exposures.

Something to think about and to work at.

19 responses to “The Light First

  1. interesting series of photos. They’re very calm for the absence of people and cars, but the colors give me a feeling of anticipation and urgency.

  2. Great photos, though I am not a big fan of HDR myself. These work on an abstract level though, they seem more like paintings than photographs.

    Have you considered joining up to 500px?

  3. Brilliant photography!!!

    And I would argue that without people, the image is extremely profound – as it is now I can think of a story…. a moment in history… a time – when all was still and quiet… when the giants who left behind their transportation trails … linger no more, and all their layers leave us with more questions than answers: year 2234. ::huge smiles::

    PS. I am sooo glad you stopped by my blog – now I have another site to come and visit and be inspired by! ::speak peace and create on::

    • I totally agree with J.D.P.’s comment – I love photographs with and without people and I think that what you have here is profound and thought provoking. You have definitely found your light. I loved reading the blog and when I reached the first photograph I actually said “oh wow!” out loud. It was striking and unexpected and totally beautiful. I loved the third photograph as well.

      As much as I love photographs which have people in them, I sometimes feel they can be contrived. I don’t necessarily like ‘posed’ shots and used to really dislike being forced to stand in front of the camera just so a family member could snap a pic of a landmark. The landmark/focal point is beautiful in itself and should be celebrated in its own right…

      Really looking forward to reading/contemplating/viewing more of your work! 🙂

  4. I think these are magnificent. “The light first” is brilliant, and something I unknowingly subscribed to. Thank you for finding the operating instructions for me. And thanks for visiting my blog so I could discover yours.

  5. These are great. Personally, I think the highways/overpasses themselves are subjects as well as backgrounds. The ones more forward, to me are more like the subjects in the shot. I love these and I like what you did with them.

  6. These images are beautiful! I love the composition in gb1 and the color in gb2. I have been rather obsessed with human subjects for a while (they are my original love and will be again when I stop stupidly trying to make money off a hobby). However, I also think that we are reflected in the structure we build and and environment we live in. You could tell a lot about myself and my family, my way of life and even my beliefs by my environment. The fact that there is no actual person in any of these images, doesn’t mean that there is no story.
    As ever, I am in awe.

  7. Pingback: Blue Threadlocker | Bill Chance

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