Saturday, January 8, 2011

Making the Best of a Sunny Photo Day

I was spending a weekend in a small town just north of here when I came across a beautiful grove of deciduous oaks, their trunks covered in luscious rich green moss and their upper branches glowing white against the overcast skies with palest green lichen. Ohh, I have to photograph those! But I didn't have time right then so I planned to come back the next day. Unfortunately the next day was sunny and bright. A beautiful day of course, but a killer for any photography plans. The lovely range of greens and browns in the grove were now completely washed out by the bright sunlight. Well, I was in the mood to photograph, dang it, so I just went ahead to see what I could come up with.

low sun

The grove was on a steep hillside and the winter sun was low. The slanting light threw everything into high contrast. The trunks of the trees turned black against the tan colored grasses. The trees now seemed stark and creepy. Well, I'll just have to make some creepy photos then! High contrast works well with black and white photography so I decided I would post-process some images in Photoshop into black and white. So, while photographing, I looked for interesting textures or silhouettes and tried to capture that low winter light. I took a lot of photographs that are pretty blah but I think a few turned out well. Anyway, it was a fun exercise.

spirally grass

It's hard for me to get out during those ideal shooting times of day - early morning or right at sunset - so sometimes I just have to figure out how to work with harsh mid-day light. It's a little trickier to shoot during the middle of the day but if you are able to keep an open mind and work with what you've got or try something new, you can often come up with something interesting.

I like this composition with the stone, grass and trees, but I sure wish I'd pulled out those two long blades of grass in front of the rock. It would have been so much stronger without them. Gotta pay attention to things like that!

rock and trees

Here is a photograph that worked all right in color. I had my polarizing filter on so the colors turned out a bit more saturated. If you decide to use a polarizing filter it will be most effective it you can keep the sun at a right angle to where you are shooting, fyi.


Here is the same shot after I turned it into a black and white image. I think I like it in color more though.

hillside bw

I kind of like this one in color too. The textures in the grass were pretty cool.

grassy slope

Of course, working in the shade is always an option on sunny days too. Here are some shady shots I got.

lichen branch


So, I'm kind of enjoying working with strong light. Maybe the photos aren't bursting with color but you sure can get some drama by harnessing that unfiltered brightness.


  1. I think you did a good job on this series. The shot with the small boulder is my favorite, and I did not notice the long blades until you called attention to them.

  2. The boulder pic is very cool, and the last one is lovely also. Neat series!

  3. Neat! Is this Ukiah? Where did you stay?

  4. Les - Thank you! Maybe I shouldn't point out those blades of grass then!

    Pam- I like the last one too. The redwoods did a good job of filtering the light.

    Chuck - This was just outside of Garberville. We went up to see a "built-into-the-hillside" house. It was pretty interesting, I'll write about it soon. There sure was a lot of snow on the hills on the way up!

  5. Just dropping by from THE garden in the Spanish speaking Caribbean, Puerto Rico, USA.

  6. aloha,

    i'm guessing you are in sonoma county? bright light can be tricky but changing them to black and white can make for interesting photo compositions especialy with the harsh light....i do like the blue sky photo that you did with the polarizing lens it works well...nice job :)

  7. Dirty Girl Gardening - I know. I really should spend a minute and figure out which oaks they are!

    Antigonum cajan - Welcome.

    Noel - The photos were taken in Humbolt Co. (although I live in the Bay Area.) Being a chronic mid-day photographer, that polarizer was one of the best investments I've made!


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