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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Warm Light, Cold Light

For David Stoecklein, any light will do. He takes what the scene gives him and makes the mood match the subject for inspiring photographs.

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David Stoecklein - Warm Light, Cool Light

"One thing that’s important to remember," he explains, "Is that in the morning when you’re getting up and you’re tired and everybody is tired, the light is running away from you. You start out early in the morning and, boy, that light comes, and you shoot, shoot, shoot. The light is running and running and all of a sudden it’s gone."

Sunrise and the predawn hours are perfect for cool-light shooting. "Trouble is," Stoecklein says, "those cool blue shots aren’t as popular as the warm glowing shots. To find that warm light, you have to look at the end of the day because afternoon light is, in all ways, the opposite of morning light.

In the evening, he continues, you start at four o’clock or whatever, and that light is coming at you; it’s just building and it’s getting better all day. As you warm up and everything warms up, it’s getting better. The evening light also has the benefit of the moisture and the dust and the atmosphere that builds up during the day, so it’s always warmer than the morning light and it’s always just a little bit better light. But also, for your mood as a photographer and the model’s mood and all that kind of stuff, the evening light is always better. It’s really the best of it all.

"In many ways," he adds, "the biggest trick to working with warm and cool light is just being there at sunrise and sunset—almost like shooting fish in a barrel."

Photography is all about telling a story,"he says. "So throughout the day, you try to create different stories. I always try to analyze the story that I’m trying to tell as I’m taking the picture. Sometimes the light dictates what the story is.

With digital capture, Stoecklein is able to extend that shooting time to work in the ultra-low-light levels found long before sunrise and after sunset. He doesn’t do much digital postproduction to enhance the colors, simply because he’s not much of a computer guy, but he suggests using filters, and he’s happy to incorporate them into his repertoire when it comes to amplifying the warm and cool light he encounters.

David Stoecklein - Warm Light, Cool Light
"I do have a series of Lee filters," Stoecklein says," so I can warm with that—darken the sky, darken the foreground. I can do all kinds of little tricky stuff. I really don’t do much of that in the computer. With digital, I shoot more early stuff and more late stuff, and more foul weather. Digital is just easy to work with."

Knowing how to utilize your tools in the magic hours of dawn and dusk is only a fraction of what it takes to build a body of work like Stoecklein’s. In practice, it’s all those hours between sunrise and sunset that make or break a day’s shooting—and a career.

"I had an assistant years ago," Stoecklein recalls' "and he said, 'Well, good job. You made a great picture in the golden light of the day. Let’s see you do it at two o’clock in the afternoon.’ You have to be able to work all day and make good photos all day."

Since Stoecklein has clients to please, he has to do something exceptional in whatever light with which he’s faced. It’s at those tough times when his flexibility comes in handy. He says it’s necessary for all photographers, shooting at any time of day and in any weather, to be able to abandon their preconceived notions in favor of what the light presents.

David Stoecklein - Warm Light, Cool Light
Stoecklein's tools of choice include, from left to right: a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Lee filters and a Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS USM lens.
"Photography is all about telling a story," he says. "So throughout the day, you try to create different stories. I always try to analyze the story that I’m trying to tell as I’m taking the picture. Sometimes the light dictates what the story is." Continues Stoecklein, "I look for anything. I like to work with a shadow as much as I like to work with a highlight. It’s a combination of the two. The warm exotic light is what everybody is so used to, but if you see a lot of the stuff I’ve been shooting the last couple of years, a lot of it has been after the sun has gone down or early in the morning before it comes up. I’d venture to say that my most famous photo is a picture called Winter
Save—it’s I-don’t-know-how-many years old—and that was an hour before sunrise."

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