Middle Day Magic

(© Ian Plant) It is axiomatic among nature photographers that the middle of the day is best avoided. The light is harsh and lacking the warm tones of sunrise and sunset. If you keep your mind open to the possibilities, however, you can make magical images even when the light is at its “worst.”

I made the image above at high noon in the desert on a sunny day—just about the worst light anyone can imagine. While walking through the narrow canyon, however, I was attracted to the way the light evenly illuminated both sides of the smooth sandstone cliffs, and the interplay of light and shadow. The sun was barely above the mountains in the background, so when I composed the image, I made sure that the sun was just outside of the image frame. This caused a little bit of sunburst flare at the top of the image, which I used compositionally to attract the eye and to add some additional interest to the scene. By selecting a cool white balance, I was able to tone down some of the harsh warmth of the midday sun, and to add a mysterious mood to the photograph.

The lesson here is that there is no such thing as “bad” light—there is only the right light for a given scene. Often, golden hour light works best with many landscape scenes. If you look to the landscape with a creative eye, however, you may find unconventional and surprising pairings of light and composition.

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