The Essence of Light
The essence of light is very important to the final composition of a piece of art work. Whether it is the cool light of dawn to the warm light of evening. Cloudy days create its own nuances of lighting. But in order to observe these various light patterns, you must sit and observe. Remember also that the sun rises in the East and settles in the West.
As one awaits the coming of dawn the surrounding landscape is cast in darkness. From were I stand the sun will rise behind me to my right. With the coming of the sun a brightness begins to occur over the land, but very subtly. Just imagine a scene of a lake surrounded by hills. An island is in the middle background. The sun does not burst from the horizon. Other factors come into play. These would be hills and trees that block the sun’s ray’s path. Quite suddenly a small patch of light will appear on the far hill in the background. The background hills are the highest of the surrounding landscape. As you watch the patch of light evolves, spreading over the hill. Then off to the right, another patch of light appears. Very slowly spreading, with the ascent of the morning sun. The shorelines of the lake and island are still in deep shadow.
The sky is getting brighter now, but still having the light intensity of the surrounding area. With the edging of the sun up on the horizon, the background hills are losing more shadows. Then a glimpse of light appears on the near hills to my left. These are the hills that cascade down to the lake shore. Now we are getting into some composition possibilities. The glow of light upon a tree to my left reflecting into the water with a dark background creating contrast. The right shoreline is now receiving sunlight filtering through the trees to highlight the top edge of the trees. There are still dark shadows in the scene.
You must also realize the angle of your scene in relation to the path of the sun’s rays and the angle of the light that is low at this time in the morning. Go into a dark room with a small light of some sort. Maybe a candle. Place it at a comfortable height. Take a three dimensional object. Place it in the palm of your hand. Hold it off center horizontally to the source of light. Now observe what is receiving light and what is remaining in shadow. Now turn your object slightly and observe the change in light and shadow. Keep experimenting with this and I think your understanding of lighting with be better.
Back to our scene now. The hills in the background are now alight from the sunlight. The sun is still filtering through the trees to touch upon our described scene. The shadows are becoming less. Let us look at the island now. The left top edge of this island is receiving some sunlight. The evergreens on the left side of the island are edged in light at their tops. The right part of the island still in shadow. You will now observe the reflection of light on the waters surface. The shorelines are becoming more light enhanced as the sun continues to advance. There are now only small pockets of shadow to be found as the sun clears the obstacles before it. The advancing sunlight is slowly engulfing the island. The sky in the background is more intense highlight than the landscape. Before long the entire scene before you is now bright. As an artist you will want to capture the scene before it reaches that intensity. To me, when everything is well lit up, it has lost its appeal.
The end of the day is in reverse. You start out with a bright scene. We are not talking about sunsets here. It is the relationship of the setting of the sun to the landscape. Again I am placing the sun behind me for this discussion. Same scene as above. The sky in the background continues to darken. The shorelines of the lake are beginning to fall into shadow. The left side of the lake may be in shadow, while the right shoreline is still receiving light. As the sun descends to the horizon, you will observe some ugly shadow patterns of shadows. This could be in the form of straight line of shadow on the trees edging the lake’s shoreline. This does not look good. Always remember that as the sun lowers, hills and tree line alter the path of sunlight. This occurs both morning and evening. Thus the weird shadow patterns occur twice each day, morning and more predominantly in the evening. Once the sun has dropped below the horizon the lighting becomes quite even. There is a short period now to create your composition before total darkness comes.
The lighting of daytime is replaced by a magic lighting whereby the colors will take on a glow of their own. Rock structures become alive in color. It is an experience worth seeing. The wind normally becomes still, thus creating wonderful reflections upon the water. The magical moment. There are other forms of lighting such as side lighting and back lighting. I have used this type of lighting to great effect. Cloudy days give you their own unique lighting. The colors become saturated and there are no shadows. Now unique compositions can be had when there is a break in the clouds and sunlight enhances certain parts of your composition. This truly can be effective.
Whether morning sunrise or evening sunsets, both can give you an assortment of color in the sky. The colors will range from magenta, pink, red and purple. At times I have had the evening sun cast various colors on my rocky shoreline scenes. Thus an exotic scene is created. Just a matter of being there.
I hope I have created a better understanding of lighting on landscapes. Until next time happy trails!