Photography is about the capture of light, and light is at it’s most evocative, at the edge. Where light meets dark…or dark meets light. From the subtle differences in tone that we see as light and darkness slowly drift together, to the jarring effects of the last moments of light, rimmed against total darkness.
I have made thousands of pictures that in one way or another, illustrate life at the edge. I have shown several hundred ( or more) of them over the years, and those you see below were chosen because they were handy. I have used a fair number of generalizations in the text below, as this post is not meant to be a truly technical article, but rather a showing of images that fit the criteria of the post, along with my general thought process at the time of conception of the photos you see.
When the edge of light is photographed naturally, it is generally the combination of the low angled light of the rising or setting sun, and the shadows that the angle of that light creates. The place where they meet, or the edge, produces the contrast between light and dark that dramatizes images, and makes them special. What you get (photographically) is pretty much what you see, although the exposure latitude of the camera, is pale compared to what the combination of our eyes and our brains can handle. In other words, our eyes are likely to see more detail in the shadows than our cameras will.
From a little after sunrise or before sunset, is the beginning point for pictures at the edge of light. There is usually some detail in the shadows.
Anytime of year, the earlier or later you make photos, the shadows obviously (the edge) grow deeper.
My favorite time is when the light merely skims the surface of sand, snow or rock. These pictures made at White Sands in New Mexico, take us on a journey that ends at the very, very, edge of all light. There is no better time in photography than when blackness has occurred, except that one little ray of light. Ask yourself if you would show an image with as little light as the last two of these three.
Straight silhouettes at sunrise or sunset are (or were) perhaps the most popular form of shooting at the edge. Obviously the silhouette is the shadow, and that glowing red or gold sky is the light. I prefer my “straight at the sky” sunrises/sunsets to be kept somewhat dark, in an effort to keep the sky rich and beautiful.
Straight sunrise/sunset images are a form of backlighting, but you needn’t shoot at the first or last light to make great backlit photos. Some translucency to your subject, such as the flower petals and spider’s legs in the images below, will highlight “the edge” in your pictures. Depending on the angle of the light, and the darkness of the background, choosing lenses that narrow or widen that background to show exactly what you want, is the secret to dynamic images.
Of course, the edge of light (or darkness), can be produced by technology as well. All three butterfly pictures below were taken out-of-doors. All three were also lit with electronic flash. The first two images of a Pearl Crescent Butterfly perched on my car, were made with flash and a background that was much too far away, to be anything but black. That result wasn’t something that I had to settle for, it was my intended result all along. A butterfly at the edge….of light and dark. The Tiger Swallowtail that you see perched on Joe Pye Weed, was the result of the butterfly moving up on the weed just as I was ready to shoot. The background is once again too far away from the flash to record much detail. This was not my intended result, although I’ll take it. My earlier pictures are barely distinguishable (my intention) from natural light (non flash) shots. That’s okay though, I like this picture and I am usually willing to accept an artistic rendering of reality, due to technology. Not often, but sometimes. The reason why “edge” pictures like these work, is the brilliant contrast between the bright vivid colors and the detail-less darkness.
This lighthouse picture is another way to use manmade lighting to produce at photo at the edge. I exposed the image for the artificial lighting. I wanted the tower of the lighthouse to be exposed correctly and I accepted the dimmer lighting on the back of the cottage. That decision meant that the sky would drop several stops of light. I settled for that even though it was not what I originally wanted to do. Eventually I learned to like the darker sky and the “sharper edge” it gave the picture.
Bright front lighting and a naturally dark sky is another great way to produce photos on the edge. I saw the storm clouds form in the western sky and headed for the one subject in the area that I knew would contrast with that sky. This little observatory was lit up beautifully by the morning sun and I knew the edge would be greatly apparent in my finished image.
Every subject is valid when you are out shooting at the edge of light. The color of this dove was provided by the last golden rays of the day. It is natural. The angle of the sun left the brushy background in shade, but not without small patches of detail. I must admit, that I darkened the few stalks of weeds that were lit by the sun. I originally did not remember any alterations in the editing process, as that is not a likely thing for me to do, but common sense tells my I had to. I like this result even if it is only “almost” as I found it.
Enjoy living at or on the edge.
God Bless, Wayne