Shooting Through Changing Light


It is safe to say that I am not a morning person.  Honestly, if you told me that my only options were to wake up early, or have a non-anesthetic root canal, I would probably hesitate before I gave you my final answer.

Morning light creates so many wonderful photographic opportunities though, so from time to time I will suck it up and head out on 3 or 4 hours of sleep to shoot.  Such was the case this past summer, when I taught a 5 day travel photography workshop in Toronto with my teaching partner Spencer Wynn.  Sunrise was around 6:30am that week, so we were up shortly after 4am quite often to ensure that we were on location and ready to shoot well before that time.

My favourite thing about these early morning shoots is watching the light change as the sun rises.  In just a short period of time it can go from total darkness, to pre-dawn light, to sunrise and finally to full daylight, each phase offering a completely different look for our images.  Let’s take a look at a series of photos I made one morning in Toronto, time stamped to see how the light changed throughout the 90 minutes or so that I shot (from 5:56am to 7:28am).

(Note:  all of the images in this series where shot in Fuijfilm’s Provia film simulation, using the daylight white balance setting.  The photos have had minimal cropping / straightening, a few exposure corrections and they have been sharpened.)

(5:56am)

This was the view that greeted us as we arrived on location, the famous Toronto skyline set against an eerie glowing pink sky that reflected off of the water.  We started shooting immediately, working the scene to find the best composition while the night sky still had this glow:

(6:03am)(6:06am)

The sky was brightening quickly however, washing away the wonderful pink hues that were present only minutes before.  I often focus less on the sky and more on detail shots when this happens, in this case photographing silhouettes of the morning cyclists and joggers on the bridge.  It is probably the street photographer in me, but I always find compositions more interesting when I can add in a human element:

(6:15am)(6:22am)
(6:30am)

I especially love how images like these look in black and white:

When the sun finally made its appearance behind the Toronto skyline the light changed yet again, the rising sun bringing a new colour palette with it as it rose higher and higher in the sky:

(6:42am)(6:46am)(6:52am)(7:02am)

When the transition from night to day was complete we looked for other shooting opportunities underneath the bridge.  I fell in love with the geometric shapes and the interplay of light and shadows that we discovered, and then a bird flew into the frame creating an opportunity for an interesting image:

(7:11am)(7:14am)(7:14am)

We finally made our way back to the van, tired but excited about the beautiful sunrise we witnessed that morning.  On the way back, however, we couldn’t resist stopping on the bridge to play with the architecture one more time:

(7:24am)(7:25am)(7:27am)(7:28am)

When shooting a skyline or cityscape we often head out with one main image in mind.  Changing light brings us so many options though, so it is important to keep working the scene, keep responding to the light and, most importantly, keep making images.  Just keep shooting!

I think my favourite image from the morning is this one:

I love the colours, I love the static elements (the instantly recognizable Toronto skyline framed by the bridge) and I love how the cyclist adds an interesting human element to the scene.

If you are new to this kind of shooting, I highly encourage you to spend a few hours on location shooting through changing light… it is a lot of fun.  And, if you are interested in shooting in this exact location in 2019, definitely consider joining Spencer and I on our next Toronto workshop!

The Story of a City – Toronto Edition

Cheers,

Ian

p.s.  This is the fourth and final post from my time in Toronto this year.  Up next on the blog, a lot of new street photography from the streets of Vancouver!

10 thoughts on “Shooting Through Changing Light

  1. cestmoielle says:

    Great article! Looks like your favorite image didn’t come through, wondering what it was? I’m amazed that you captured the 3 birds within the bridge span. You’re amazing! And inspiring! I look for light now and am much more aware of its value. Thanks! Elle

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Trevor Sherwin says:

    Hi Ian, great post. Your newsletter is one of the only ones I look forward to reading (rather than just looking at the photos).

    Quick q, when shooting in low light with all of these different compositions, are you handheld or using a tripod? I use a tripod on most of my cityscape shots but it also roots me a little preventing me from exploring the many compositions around me. Now I deliberately head out without the tripod to force me to be freer but in low light, this can be an issue. I’m keen to hear your thoughts on that one.
    Cheers
    Trevor

    • Ian says:

      Hey Trevor!

      I use tripods usually for my planned low light cityscapes and landscapes. If I don’t have one with me, however, I just stabilize it on something if I can or crank the ISO.

      Cheers,

      Ian

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