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Find The Light And You'll Find Your Image!

“My first thought is always of light.” – Galen Rowell

Anyone who has ever made a living in the arts will tell you, one must have mentors. Whether these are people that you are fortunate enough to study with or follow through books or internet presence, you need those who can influence and teach you as you are trying to learn your craft.

One such mentor of mine, especially in the realm of landscape photography, was the great Galen Rowell. Though I did have the opportunity to meet Galen once at his Bishop, California Mountain Light Gallery, I never had the opportunity to take a workshop from him as he passed away the year I was planning on attending one of his workshops.

Crepuscular Rays on California Live Oak, Diablo Mountain Range, Santa Clara Valley, San Benito County, California.
Sony RX10 III at 164mm. 1/40-sec., f/11, ISO 100, Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer 

I have however read every book Galen ever wrote. What came clear to me through his writings and amazing images was how he always sought-out light – quality light. He was not a middle of the day shooter. If it was a raging storm or fog, then time didn’t matter – again, light mattered. Subject seemed to come second to him.

This is a lesson I apply every day in my landscape photography. The middle of the day for me is saved for scouting. The edges of the day are for serious photography.

I captured the image above about 30 minutes prior to sunset while just driving around southern Santa Clara Valley looking for potential images and potential areas to return to when the light would be better.

Sometimes you just get lucky and such was the case with this image. I didn’t start out thinking, “I need to make an image of this lone Live Oak.” I was just driving and spotted this light and got to a position where I could feature this tree.

The sky parted and this shaft of warm light bathed the oak. In any other light, this would just be a picture of a tree – it was the light that made it special.

Steam Off Rain-Soaked Pines, Yosemite National Park, California.
Sony α7R II, Sony 70-200mm G Master lens. 1/200-sec. f/22, ISO 100

The image above was captured in Yosemite National Park a few weeks back while co-teaching Gary Hart’s Horsetail Fall Workshop. The Valley had been saturated with 30+ hours of rain. When we finally caught a clear morning to shoot, we pulled our participants up to the Sentinel Bridge parking area. While everyone was looking towards Yosemite Falls, I happened to turn around and saw the morning sun warming the rain-soaked trees and captured this back-lit image of the evaporating mist coming off the branches and trunks of these Pines..

Again, all about the light. In any other situation these Pine trees would not have caught my attention, but the conditions warranted an image over the iconic Falls, which I have photographed numerous times.

Once I saw the steam, I asked myself, “what can I do to make this image even more dramatic?” Then I thought about creating a sunstar with the rising morning sun. I quickly changed my position and pinched the sun against a pine at f/22 – no filter; I just let the lens do its thing!

If you are ever struggling with making a meaningful image, stop and find where the most attention-grabbing light is coming from. Work towards the light and I guarantee, you will find your image!