Why Light and Conditions are Everything in Nature Photography

As a specialist polar photographer I have been exceedingly fortunate over the years to see and photograph some truly incredible icebergs. Those of you who have travelled and photographed with me in the polar regions know that I fully invest myself in the hunt for dramatic weather and light during our expeditions (be it for wildlife or landscape). I frequently drive the ships Captain to the bar as I have him make steam for the edge of the nearest squall or run for cover from blue skies. Blue sky photography might be ok for making postcards and happy snaps (and sitting on the deck drinking cocktails), but it’s the nemesis of dramatic, evocative photography. Personally, I find blue sky days somewhat frustrating as they generally produce banal imagery devoid of feeling, emption and impact. It is frequently at the edges of weather where the most dramatic conditions and light are found and these edges are what I live for when on an expedition.*

I have in the past been quoted as saying you really need three things for a great photograph. You need a great subject, you need great composition and you need great light (in Wildlife you also need the subject to be doing something interesting). Two out of three isn’t good enough and I want to illustrate my conviction with a couple of different iceberg photographs I have shot in Antarctica in recent years during expeditions. I don’t think anybody would argue that both of these photographs have a great subject and that compositionally they are effective images. They are different and unique icebergs, and each is special in its own way. You could in fact argue that the iceberg with the arches is actually the more interesting of the two, but thats beside the point because it is the drama in the first photograph that makes this image sing. The blue sky in the second photograph unfortunately makes the subject rather flat and boring. Of course, much depends on what you are trying to say with your photography. If all you want to do is document and enjoy the experience of being in the Polar regions then there is absolutely nothing wrong with blue sky days. However, if you want to inject impact, drama and emotion into your photographs then you are going to have to learn to chase weather; and in particular, the edges of weather.

 

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