Light & Land
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The Twilight Zone
27th April 2020
By Benjamin Graham
- Parental Advisory: contains bad words
- Trigger-Warning: contains facts
- Safe-Space Guidance: contains opinions with which you may disagree
- Allergy Advice: contains ideas you may consider nuts
‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, what’s goin’ on ‘ere then? Geez, Benjamin, you irrepressibly effervescent yet simultaneously disturbing source of incontinent circumlocution, we have only just emerged bruised, bothered and bewildered from the tortuous voyage into critical cerebral confusion that was your previous impenetrable lexicographical artefact. What can you conceivably have to torment us with further, not to mention so soon already, damn you? I hear you enquire.
Well, dear readers, stalkers and inquisitors - and fellow Coronials - Benjamin proposes that it is time for ‘Benjamin Proposes’. No, no, no, sorry to dishearten, but not in that way, ladies… or gentlemen… (or others indeed…)
Right then, here we go. Buckle-up boys and girls (or others indeed…) blatherings ahoy…
On this occasion, Benjamin proposes: the twilight zone! The titular intention, no less. No (again) not The Twilight Zone, you couch-potato chumps. Awesome though it may very well be, I am not, at this juncture, commending a box-set of B&W 1950s American TV Sci-Fi for you to chill in front of as you drink the wee small hours of continuing confinement into a mashed-up stupor of recreational pharmacological oblivion, as some of you are predisposed to do of a weekend anyhow (you know who you are). Yes. No. The unavoidable reality is that, if you wish to continue landscaping through the summer, you will need to subvert, invert no less, the expectations of your habitual waking-hours activities…
Allow me to explain.
No, hang on, let me begin by saying that I believe… Hmmm. No. Amendment: I know, for a frikkin fact (yep, I’m asserting, early-on, more than a mere whiff of authority into this-here chronicle) that if you want your landscape images to advance aesthetically, you have to shoot before/during dawn and during/after sunset. You’ve probably heard it all before, but that’s because it’s a frikkin fact.
And let no-one tell you otherwise.
Now look, I’m not saying you can’t get half-decent images (occasionally, I must concede, even the odd good one) in broad daylight. However, if it’s regular and satisfying multiple eyegasms you hanker for in the landscape, the evolution of the temperature, the progression of colour-intensities and the ultimately supreme quality of the incident light generally, both early in the morning and late in the day are, photographically, not only overwhelmingly seductive and gloriously productive but also, make no mistake, manifestly superior compared with the all the other tediously boring 20-odd hours of full-spectrum light in the rest of the day. And that is another frikkin fact.
But Benjamin, you gratuitous superfluity of byzantine complication and exasperating contradiction, you languorously harsh, yet devilishly urbane fiend of a toggery tutor, isn’t this just a fancy-pantsy show-off club for elite, light-snob togs who rise heroically in the small hours to go shooting? Ah, yes, well that may very well be so... But only if you also think that, in a similar way, alpine photography is a fancy-pantsy show-off club for elite, mighty mountain men and women who valiantly scale lofty, snow-capped summits; and who, with gay-abandon, dangle perilously off rock-faces on the ends of bits of string; and who routinely camp under canvas in sub-zero blizzards while simultaneously producing snaps of the landscape around them…
If you get my drift…
See what I did there?
Now look (again) and puns aside, I’m not suggesting for a moment that getting up at 4AM is equivalent to mountaineering. Not least because those guys are, you know, well ‘ard, so best not to rub-up their fluffy jiffies in a squiffy manner, eh? However, the principle of struggling (to varying degrees, clearly…) in order to acquire something greater than just the average, mundane or commonplace is the same. And perhaps, for you, through lack of funds, advancing age, illness or disability, clambering about on mountainsides is either impossible or, given an underlying medical condition, simply too great a health risk to take. I get it. I do. And, so should all those who, taking their good health or good fortune for granted, reside in ivory towers, routinely hang out in thunder-showers or possess mountaineering super-powers…
But, count your blessings… most of you can at least, from time-to-time anyway, sacrifice a few hours’ sleep for your art… Right? That, you’ll surely agree, is accessible? Achievable? Doable?
And, unlike bucket-list expeditions with long-haul complications and pot-luck meteorological conditions, it’s right here, right now, so it’s repeatable. Which means you can persevere, persist and progress. Forget far-off places for a moment. Stop pining for the fjords to make your pictures better (we’re all confined for an indeterminate unforeseeable anyway, so what better time to get out locally?). Besides, there are no secret places, only special moments. So, relish those moments as regularly as you can and practise in them. Only one thing makes your pictures better: you. So, be resolute with your craft, that’s the way to continuous incremental improvement and ultimately to fruitful fulfillment. Need I say: that’s a frikkin fact? Probably not, but it is.
So, with all that in mind… We are fast approaching the longest day of the year. And that is another frikkin fact. A period around which, in this country at least, it doesn’t really truly ever get properly dark at night. By the time the astronomical twilight is finally over in the west, another pre-dawn is brewing on the opposite horizon. Sa-weet! But it’s a long old day if you’re a dedicated landscaper. Sunrise at 04.30 means you need to be on location - and I mean actually set-up to shoot your first composition - at 03.30. And if you already shot into the blue hour the preceding evening, you were likely still out on location at 23.00. You do the temporal math for the sleep margin. Scary, right? Therefore, Benjamin proposes: daytime napping in the summer.
Surely though, Benjamin, you magnanimous information benefactor yet extraordinarily malevolent slave-driver, there must be exceptions? I hear you plead in pitiful supplication that you may salvage a few precious moments of warm slumber and sweet dream-time from my schedule of cold, unadulterated malice. Well, yes, OK, if I must… Exemptions in the landscaping discipline would be black & white and infrared. Or outdoorsy abstract photography that you can generally practice anytime, anywhere. If you really cannot ever see yourself rising until after the sun is above the horizon, then head down those creative paths. Those three sub-genres will indeed allow you to avoid the pains of pre-dawn and I diffidently acknowledge decent images can be acquired outside the twilight zone with all.
For traditional/representational B&W landscapes though, it must be remembered that golden hour still represents most of the best opportunities. It is not called The Golden Hour solely for the colour (in truth that gilded, exquisite moment is, at best, easily all over beyond about five to ten minutes after sunrise anyway) but rather it is the singular quality of the oblique light during that hour that is the genuinely pure-gold component. Latitude and season play their parts here, I know, and extreme northerners and southerners have a huge advantage with their ‘midnight sun’ phenomenon... For me though, shooting colour 99% of the time here in Blighty, other than in the depths of winter, once the sun has risen more than about ten degrees above the horizon, I’ve usually lost interest and I’m outta there... Old Captain Pastel-Pants heads home...
When I am in the landscape for the dawn in the middle of the year, unless I have participants with me on a workshop, I see literally no-one else ever... In fact, as a general rule, as I’m packing the gear away or already heading home, the first couple of early-bird, dog-walking randomers are only just showing up. And during the late sunsets (that linger as a very usable coastal toggery twilight up to 23.00) I again see virtually no-one. This time of year, the best photos are all to be had either when 99% of people are still asleep or when 99% of people are watching telly or down the pub. And that’s another frikkin fact. This exclusivity alone has to be one of the finest reasons to get out early in the summer… You will have the entire landscape - and all the photo-ops it offers - to yourself. Such seclusion and exclusion guarantee that no-one will either have your shot or, horror of horrors, be in it... Eugh. Nasty.
So, in wrapping up, let’s just see if we actually can wrap our minds around the concept of twilight landscape photography in the summer and make it a wrap, shall we? Can we (and when I say ‘we’, I mean ‘you’, obviously) commit to crazy o’clock? To crawling out from beneath the dreamy, downy duvet when the time is well inside the hostile territory of the right-hand hemisphere of the bedside alarm clock? To dragging ourselves out of comforting family familiarity and hauling off, bleary-eyed and brain-dead, into the hollow gloom beyond, to grasp the as-yet unsubstantiated opportunities of a blue hour and a sunrise in a place we think just might be worth a random visit?
Well, can you? That’s the wee question I have to leave to you to answer. Because the hardest part of landscape photography is pledging to yourself to actually do it in the first place; and then following through on that pledge. And that’s another frikkin fact. Self-belief, self-discipline and self-motivation are the drivers that lead to success and epiphany moments in any field of endeavour and they are all down to you alone; but maybe I can influence you by showing this little gallery in here. Let’s find out if I can give you a sociable prod that ultimately tips you off the precipice of doubt and into the mysterious, rapture-filled realm of twilight-zone bliss, by offering these dawn and dusk snaps that I prepared earlier.
Finally - and despite all the above impertinent abuse - if you like what you see and you have the predisposition, then, when the all-clear is sounded, my Coronial chums, I hope you will join me for a Light & Land pop-up workshop on the south coast. Details will be circulated from the lovely folk at Light & Land as soon as we have a time-frame from the UK’s Chief Medical Officer for the ending of confinement, the relaxation of social distancing and the lifting of travel restrictions.
Until next time; be safe, be well.