Changing Light and Photography

As an aeronautical engineer and landscape photographer, Matthew Kuhns knows a thing or two about the forces of nature—especially how light and other natural factors play into when and how to take a photograph.

Matthew is often asked the question: "Should that location be photographed in the morning or evening? And why not during the middle of the day?" On one of his recent trips to San Francisco, Matthew spent a lot of time at one of the viewpoints overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands to be exact. Since he was scouting the area to watch the Space Shuttle Endeavour fly by, he was able to witness firsthand how the changing light affected his photography. During this time, Matthew was able to capture photographs from the same spot at sunrise, midday, sunset, and midnight with his Nikon D800. "I found it interesting to watch how the light changed over the bridge and city during the course of those hours." Matthew provides more insight on how changing light affects photos and when the best time to photograph. the images below which time of day do you like best?

Dawn - Changing Light and Photography

The sun rises behind the bridge, making the bridge backlit and somewhat muting the classic red of the towers. When planning a photo shoot always think about how the light will be hitting your subject. The Photographer's Ephemeris is an excellent tool for this as it allows you to plan shoots and your optimal positioning in advance. To compensate for a high dynamic range scene like this you could also use HDR (high dynamic range) techniques to blend multiple exposures.

Dawn at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography Dawn at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography

Image Details:  24mm, f/18, 0.6 seconds, Nikon D800

Midday - Changing Light and Photography

With the bright direct sun and possible haze, midday is generally the worst time of day to photograph a place like the Golden Gate Bridge. The colors tend to be cooler and a polarizer is recommended. When the Space Shuttle Endeavour finally made its fly by on the back of the 747, it was mid morning and the light was quite bad for photography. Due to delays at Edwards, it was behind schedule so the light was harsher than I had anticipated.

Midday at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography Midday at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography

Image Details: 24 mm, f/14, 1/400 second, ISO 640, Nikon D800

I had planned my location based on NASA's published flight plan so that Endeavour would fly right between the two bridge towers with the city in the background. I felt that the color version did not have the proper impact, so I converted it to black and white to bring out the details and focus attention on the Endeavour. If you have no choice but to photograph mid-day, try thinking about your images in black and white while setting up your compositions.

Midday (Black & White) at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography Midday (Black & White) at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography

Image Details: 24 mm, f/14, 1/400, ISO 640, Nikon D800 - B&W Conversion Nik Silver Effects Pro

Sunset - Changing Light and Photography

Sunset is when the Golden Gate really shines from this location. The warm light of the setting sun complements its red color, and the beautiful city of San Francisco can be seen in the background. It doesn't hurt when there are beautiful fiery clouds in the sky either...

Most of the time while the best light is in the sky, the city lights are not on. This was the case here, and the lights on the bridge and in San Francisco in the background are not lit.

Sunset at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography Sunset at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography

Image Details: 24mm, f/20, 2.0 seconds, Nikon D800

Blue Hour - Changing Light and Photography

Blue hour is the short time after sunset or before sunrise where the sky takes on a brilliant sapphire blue in photographs. During this time period is also when most of the city lights come on, creating a great backdrop to create compelling images. The starburst effect seen on the bridge lights is from using a small f-stop, around f/18. You can also stretch exposures longer during this time of day to catch streaking headlights from passing cars. This is an excellent technique to add leading lines and that extra bit of interest to your cityscapes.

Of the images shown here, this is my favorite for the best combination of light and depth. The city looks so great glittering in the background. Make sure you don't pack up too soon after sunset; stay and wait for blue hour.

Blue Hour at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography Blue Hour at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography

Image Details: 38 mm, f/14, ISO 250, 30 seconds, Nikon D800

Midnight - Changing Light and Photography

Two hours after sunset begins the best time of night to start photographing stars. When you're in the city, however, they tend to be hard to see. You can see that compared to the blue hour shot above, this image has a jet black sky. All of the city and bridge lights are on, so whether you want to photograph at midnight or during blue hour comes down to personal preference and what type of image you are trying to capture.

Blue Hour at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography Midnight at Golden Gate Bridge - Changing Light and Photography, Matthew Kuhns Photography

Image Details: 24mm, f/5.6, 30 seconds, Nikon D800

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