Pure Light

Sometimes I feel I have been struck with pure luck when I am out shooting. I am sure you have all felt it at some point. When suddenly the light is right, you are at the right place and the right time and everything is just set up for capturing enchanting photos. Of course, most times, it feels like the opposite, but every so often, all variables come together as if it was meant to be.

Such was the time when I was out enjoying the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA, between Christmas and New Year. My love one and I had decided to spend a handful of days at the north-eastern-most point of the contiguous United State. It wasn’t a photo trip as such, but of course I had brought my camera and some lenses.

One day when we visited Shi Shi Beach, the afternoon sun bathed the coastline with golden and forming light. It came out through layers of clouds, streaming like ethereal rays from the sky above. Even I, who don’t regard myself as a nature photographer, felt the majestic pull of the landscape.

The afternoon went flying with capturing the scenery. I concentrated my approach to capture light and shadows together with the structures and forms of the landscape; the rocks, waves that hit the coast and the beach itself. It was all about graphics and lights. However, the intense and low sun made for such immense contrasts that it was at times almost impossible to capture it all. I set the exposures so that the highlights would be rendered within the latitude of the sensor’s capabilities (and even a little overexposed since I am working with RAW files that allows for some recovery of burned out highlights). Still the shadows would grow almost completely black. That was one reason why I concentrated on capturing strong graphic images rather than rich and full sceneries or details.

To further enhance the challenges with the harsh contrasts, the best images were captured with the sun streaming directly into the lens. Backlight creates dramatic photos but is also challenging to control. If nothing else, it surely widens the contrast significantly. Sometimes I didn’t even had to take any photos—there was no way I could handle the contrasts, but at other times when I overcame the challenges, I surely was rewarded with spectacular images.

I am usually a wide-angle photographer, but this time I had brought my 100-400 lens in addition to my regular lenses. It’s a lens I rarely use, but I knew with the rock formations at the coast of the Olympic Peninsula it would come in handy to compress the perspective. On the other hand I had to work harder to render some feeling of three-dimensionality since the long telephoto lenses flatten the images. However, challenges are always fun, and working to overcome both contrasts and two-dimensionality increased the sensation of being in a special place and time.

I hope you enjoy the handful of images I show here from the trip.

95 thoughts on “Pure Light

  1. What a stunning series of images, Otto. You are so right about the impact of the light… Sometimes, one is just in the right place at the right time – and with a partner who doesn’t mind that one needs to stop everything, grab the camera and play around with settings and lenses (!). It can feel like magic. 🙂 I particularly like you how have captured the beams of light coming down through the clouds in the third and fifth images.

  2. amazing photos!!! you should donate them to the people that fake moon landings haha… though i think it looks more like mars 🙂 reminds me of a black and white pic i took of a sunset on a rocky beach, back in my film days… the picture is on the wall behind me

  3. Stunning light and capture.
    I’m particularly envious of right time, right place on this occasion, as we can go through our whole lives missing the magic that you’ve caught in the frame.
    Love the ripples of the receding tide in the 1st image pulling your eye into the horizon.
    Love the jagged rawness of the rock with the delicacy of the bird in the second.
    Love the oppressive clouds in the 3rd.
    …..and the unusual framing in the 4th.
    ……….and the magic of the rays of soft light over the harshness of the almost alien shoreline of the last.
    How blessed you were on this particular day.

    1. I was indeed blessed. Hopefully we do get blessed every so often with moments like this. Of course, it helps to just be out there a lot. Then maybe one day all pieces fall in place. Thank you for the lovely words, Vicki.

  4. Beautiful images. The light is striking, but it seems to me the serendipity of the light is only important if you’ve got a good eye for composition and the technical know how to back it all up. It’s wonderful when everything works together. Good job!

  5. That land/seascape is surreal and captivating! If there physically, I might stand there all day just pondering – and marveling – about the geologic history… You have definitely given this area a rightful series of portraits!

  6. As others have commented, this is surely not the USA but a fantasy, mythical land at the end of a rainbow! It is a beautiful set – and it is really a set – of photos you have captured. I do hope your loved one didn’t have to spend too much time holding your lenses….!

  7. Sometimes it just works. I was chasing the sun one time, out looking for barns and as I stood in a field the sun just came out and lit up the tin roof of the barn I was focused on. It was magic. On the other hand, the week between Christmas and New Years I was in northern Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan which was producing band after band of lake effect snow for the entire 6 days. Occasionally, between bands, I’d go out and try to find something interesting. It was so difficult to shoot the bright white snow and the dark lake and clouds. So much contrast! One or the other was either over exposed or under. Frustrating. Still, I was outside with my camera so I was, overall, happy.

    1. I read about the heavy snow fall. And yes, winter landscape can be very tricky to capture. Still, at least that’s how I think, the most important is to be out there an experience even if we can’t capture it.

  8. Fabulous use of available light, Otto. I have a friend who is a VFX artist for Disney and he calls those beams of light breaking through the clouds, God Rays. from the looks of it, you were in the presence of something much bigger than yourself.

  9. Unless you’re shooting in a studio, the quality of the light is the one variable you can’t control as a photographer — but it takes quite a keen eye and skilled technique to get as much out of the light as you did with these images. Beautiful work, Otto! I just love the otherworldly quality of this set.

    1. Yes, photographing real life, so to speak, is always going to be less controlled than in a studio. But that is really what I enjoy the most. 🙂 There is an otherworldly quality to it all, isn’t there!

  10. Great captures with the very good stories about how you approach the difficulties of taking such scenes as well. I like how you see the place and take the best to get out of it!

  11. You were in such a beautiful part of the country, and I am so glad that the light was in your favor. You sure captured it beautifully, Otto. These photographs are wonderful!

  12. Your picture is delightful, stunning. What strikes me too is the way you see things, the glass half full instead of being half empty. Despite the technical perfection of your pics, the way you see the world around you with your keen eyes and heart is probably one of the reasons why your photos speak so eloquently. Yes, the light was in your favor but you capture it in a very special way… Pure beauty! You’ve got my follow.

  13. Hi Otto, I got a sneak peak of a couple of these on IG and I’m so glad to see them in full and read your narrative. We share a love of the Olympic Peninsula and your images have captured the awesome feeling of this place. I adore backlighting and it works so well in your landscapes. And your foregrounds are fantastic. What a magnificent day for shooting…I can imagine how thrilled you were when you saw this light! Wishing you a creative and inspiring 2018!

    1. I was indeed very thrilled to be there at the right time with the fantastic light. Anyone who has been to the Olympic Peninsula would fall in love, don’t you think? Wish you all the best for 2018, too.

  14. Amazing series, Otto. There is a liquidity to the light and the landscape, almost as if you poured the images into the camera. Beautiful. 🙂

  15. The dramatic landscape and the dramatic lighting paired perfectly here. I must say, I was especially taken by the birds in the last image. I wonder if they feel a sense of wonder at the world that surrounds them. We say, “Of course not,” easily — but it’s easy to imagine that they do.

    I’ll offer this only as an observation, not a criticism. My eye constantly was being drawn out of the images by the framing, especially where the image seems to leach out into the frame, or the grunge-like elements intrude into the photo. It would be interesting to see them with a different frame.

    1. Does animals have a soul? Or maybe more personality? Hard to say, but I have come to believe so more and more – at least for some species. Thanks for your observation. I will have to spend some time with the images and different framing to see if I agree with you. 🙂

  16. Hello Otto,
    They are truly spectacular and dramatic images. Your description is very helpful, and I now understand what you mean by shooting Raw.

    Being rewarded for the challenges…a very poignant metaphor.
    Thank you for the informative post and I’m happy you enjoyed an adventurous festive season getaway.
    Best wishes from Di 💐🙋🏻🙋🏻

  17. A great series of landscapes. It looks recently volcanic like Hawaii or Iceland. I never would have guessed that was the northwest tip of Washington state.

    Iceland can even look like the surface of the moon, and is often photographed by space, astronomical and sci-fi artists who need references for creating lunar-like illustrations.

    Remarkable shots, Otto. I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more photography of this area before.

  18. What a great way to spend that week! I enjoyed reading about your experience shooting, the difficult light, the best angle being into the sun, etc. – all familiar. And the flattening perspective, which was very apparent in the Instagram photo, too. I like the way you handled the bits of color in the last image – it worked well! I love the second to last photo too, so dynamic, but still balanced.

  19. Very nice impressions and a great study in use of the powerful backlight. Amazing rocks and a part of the world unbeknown to me, I’m happy you brought this special place a bit closer to us. 🙂

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