We begin accepting entries for our 2011 Summer Photo Contest on June 6, so for this Photo of the Week we’ve decided to divulge one of the most important aspects of taking great nature and landscape photography. If you’re thinking that it revolves around high-tech gear or elements of composition… think again. Perhaps the most essential secret to capturing superb nature photography is timing!
Case in point: Lake Bomoseen State Park, seen in the photograph above. Lake Bomoseen is the largest body of water that lies entirely within Vermont’s borders. This shot, taken from its shores in 2010, is one of my personal favorites from Vermont because I feel that it captures the sense of profound serenity which I experienced beside the lake in the moment that I triggered the camera shutter. Clouds of swirling mist are aglow with morning sunlight, the waters are mirror-like and a dark, forested peninsula looms within an almost featureless blend of color. But don’t bother dragging your camera gear down to the shores of Lake Bomoseen at noon… it will look nothing like this!
Scenes such as these occur only very briefly at dawn, so if you aren’t already on the shores of Bomoseen at morning twilight you’re going to miss the shot. The exquisite blanket of mist that really makes this photograph come alive results from warm, humid air cooling over the lake throughout the night. Just as the Sun begins to peek over the surrounding mountains at dawn, this mist catches rays of light and illuminates the lake like a brilliant lantern. But, only 30 to 45 minutes after first light, the air has heated back up and the mist vanishes completely. Vistas of the lake such as these exist during a very narrow window of time that has come and gone while most folks are still sound asleep in bed.
In fact, the “big secret” to some of the world’s most amazing landscape photography revolves entirely around getting to the right place at the right time. The overwhelming majority of exquisite shots are taken during what landscape photographers call the “golden hours”… roughly one hour during sunrise and one hour during sunset. At these moments when the Sun is low on the horizon, beams of light are cast through the largest cross-section of the atmosphere and refract in dazzling ways that “warm” colors and accentuate contrasts.
So, if you’re the adventurous type, try setting that alarm clock for the wee hours of morning and heading out to your favorite outdoor destination. You may just discover an awe-inspiring side of that familiar place which you never knew existed!