Friday, 1 July 2011

Question - how long do you wait for the light?

Here's a guy who could help you redefine yourself and your approach to photography.

Michael Fatali

He has some stunning photography. Stunning.

With the exception of shots that I've taken from my bedroom window where I could argue I'm still waiting for the light, I reckon the longest I've waited for the light is, ooooh, I'm guessing now, but maybe 35 minutes. I suspect I'm typical, I'll go out there, see something I like, reckon the light is OK, set up, glance around to see how clouds are changing, then hey presto. I'll move around, though I will take note and consider returning the the same spot either later that session or on a different day or season.

I suspect I'm not alone in being guilty of chasing light rather than waiting for it. Knowing good light when I see it, so try my hardest to capture that before it goes. The opposite approach to seeing the potential in a location and knowing the right kind of light to make the most of it... so waiting... waiting...

If you're going out to take photos, how many do you come back with?

How many are any good?

Now come on, I mean goooood.

Under each of Fatali's images is a link to field notes. In here he has all the usual techno stuff, but also includes that all important one which I'm sure most of us pay little regard to: Waiting for the light.

I've flicked through most of the shots on his site. For most, his wait is measured in hours, for many the wait is in days.

I'm not really sure what this means. Did he set up his tripod then sit there in the lotus position for a week? Did he set up and then play frisbee for a few hours. Did he arrive, take note of a potential shot - then go take all the usual crap we all have while his third eye scanned the sky waiting for the moment?

I've seen vids of Michael Kenna working. He seems to be constantly on the move, constantly trying different things - but he's using a hassy, far quicker to move around than a technical camera.

These 5x4 guys need to take more time to set up - so before they even start they need to take more time in selecting exactly where to set up. But I still have a minds eye view of Michael Fatali stood like a praying mantis, not moving...

Viewing sites from these 5x4 guys makes me realise my approach to photography is opportunistic. That's not to say portability and spontaneity don't have advantages, but its difficult to argue with waiting for the light. Here's one I prepared earlier - though I'm afraid I didn't set my stopwatch to determine how long I waited for the light.

Morecambe Bay Dawn
Long exposure using 10 stop plus 6 stop plus 3 stop ND grad


  1. It's pretty impressive. I wish I had the time to wait that long. I never wait. If the light is good, I take the shot. If not, well, I probably still take it, but I'll delete it later.

    I do try to plan my dedicated outings around the weather forecast and sun position data (I use That might make me choose one morning over another, but I won't sitting around waiting for the light.

    If i got out for 2 hours or so (typical for a pre-work morning shoot) I might come back with 100 - 200 shots. From there I'll cull down to less than 10, probably less than 5. Among those the number that are really, really good is usually zero.

  2. 2 hours, over a shot a minute? You want to get yourself some heavy ND filters to slow you down! Mind you, it very much depends on what you are shooting.

    I had an action packed weekend supporting a run, though managed to sneak 2 location shoots. In terms of weather, the day was booked weeks ago, so no choice there. In terms of waiting for the light, I had a schedule and needed to find some sleeping time too (maybe 4 hours tops!) so not a lot of choice there either. But I did think about Fatali and wondered how he'd have managed the day.

    Both locations were good, though late afternoon wasn't ideal timing for the first. The second one was around dawn. A couple of shots with promise, though one of those days which gradually got lighter - the colour versions of the shots are very little different to the black and white. I think Fatali would still be sitting there, waiting.