HIGH CONTRAST MEANS GRAPHIC
At the other extreme from overcast light, flat, hard sunlight creates strong shapes for more geometric compositions
A high, piercing sun flouts all the rules of conventional ‘nice’ lighting, and sends many photographers running for cover, leaving only mad dogs and Englishmen standing around in it. And yet, it does one thing extremely well from a photographic point of view – it casts strong, hard-edged shadows, and these can be very useful for the kind of composition that plays with graphic and geometric shapes.
Piercingly sunny conditions involve extremely clear air and a high sun, so it’s not all that common in the British Isles. The tropics, however, have a much higher sun during the day, while high mountainous regions have thinner, clearer air (see main image, left).
There are a few precautions to take. One is to expose (and process) for the lit areas and keep those shadows almost black so that they register as pure shapes. Opening up the exposure runs the risk of a washed-out light (though admittedly there’s nothing to say that this itself can’t work as a kind of style). The other is to choose your subject so that you’re working with a strong distinctive shape or outline. Angular subjects generally work best.
Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta designed this house in Los Angeles to take
advantage of the dramatic diagonal shadows created by hard Californian light