Learn to Photograph at the Right Place at the Right Time

How to Recognize the “Right Place, at the Right Time”

When I approach an outdoor subject, I often take a few moments to ask myself these questions.

  • Is this the right time of day for this image?
  • Am I facing the subject from the right direction?
  • Do I have an interesting background?
  • Is the sky stunning? Boring Blue? Grey and Cloudy?

In addition to these basic questions about composition, light, time, viewpoint, I also respond to:

  • What camera lens should I be using?
  • Landscape or Portrait, Horizontal or Vertical camera position?
  • Do I need a tripod?

This past weekend, at the Bluff Balloon Festival, we had “boring blue skies”.  And since the photos were primarily about the color, the location, the sense of place, the blue skies were awesome.  Bluff is a town situated near the cliffs and “bluffs” of Comb Ridge, Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods. Bluff is a great place for a variety of subjects including Anasazi Petroglyphs, red rock spires and the annual Balloon Festival

Which image is the “Right moment to press the Shutter”?

A colorful hot air balloon floats about a red rock butte in Valley of the Gods, Utah

Which moment feels “right” to you?

Please add a comment on your choice.

Colorful Hot Air Balloon floats over a beautiful red rock spire in Valley of the Gods, Utah

Blue Sky, Red Rock, Colorful Balloon over the Butte in Valley of the Gods. ©Kit Frost

As a Hot Air Balloon approaches Red Rock in Utah, the sun casts a shadow on the cliff walls.

As this balloon was floating closer and closer to the Twin Rocks, I anticipated a cool photograph of the balloon and it’s shadow. ©Kit Frost

Photograph of the flame and partial balloon at an evening balloon glow.  Warm orange and red colors.

Sometimes just a small portion of a bigger composition is all that is needed. The balloon glow was so quick, about 5 seconds, that it was challenging to meter. I concentrated on a single balloon flame as the gas was ignited. ©Kit Frost

Sunstars and letting go of the “plan”.

As we were “chasing” balloons, in the Valley of the Gods, the sun rose, and although the “plan” was sunrise balloon launch, we grabbed our cameras, and set up photographs capturing the sun, as a sunstar.  The buttes, and spires in the distant landscape helped to create a “right place, right time” image.  The sun will fool your camera meter, making your image very dark, as the meter tries to create middle gray from a bright subject.  I suggest an overexposure of at least 1/3 value (+) to compensate.  But try +1/3 or +2/3 and see what you like.  Additionally, in order to get the sun to create the lines of a sunstar, I used f22, a small aperture.

Orange colored sunrise with the sunstar casting golden light on the spires of Utah

Making photographs of the rising sun can be challenging, but in this case, we placed the sun right on the edge of a mesa wall to create the lines of a sunstar. Don’t stare too long through your viewfinder either, as it’s harmful to your eyes. ©Kit Frost

In Adobe Lightroom, I warmed up the photo by changing the white balance.

For more images of Hot Air Balloons in the Valley of the Gods, visit my website at kitfrost.com

Learn to work with Shadows in your Photos



In the two examples I used the shadows to form a frame around the subject. I asked a friend who was hiking ahead of me to stop in the light, so i could show scale as well as shape in the photo. In the other example, late day light, or lack of, in the canyon, gave me an opportunity to play with the abstract forms of dark, light, blue sky, and contrail too. Try it. The late afternoon light and short days gives us lots of chances to practice. Meter for detail in the highlight and underexpose, that will give you deep, dark, shadows and you can always choose to “open up” using the fill light or shadow fulchrum in Lightroom if you want more detail visible.

Working with Shadow and Light in Your Photos

Digital cameras certainly do a great job at recording a wide range of tone, a High Dynamic Range .  When working with film we were taught to “expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights”. With digital cameras it’s best to “expose for detail in the highlights, underexpose, and plan to use your post-production software to “open up” the shadows.

In this example, I let the shadows define the composition.  If I open up the shadows in post-production (Adobe Lightroom) then the image is less dramatic.