Case Study: Rozenhoedkaai – Bruges
Let’s finish this series of tutorials on light by taking a look at a selection of photos taken at the same location at different times of the day. This will allow us to see how different light and weather conditions can dramatically affect the look and feel of the final photograph. The photographs that follow were all taken at Rozenhoedkaai in Bruges. This is one of the best-known views of this gorgeous medieval city.
It’s easy to see why this location is so popular with photographers. A collection of pretty Flemish brick buildings surround the waters of the canal basin while the famous octagonal Belfry of Bruges towers over the scene. The Rozenhoedkaai area was a salt port during the middle ages. Ships laden with salt would moor here to deliver and load their merchandise. Salt was an important and expensive commodity in medieval times and no doubt contributed to the wealth of Bruges. Today, the merchant ships laden with salt have been replaced by small tour boats laden with tourists, Bruges’s modern source of wealth.
1. Rozenhoedkaai Photographed during the Day
This first shot which features one of these tour boats was taken pretty much in the middle of the day. It’s a decent enough shot but the daytime light is quite harsh and not particularly interesting.
It could work in a tourist brochure perhaps but I don’t think that it is the type of shot I would frame and hang on the wall. It’s often in the evening time that things really start to get interesting. This is when the most interesting light and tones begin to appear in the scene as long as the weather cooperates.
Unfortunately, the sky was covered in a layer of steely grey cloud during the evening golden hour so I headed to a nearby bar and hoped that the clouds would clear in time for dusk and blue hour. As luck would have it, they did. Luck often plays a major role in capturing that special shot. By now however, I had consumed quite a few glasses of a local beer/rocket fuel called Steenbrugge. I stumbled out of the bar into a totally transformed scene. My sense of balance had been totally transformed too. Thank goodness for tripods. With a rather diminished sense of coordination, I somehow managed to set up my tripod and point the camera at the ever changing scene in front of me.
2. Rozenhoedkaai Photographed at Early Dusk
By now the remaining clouds were painted in a pink/coral tone by the recently set sun. As you can see, this made for a far more attractive and interesting photo than the daytime version. This light only lasted a few minutes so it’s important to be patient and ready to shoot when the conditions are right. Not being drunk probably helps too.
3. Rozenhoedkaai Photographed at Late Dusk
Only a few minutes later, the scene had changed dramatically. The light had dipped and the sky had turned a beautiful shade of purple. By now the lights illuminating the buildings had come on.
4. Rozenhoedkaai Photographed during Blue Hour
About 15 minutes later and blue hour had descended on the city of Bruges. There was still a purple afterglow from the sunset but most of the sky had turned a deep shade of blue.
5. Rozenhoedkaai Photographed in Misty Conditions
The following morning, I awoke to find that Bruges was cloaked in a blanket of mist. This made for some very atmospheric shots. These conditions lead to very muted tones throughout the scene. The mist was so thick that the famous Belfry of Bruges is barely visible to the right of the frame. The calm conditions resulted in perfect reflections in the still waters of the canal.
I think that misty conditions lend themselves very well to black and white photography. The slightly eerie atmosphere is really evident in the monochrome version.
These six shots taken over the course of two days illustrate just how much the changing light and weather conditions can completely transform the look and feel of the location you are photographing.
5 Tips for Increasing the Odds taking Photographs in Interesting Light and Weather Conditions
- Check sunrise and sunset times at your location. I like to be at a location about an hour before sunrise or an hour before sunset. This allows me to photograph the scene during the best of the dawn, golden and blue hour light.
- Check where the sun will rise and set at your location. This allows you plan in advance where to be positioned to capture the sunrise or sunset. You will also know from which direction the golden hour light will be coming from.
- Check the weather forecast in advance to increase your chances of being at your location when the light is at its most interesting.
- Be patient. A moment of great light may only last a few seconds as the clouds briefly clear and the sunlight peeks through. Sometimes waiting for that magic moment pays off; other times it doesn’t. It’s definitely worth trying though.
- Try to be reasonably sober when heading out with your camera. Drinking several large glasses of 6.5% proof Belgian beer beforehand is generally not advisable.
These tips will increase your odds of being in the right place at the right time. As we know however, sometimes it comes down to pure luck. That perfect moment of interesting light and weather conditions may only last a few seconds. When it does happen though, the results are worth the wait.
You can view more of my photographs from Bruges in the Western Europe gallery.
Improve your Photography Skills
The full collection of my photography tutorials covering exposure, camera settings, composition and light can be found in my Kindle e-book: Outdoor Photography Essentials. This e-book can be read on most Kindles or any tablet or smart phone with the Kindle app installed (€7.06 / $7.00 / £6.34).