Midday Sun at Indian Grinding Rock State Park

The midday June sunlight in the foothills of California has an unmistakable quality. The contrast between direct sunlight and shadows is extreme. The camera can’t handle the dynamic range and photos that include sun and shade appear almost black and white. It is partly because of the angle of the sun and partly because the air is very dry, lacking any moisture to refract and diffuse the light. The conditions were challenging. But a huge part of what I do as a photographer is observe light: its quality, its direction, its color tone. As I hiked the partially shaded trail at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, I watched the light. The light’s harshness combined with the near silence of the trail, and the sweet smell of roasting California vegetation created a sense stillness as though the moment could last an eternity. Manzanita and madrono leaves clicked and popped just a bit, even though there was no breeze, perhaps because they were expanding in the heat, or perhaps because insects were landing on them. Or perhaps some leaves were shriveling and falling to the dry woodland forest floor below. In the first photo, direct light hit the backside of the manzanita leaves, diffusing and softening it, allowing light and shadow in the same exposure.