Light and shadows in Dhankar

Background story

Dhankar is a village in a stunning location in the Spiti Valley, which is in the Indian Himalayas. The village is punctuated by a fort and a monastery atop a hill. This sight is seen from almost anywhere in Dhankar and it was hard to decide on the exact spot where I’d photograph it from. 

A couple of hikes led me to the spot from which I made this photo. I shot from various spots, but things just aligned compositionally here. I have the fort and the hill which it's on dominating the foreground and there are nice triangles and diagonals formed by the mountains in the background. 

The next important creative question was - when to photograph? The hill with the monastery and the fort was in the shadow of a mountain during sunsets. I wanted a photo which would be more dramatic due to light, so, sunset time with flat light due to the shadow was disqualified. 

Middle of the day and bright, bleaching light worked if I wanted to punctuate the harsh mountain setting. However, I wanted something that would emphasise the beauty a little more, so, I chose to shoot at sunrise. 

One challenge that comes up when shooting in the mountains is that unless your subject is above everything around it, it is always in the shadow of higher mountains. That was the case here too. The sun would need to get fairly high to illuminate the monastery and the fort. This meant that I’d lose the beautiful deep orange tint of early sunrise, but, the shadows also translated to a dramatic interplay of light and dark. 

The main reasons it works for me

The interplay of light and dark is ultimately what makes this photo work. It adds an element of drama. Additionally, the shadows sculpt the landscape, the crevices, the rough surfaces. This creates a sense of volume.

The light is from the latter stage of sunrise. While it’s doesn’t produce a deep orange tint, it’s still golden and adds warmth to the scene. There’s a nice contrast between the warm, bright parts of the frame and parts which are in the dark. 

As I also already mentioned, there were nice triangles and diagonals formed by the mountains in the frame. These gave the image a dynamic feel and a visually rhythmical compositional quality. So, the composition is too a big reason behind why the image works.

Main tip

When you’ve got a large, immovable subject matter like I did here, it’s important to explore different viewpoints. You should know where the sun rises and where shadows are cast. Since you can’t control much, as far as light and the location of the subject, you need to be able to make the most of what is there in front of you. 

The best way to learn these things is to observe one day and to shoot the next. If you’re limited for time, you might not be able to do this. However, there are a couple of apps for the smartphone which predict where the sun will rise and you can guess the other details in accordance to that. 

The Apps

Sun Seeker OS | Android

The above app isn't rated very high for Android and since I've been using that more of late, I found Sun Surveyor. Works great for me.

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