The job of a landscape photographer is to record a scene. Yet, photographers often fail to capture what it felt like to be at a scene.
A good landscape photographer arrives at a scene early, and waits for the scene to unfold. Waiting for changing colours and changing mood, which all go along with the change of the weather.
Vital to all of this is light – natural light and all the elements it brings to a scene.
To use light correctly and creatively we first must understand it. Once we understand it, we can use it to our advantage in creating beautiful, dramatic landscape images.
There are three basic qualities of light: intensity, direction and colour.
- Intensity: refers to the strength of light. If the sun is high in the sky, light can be harsh and too strong. Cloudy days bring soft and defused light.
- Direction: this refers to light placement. There are three categories of light placement: front, back and side-lighting. Side lighting produces more texture between light and shade.
- Colour: the colour of sunlight varies depending upon conditions and time of day. If the sun shines at the beginning or the end of the day, the colour of the light will be much warmer, and will lead to a much more dramatic scene.
While all three are different qualities of light, they all have another important factor in common – time of day. Choosing the correct time of day is a foremost in capturing a scene at its best. The intensity of light brings out different colours in a landscape image. Colours in landscape photography depend on light available and also what time you shoot a scene, and where you place your camera.
Image credit: Markus Voetter
Early morning shots will cast a red hue in your images. This only lasts a few minutes after sunrise. As the morning progresses the red hue turns to yellow. This normally lasts while the sun is low in the sky. Long shadows are cast along a scene during these early hours. These can add mood to an image. Come mid-day the sun is high in the sky. The shadows are gone. This is the best time of the day for landscape photographers.
As the day turns to evening and the sun gradually falls in the sky, the sun casts stronger colours similar to morning. Sunset can be just as exciting as sunrise.
Time and light come hand in hand. Using both together will most certainly bring out the best in your landscape photographs. We ourselves decide what direction we use, do we use the sun at our backs, or is it better to use it at our side? I prefer side-lighting or facing the sun.
If you’re unsure go to a scene and take a few images. Mark the ground so you can place the camera in the same spot and return a few hours later. Return to the scene several times and take notes of light direction. Record the different exposures you take your images. Compare the shots from the different times of day, and the answer will unfold in front of you.
Image credit: Aaron Burdon
Understanding natural light develops your ability to create better images. You’ll then start to see the beauty of light and colours in a new and exciting way.
Title image credit: Evan Smogor