- Easy Ways to Improve Your Landscape Photography
- Landscape Photography Composition Rules You Need to Start Using Today
- 4 Ways to Make Your Landscape Photos Look Like the Pros
- How to Get a Perfect Foreground in Landscape Photography
- Change the Light in Your Landscape Photos
- A Step-by-Step Guide for Long Exposure Landscape Photography
I'm a landscape photographer, and I'm not a morning person.
That's not a good combination to have seeing as how one of the best times to photograph landscapes is at sunrise.
But as much as I hate getting up early, when I'm out there at a perfect spot with a gorgeous landscape before me and the sun rises to cast its warm glow across the landscape, I have to say, losing a couple of hours of sleep is all worth it.
Good landscape photography lighting is the key to capturing drop-dead gorgeous photos. But it isn't always as easy as getting up early to find that awesome light.
Here's a few tips that will help you find the right light for your photography.
Defining Good Landscape Photography Lighting
Defining "good light" is actually quite difficult because what constitutes good light depends on the landscape itself as well as the mood you want to set in your image.
For example, soft, diffused light on a cloudy day is very even, with little or no shadows and very little contrast, as seen in the image above.
But because there is so much drama in the cloud formations and so much detail in the foreground grasses, this shot doesn't need dramatic lighting to be visually appealing.
However, on other occasions, more direct light is a better choice.
In the image above, there are no clouds to diffuse the rays from the setting sun, which makes the light harsher and more contrasty than in the previous example.
But it works for this landscape because the low-slung light brings out shadows in the foreground that highlight the texture of the sand. Likewise, where the blue tones of the light in the previous image help set the tone for the dramatic clouds, in this shot, the warm tones are more conducive to the desert scene.
So, in the end, good light doesn't have a specific definition other than it's what makes the scene you're photographing look the way you want it to look. Explore warm vs. cool light to learn more about how color temperature impacts how your photos look.
Finding the Best Lighting
The first key to mastering natural light is simply taking the time and putting forth the effort to experiment with different types of lighting.
Now, that doesn't mean that you need to go out before sunrise and stay in the same spot until after sunset, taking a photo every five minutes.
But if you can revisit the same location at different times of day, or even if you can stay at the same location for an hour, you can get enough photos with different kinds of light such that you have some variety to see what works best for that location.
The second component of finding great light for landscape photography is to scout locations with light in mind.
That means that you aren't just looking for a strong subject or a pretty scene to feature in the photo. Instead, you're doing so through the lens of the best light to highlight those features.
For example, consider where the sun will rise and set in relation to the scene. Also think about how the sun will fall across the landscape. By that, I mean if the mountains you want to photograph face east, a sunrise shoot might be preferable because the sun will illuminate the mountains as it rises and help you get the best natural light photos.
Another thing to consider when hunting for good light is how the light interacts with each component of the shot, not just the subject.
That is, while sunrise light might give the mountains in your shot a nice, warm glow, the sun might be too low in the sky to cast light on the field of wildflowers in the foreground of the shot.
In other words, perfecting the lighting for landscape photography needs to be a process, one in which many different factors are considered and one in which light is used to bring cohesion to the shot.
Change the Light to Suit Your Purposes
Have you ever heard the term "right light photography?"
It might not make sense at first, but it refers to doing what you can to get the right light for your shot.
In landscape photography, that process has to include changing the light as you see fit.
The question is, how do you do that?
The answer is simple: filters.
If you've never used an ND grad before, it's main purpose is to help you even out the exposure of your shot.
That is, when you photograph a landscape, the sky is often quite bright - much brighter than the landscape below it.
If you don't have a filter to block out some of the light in the sky, you will end up with a shot that's either well-exposed for the bright sky or well-exposed for the darker landscape, but likely not well-exposed for both, unless you shoot in HDR or stack multiple exposures together.
But using a graduated ND filter means you can control the light as you see fit in a quick and easy process.
Just attach the filter holder to your lens, as shown above, slide the graduated ND filter into the holder, compose the shot such that the filter is positioned precisely to block out the bright light in the sky, and take the shot.
Of course, a graduated ND filter isn't the only option for manipulating light for landscapes.
You can also attach a solid ND filter (like the one shown above) that enables you to block out light from the entire shot. This is advantageous for times when you want to capture a long exposure during the daytime and blur the movement of waves crashing on the beach, a waterfall cascading off a cliff, clouds moving across the sky, and so forth.
Without the light-blocking power of an ND filter, none of this would be possible during the daytime, as the long exposure time needed to blur movement would otherwise result in a vastly overexposed image.
You can often find filter kits with various filters that help you change the light. In the case of my NiSi 100mm Filter System, I got a filter holder with adaptor rings for various sized lenses, a soft-edge graduated ND filter, a reverse graduated ND filter, and three different solid ND filters (3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop) that allows me to create all sorts of different light effects.
The kit even includes a carrying case and cleaning supplies to keep the filters nice and clean.
The moral of the story here is that while you need to put in the time and effort to find the right light, with the right tools at your disposal, you will be better equipped for lighting landscape photography in a way that better suits the goals you have for your photos.