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photo by Remedios via iStock
Landscape photography lighting is an interesting subject, there are many variables to consider. My lighting tips for landscape photography cover many of the common situations we all find in our landscape photography.
In these landscape photography tips covering lighting, we’ll discuss the types of landscape photography lighting including contrast and shadows, dynamic range control by HDR, dynamic range control by GND filters, Golden Hour, Blue Hour, inclement weather, and adding artificial lighting for landscape photography.
Contrast and Shadows
photo by Matthew Burke via iStock
Whether shooting for B&W or color, and even including videography, we are always concerned with and using contrast and shadow in our exposure calculations. It goes beyond exposure calculations, actually, since our composition choices can also impact our use or control of contrast and shadow.
A fantastic tool for understanding and controlling contrast, shadow, mid tones, and highlights is the Zone System designed and perfected by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in the 1940s. While designed with B&W photography in mind, the Zone System is also usable in color imaging and videography.
I highly recommend that landscape photographers deeply examine the Zone System at least once. It will teach a lot about the nature of light and how we capture and control it photographically.
Another consideration about contrast and shadow is to consider the time of day we’re shooting. Late afternoon, early morning, and noon will all show a different contrast range and direction of shadow. Cloudy skies will also affect it.
HDR for Dynamic Range Control
photo by Smitt via iStock
At times, the dynamic range is just too much for our sensor to handle, even with our advanced exposure skills and composition choices. Digitally, we have an amazing option available, high dynamic range (HDR) photography.
Also known as the bracket and merge method or technique, HDR expands the dynamic range or final processed image by merging together different exposure value image files into one. We shoot some images for highlight detail, some for shadow detail (using a tripod to keep the images in register) and then post-process them in a merge to one balanced image.
You can find a lot of discussion about bracket and merge techniques in our various real estate photography articles, since it’s a major tool for that industry. A previous study of the ideas behind the Zone System will give insight into how to calculate the method for both shooting and processing.
ND & GND Filters for Dynamic Range Control
To capture a dynamic range challenged scene in one exposure, the use of ND filters, specifically graduated (GND) filters is often beneficial.
The reason I separate dynamic range control into two distinct sections is because some scenes will work best with one of the methods over the other. A scene type that greatly benefits from using GND filters is any type of scene that has a fairly distinct line separating one exposure value from the other. If there isn’t one, then HDR might be the better choice.
I like to use filter holder systems and a tripod when shooting with GND filters so that I can position the transition edge in the exact position I want it to be. The transitions from light to dark in the filters are different as well, some lines are hard or rapid, others are soft or more gradual.
Golden Hour and Blue Hour
photo by AleksandarNakic via iStock
There are two lighting conditions that both occur twice a day that can have a great impact on the landscape photography lighting, they all have to do with the position of the sun in the sky. They are Golden Hour and Blue Hour. Both can be seen either in the early morning or the late evening.
Golden Hour occurs when the sun is lower in the sky than throughout most of the day. Having more atmosphere to pass through causes sunlight to take on a very pleasant, warm color tone. It also softens it a bit, making it less harsh in regards to shadow/light transitions.
Depending on season and latitude, Golden Hour might range from 30 minutes to an hour and a half after sunrise or before sunset.
photo by Matthew Troke via iStock
Blue Hour is when the sun is below the horizon, just after sunset or before sunrise. It can also last a variable amount of time depending on season and latitude, though the light intensity and quality changes much more rapidly during Blue Hour than Golden Hour.
Blue Hour is a very cool light quality and color temp, evoking a much different mood than the warmth of Golden Hour photography.
While you're playing around with early morning or late evening lighting tips for landscape photography, you might also want to do some experimentation with sunset/sunrise images and astrophotography, both of which are enjoyable and exciting.
Shooting In Inclement Weather
photo by fotoVoyager via iStock
As you have heard from me before, don’t put your gear up when the weather turns. In snow, rain, fog, and other conditions from mild to extreme, there is an image just waiting to be captured.
The trick to shooting during weather is to have your camera protected from the elements and also to dress for comfort and safety ourselves. There are many products available for either concern from a variety of places. Besides our favorite camera stores, also check out outdoor equipment retailers that focus on recreation.
Sometimes, all of the lighting tips for landscape photography still come up a little short and require us to add artificial lighting for landscape photography.
The types of landscape photography lighting that I prefer are portable LED continuous lights. I lean towards continuous lighting so that I’m not eliminating videography as one of options and also because I can see exactly what I’m doing in my still photography as I change positions, color temps, and intensity.
An excellent and very portable example of an LED light that can go with us into the great outdoors is the Onyx OYB240 LED Light from Ikan. It is small and lightweight, making it easy to carry with us, is durable, runs off of rechargeable batteries, and has variable power and color temperature.
The trick to using artificial lighting for landscape photography is to keep it looking natural. Which is why being portable is valuable, so you can place in just the right position. The variable power and color temp of LED lighting also lets us carefully blend in the added light to our scene. We usually only want to enhance the lighting, not overpower it.
Other Landscape Photography Tips
photo by tobiasjo via iStock
I have lots of other tips for landscape photography in general and for more detailed information on lighting tips for landscape photography covering GND filters, tripod choice and usage, Zone System, HDR, and so on. Flip through a couple of more articles while you're here.
Then, go out into the landscapes and start capturing them. Let us see what you’ve done and what techniques you like in our chat forums. See you there!