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You have a creative vision for your low light landscape photography, how do you go about turning that vision into reality, making well crafted photographs? That’s where we use the skill and craft of photography to fulfill our creativity and end up with images that match that vision. A low light landscape photography tutorial will show you what techniques, methods, and tips will help you do that.
Low Light Landscape Photography
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What is low light landscape photography? In simplest terms, it’s nothing more than low light photography with a landscape being the subject matter. So, most of the same rules apply as they would in any low light photography.
There are some special situations to consider, though, in regards to low light landscapes. Light direction, light quality, and light intensity conditions can make photographing landscapes in low light levels challenging and different from other low light situations.
As a low light landscape tutorial, let’s examine some landscape photography tips and techniques to get those awesome images we’re desiring.
Basic Low Light Tips
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Using a tripod, finding your lens’ sweet spot aperture, getting off the Green Dot fully auto everything mode, and ensuring you have absolutely the best focus are general tips for any low light photography tutorial, and these definitely apply to our low light landscape photography tutorial.
You want to use a tripod or a tripod alternative because of the long shutter speeds involved in most low light landscapes. Since you have already gone to the trouble of mounting your camera on a tripod, it makes sense to also use a remote release, live view, or mirror lock up to remove more chances for camera shake.
Automation for exposure settings is fine, but for more creative control and sharper images, you also would do well to avoid the Green Dot auto mode that does not allow any user input. As an example, in aperture priority auto, you can choose the f-stop you want for depth of field control or to use the sweet spot (sharpest) aperture of your lens.
In order to find the best focus, using the live view mode for the large screen and its magnification controls comes in handy. You’re better off manually focusing in many low landscape landscape situations, or use an AF mode but monitor it closely on the large rear screen. Your camera is on a tripod already, slowing down just a bit to really ponder your creative options, so try out this method, see if it fits for you.
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Landscape photographers love Golden Hour for the warm and sometimes more diffuse light quality caused by the Sun being lower in the sky. Golden hour is either morning or afternoon, shortly after sunrise or before sunset but without actually being sunrise or sunset colors.
Depending on your latitude and time of year, Golden Hour can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Since the Sun is lower in the sky, we will need to watch our shadow placement, perhaps using GND filters to help balance out shadow and highlight detail.
Also, even though we’re slowing down and probably on a tripod, we don’t want to waste time since the light may change rapidly. Develop an efficient workflow you’re comfortable with to maximize your image opportunities.
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Blue Hour is just after the sun sets or before it rises when the sky is still illuminated by the sun but it is below the horizon. Blue Hour light intensity and color changes very swiftly, so you may want to have a definite plan for your picture taking in order to not miss out on the possibilities.
Many photographers will plan out a dual Blue/Golden Hour session which is a great way to capture beautiful images but requires efficiency and good habits and techniques. The colors change from cool to warm (or vice versa) during Blue Hour and you might even be able to capture some stars or planets in the darker sky.
Tripod use is an essential part of a low light landscape Blue Hour workflow, as are manual exposure and focus settings. If you’re planning an afternoon Golden Hour and then sunset imaging setting, use those last few exposure settings as the starting point for your initial Blue Hour exposures, then monitor falling light intensity closely, perhaps with an inexpensive handheld meter and adjust as needed.
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High Dynamic Range photography, or HDR, is the process of taking several exposures of the exact same view at different exposure settings and blending them together with a program in order to capture highlight and shadow detail in the same final image.
It can be accomplished with 2 or more separate exposures, but 3 or 5 exposures seem to work great. You can set your camera to do this bracketing sequence automatically for you, even in an automatic exposure mode. Adjusting by at least 1 stop between exposures is recommended, you can use 1 ½, 2, or 3 stops, too.
Since you are blending image files together, keeping them registered with each other by using a tripod is recommended. Setting focus manually is also a good idea to avoid having it change between shots.
Some low light landscape photographers like going for a very processed look in HDR but you don’t have to. Blending for a neutral and natural look and feel is used more than many probably realise, it’s actually a mainstay of real estate photography. You’re the owner of your own creativity, try out multiple methods of HDR photography.
Light Painting and Fill Light
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Sometimes in our low light landscapes, we simply need to add some light to the image. Fill flash and light painting will do this for us. It is especially useful when the foreground part of our intended photo just isn’t getting enough sunlight or skylight to be captured with good detail.
In Golden Hour, fill flash is likely more useful, we can possibly have our camera and flash do this automatically for us, an excellent use of modern camera technology. During Blue Hour low light landscape imaging, we’ll most likely be setting exposures manually.
Just as in HDR, you can make it completely obvious that you’re adding a light source or blend it in smoothly and naturally. Battery powered continuous LED lights are perfect for this since most have lots of color and power adjustments. A wireless remote for your camera will also offer great assistance when doing any light painting.
Shoot In RAW
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With any low light photography, we will capture much more exposure detail when shooting in RAW as opposed to JPEG files. Same with low light landscapes.
Unless there is a pressing reason to use JPEG, such as importing into a specialty program or submitting immediately to a client, RAW files are a prime choice. Keep in mind that shooting RAW won’t save a poor exposure, but you can tweak a good shot into a great one with proper post-processing techniques.
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Since you will be using RAW files for much of your low light landscape photography, some sort of post-processing is a necessity.
Many of the newer programs have features and settings that feel like we’re doing photography instead of constantly being reminded we’re in a computer program. These really help open our creativity and produce exceptional images.
Non-destructive editing is a key feature to look for when considering a new post-processing program. These types of programs work much faster and also the files take up much less hard drive space, improving our post-processing workflow.
Landscape Photography Tips
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Many other general landscape photography tips will continue to apply to low light landscape photography. Things such as rule of thirds composition, exposing for high key or low key, leading lines, and so on will enhance your images along with these low light landscape tips and techniques.