It’s understandable why so many photographers want to shoot landscapes in the full light of the sun. Details are sharp, colors are saturated and viewers are able to see, even identify, the location and thrill to its spectacular grandeur or subtle beauty. Easily recognizable landscapes are transformed, however, and an entire group of “hidden” landscapes are revealed, when the photographer purposely shoots landscapes in low light.
The only periods of the day with guaranteed low light are dawn and dusk. Each has a slightly different effect on landscapes. Early morning is a very soft light that generally imparts muted tones to all objects and views as color is “reintroduced” to the world. There is also less contrast between shadows and highlights. Dusk into twilight is when colors are “leeched” from the world, often dragging them across the sky towards the horizon, creating color-rich sunsets and clouds. Contrast can be more pronounced, with deep shadows complemented by small, sparkling points and pools of light. You can create landscape images that will be the envy of your friends when you plan your shoots for the half-hour or so that dusk/twilight provides.
It’s easier to recognize the different kind of landscape photos that are available during dusk/twilight if you spend a few evenings simply observing how the light changes and its effect on scenes, subjects and objects. You may even want to choose a rather nondescript landscape view and expose an image every five minutes during the 30-minute period of dusk, so you can study the stages of the low-light effect.
Once you’ve trained your eye to see the landscape images that few others see, you’re ready to photograph them. Well, almost. You must also be properly equipped; and capturing these “hidden” landscapes will require long exposures, which translates into the need for a tripod and some type of shutter release mechanism, either wirelessly, with a remote triggering device, or a cable. Many cameras also have a self-timer, so the shutter will release automatically according to the time interval set. The best option, however, is the use of a wireless device, since this eliminates any possible movement of the camera prior to exposure, changing your framing, or during exposure, which could lead to a blurry image.
Another reason to shoot low-light landscapes with long exposures is so you can keep the ISO sensitivity low, which reduces graininess or digital noise.
When shooting low-light landscapes, expect to spend a bit more time to meter the light accurately, so you can set the correct exposure values. A quick meter reading will not tell you what you need to know. It’s better to use the matrix or multi-segment metering mode, read the light from various areas of your composition and use an average reading. Find an area to meter where the light seems to be a middle gradient instead of the extremes of highlights or shadows. When shooting with a zoom lens, move in tight to meter the surface of objects or subjects and then widen your view for final framing.
Knowing how to read and use your camera’s histogram is an essential method whenever you take on the challenge of low-light landscapes.
Ultimately, bringing home excellent landscapes images illuminated with low light will require some practice and a willingness to make many errors during the process. Often, studying your bad photos and making corrections teaches you much more than looking at the low-light landscapes of the best photographers.
During this little exercise, don’t just look for the standard sky full of dramatic colors, but also observe how a single shaft of light illuminates a small area within the woods, pinpoints of light reflect sharply off water or the contrast between the light striking the side of an object or subject facing the setting sun and the darker side that has already lost most of its color. These are where the “hidden” landscapes dwell that can’t be seen in the broad light of midday. Much like fairies and sprites, they are only active during dusk/twilight.
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Photo by: Jayati Saha'