As they say, lighting is one of the most important factors in determining whether an image is a success or a dud. So it should be of no surprise that lighting it the primary reason why your landscape photos just seem a bit off. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there is an easy solution to your landscape lighting problems. In fact, let’s have a look at a few common lighting issues that arise for landscape photographers and identify a way that you can overcome each obstacle.
Lighting Problem #1: Bright Sky, Dark Landscape
The problem with many landscapes is that you’re presented with a large dynamic range. That is, the sky is often quite bright and the landscape itself is often quite dark. That means that you usually try to do the best you can with the lighting that you’ve got, and end up with an image that just doesn’t do the scene justice.
Another common “fix” for this problem is to try to bring down the highlights or open up the shadows in post-processing. And though this is usually a more fruitful avenue for dealing with this issue than just taking the photo and hoping all turns out well, it can be a time-consuming process. Images that have been processed in this way often look like they’ve been processed as well.
Instead, the ultimate approach for fixing this problem is to use a graduated neutral density filter like the one pictured above. These filters are pieces of glass that are dark on one half and light on the other. Essentially, this helps balance out the dynamic range of a landscape scene by filtering out the bright light of the sky such that it is more in line with the brightness of the foreground. So, instead of taking a photo that’s exposed well for the sky and having a dark foreground, or exposing for the foreground and having a sky that’s too bright, you can use a graduated neutral density filter to get a scene that’s well-exposed throughout.
Lighting Problem #2: Glare
Another common lighting problem for landscape photographers involves glare. Imagine you’ve come upon a gorgeous mountain scene with a lake in the foreground. But when you compose the shot, you notice an extreme glare off the surface of the water.
Again, you can simply try to work with the glare or attempt to deal with it in post-processing. But, the problem is that neither of these methods will garner the best final result. Instead, a polarizing filter will do the trick. These filters change the balance of lighting in the image by blocking polarized light from entering the lens. The result? A well-exposed image with no distracting glare, like the one above. Additionally, polarizing filters help deepen blue skies, make white clouds pop, and they help manage reflections as well.
Lighting Problem #3: Overexposed Long Exposures
For many landscape photographers, the lure of taking daytime long exposures is very strong. The beauty of blurred movement of waves, rivers, waterfalls, and clouds is certainly something to behold. But, of course, with a longer shutter speed comes much more light, which, if not filtered out, leads to long exposure images that are vastly overexposed.
A neutral density filter is the prime solution to this problem. These filters come in various strengths, and filter out light evenly across the scene such that you can use much longer shutter speeds, even in the brightest light. The result of this is that you can blur movement as discussed above, and you can also use larger apertures if need be. For example, if you wanted to control the depth of field, you could open up the aperture, select a longer shutter speed, and have more creative control over how the image looks, all by using a neutral density filter.
Solve All These Problems in One Step
If you want to address all the lighting problems discussed above in one step, Formatt-Hitech has a filter kit that fits the bill. Their Landscape Photography Filter Kit - Colby Brown Signature Edition includes a soft-edge neutral density grad filter for those occasions when the landscape has a very wide dynamic range, as discussed in the first lighting problem. There’s also a Firecrest 82mm polariser, seen above, to help you address the glare issues addressed in the second lighting problem. You get a Firecrest neutral density filter as well, for those occasions when you want to create long exposures, but would be hampered by doing so in the daytime without a filter.
In addition to helping you address these common lighting issues, the Formatt-Hitech Landscape Photography Filter Kit has other goodies that help you create more successful photos. There’s a reverse neutral density grad filter that helps you create improved sunset or sunrise photos like the one above, adapter and step rings so you can adapt different sized filters to your particular lenses, and a booklet from Colby Brown, world-renowned photographer and the kit’s namesake. In short, this filter kit will give you everything you need to make more successful landscape photos, even in the most challenging lighting conditions!