Among many other aspects, landscape photographers need to take into account the light and composition for their photography. Whilst they can control the composition to some extent, landscape photographers do not have the luxury of being able to adjust the light to get the best photograph.
With lighting affecting the colour saturation, shadows and contrast levels, landscape photographers need to understand the various conditions of natural light photography to make the most of it and to improve the final results.
Here, you’ll find a variety of landscape photography lighting techniques and tips to capture the very best landscape photographs, no matter what the light.
The main source of landscape photography lighting will, of course, be the presence or lack of sunlight. However, conditions such as clear blue skies or a cloudy sky can affect how hard or soft the light is. If you’re used to studio softboxes, it’s good to think of clouds like a huge softbox dispersing the light. You should consider where the sun is in relation to the position of your camera, so you can get the shadow effect you want, or to determine which details come out in the photo.
From dawn to dusk, the colour of the light changes throughout the day. Such changes can be noticed just before and then during a sunrise and sunset.
Before the sun rises, the light is a soft blue colour, shortly followed by the golden colours at sunrise. As the sun gets to its highest point of the day, there is little to no colour tint at all. Following the orange and golden glow of sunset, there is the twilight or blue hour where the light and landscape are soft and there are little to no shadows.
Most landscape photographers try to avoid top lighting as there aren’t any shadows, resulting in a lack of textures and dimensions. However, if you’re taking a photograph of water, it is at its best when there is top lighting. The water will be at its most turquoise during the middle hours of the day when the sun is at its highest.
If you’re looking to expose the beautiful textures and shapes of a landscape, you’ll want to take advantage of the side lighting. Casting subtle shadows, you’ll get a real sense of dimensions and a life-like feel to the image which anyone looking at your photograph will enjoy. Side lighting presents some of the best conditions to create 3D images, which is one of the main goals of professional landscape photographers.
One of the hardest lighting conditions to shoot in is backlighting, not only due to the brightness of the landscape, but because you will also have to deal with lens flare.
Should you find yourself with a backlighting issue, you should place a lens hood on your camera to prevent lens flare taking place. However, if your main aim is to form a silhouette of the landscape, backlighting will let you achieve this.
A landscape photographer’s worst nightmare is arriving at a picturesque landscape with front lighting. Unless the photographer wants their shadow to appear in the scene, front lighting should be avoided at all times. Lacking textures, shapes and form, front lighting is quite similar to top lighting, however, it results in rather flat-looking photographs.
Whilst you can’t change the direction of the landscape, there’s an easy fix for changing most of the directions of light…simply change where you stand. Once you’ve mastered the positioning of the lighting, start combining these with the different colours of light during the various times of the day. You’ll be able to collect a huge range of very different landscape photos, whilst being in the same position but shooting it at different times during the same day and at different times of the year.
For more hints and tips on landscape photography from some of the industry’s best landscape photographers, check out the landscape photography section in the Peli UK Photography Hub.