UNDERSTANDING “LIGHT” IN LANDSCAPES

seashore during nighttime
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Lighting in landscapes is a bit more complicated, and in this blog, I hope to clear up all the details of the different types of lighting, and how we can use the different types of lighting to help our landscape photos.

LIGHTING QUALITY AND DIRECTION

Landscape photographers talk about two essential lighting characteristics: the quality and the direction.

Lighting quality refers to the hardness or softness of the light, where soft light produces limited shadows and saturated colors, while hard light adds lots of contrast and heavy shadows.

And lighting direction refers to the direction at which the light strikes your subject. For instance, noontime sunlight hits the subject from above, evening sunlight hits the subject from the side, etc.

Generally, lighting quality is the bigger deal here. Because while it’s possible to experiment with different directions for beautiful results, if you fail to understand lighting quality, you’ll capture consistently mediocre (or just bad) photos.

At the same time, you should understand how to work with different lighting directions – it’s how you can add depth and dimension to your photos, for one – which is why I dedicate several sections to the topic.

REFLECTED LIGHT

Reflected light, also called bounced or diffused light, occurs when direct sunlight reflects off an adjacent surface. It can make for stunning photos, thanks to its soft, even, beautiful effect.

The canyons in the Southwest are perfect for this type of light, as the sun beams against the rocks and is reflected all around, creating a gorgeous warm glow:

landscape photography lighting Zion

To work with reflected light, you’ll generally need a bright surface such as pale rock walls, a white beach, etc. – otherwise, you’ll fail to get a nice reflection effect. You’ll also need bright sun, ideally toward the middle of the day.

OVERCAST LIGHT

foggy, overcast lighting Morro bay

Light on overcast and foggy days is soft, subdued, and bluish. Shadows are negligible, and light directionality essentially disappears.

While cloudy light can work great for landscape photos, thanks to the flattering, soft effect and lack of harsh shadows, you need to be careful; a cloudy sky tends to look boring, so do what you can to block it out with trees, mountains, and other landscape elements.

Cloudy days are also great for colorful landscape scenes, such as fields of flowers. The soft light evenly illuminates your subject and gives colors a subtle, saturated glow.

BACKLIGHT

Backlight refers to any light that comes from behind your subject, like this:

Photo by Lanny Cottrell Photography

Note that you can have partial back-lighting, when the sun comes from roughly behind the subject, and you can have total back-lighting, when the sun beams out from directly behind the subject.

Back-lighting is a landscape photography favorite, especially when the sun is just above the horizon. Why? Back-lighting is dramatic, whether it’s combined with HDR effects (such as in the image above), or whether you use it to capture stunning silhouettes.

One tip: Pay careful attention to the position of the sun in your frame. You generally want to partially block the sun with a solid edge; that way, you can capture a beautiful sun-star. Alternatively, you can keep the sun out of the frame or position it behind a solid object, like a tree or a rock, to prevent a blown-out sky.

DIRECT LIGHT

Photo by Lanny Cottrell Photography

Direct light is strong, harsh, and very unforgiving; you can generally find it a few hours after sunrise to a few hours before sunset, though as the sun moves higher in the sky (i.e., closer to noon), the light becomes more direct and even less flattering.

Because direct light produces such a harsh effect, some landscape photographers avoid it completely.

MORNING AND EVENING LIGHT (GOLDEN HOURS):

Photo by Ankhurr Chawaak on Unsplash

For most good landscape photographers, this is their favorite time to photograph. The side-lighting from the sun creates such a dramatic effect, and then the warm glow that is created when the sun is at that angle, it just makes for beautiful photos.

OPEN SHADE

Open shade can be classified into two type of shade:

1- Shade caused by a lot of trees, buildings, etc. to create a natural shade. Some lighting may be inserted in this type of photo:

gray asphalt road surrounded by tall trees
Open shade: caused by trees, and buildings, etc. Very little light would be in this photo. ——–Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

2- A cloudy day, and everything is under the shade of clouds. May not have any shadows because of this:

Sometimes right after a storm you will still have total cloud cover, no shadows, but, still can be very beautiful.

HUMAN MADE LIGHT:

light trails on highway at night
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Although, this is a landscape photo, the element of “human-made” lighting is inserted. This is totally a great photo, and the combination of the “man-made” lighting mixed with the ambient light, is a remarkable photo.

CONCLUSION

Now you have had the opportunity to study all the different types of lighting, in landscapes, now, when you go out to take landscape photos, study the light, and see how you can work the light to your advantage.



Sign in on the “newsletter” form above, so you can keep up to date with the latest in photography news.

Try the “search” below

Published by 123photogo

I have been a photographer for many years. Worked in retail selling cameras and accessories for over 20 years. Taught many photo classes, and have even been a judge in several county fairs. Now, I want to share photo instructions and entertainment with all other photographers around the world.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: