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Learn Landscape Photography

"Better Landscape Photography - Part 2"

Article and Images by John Perriment

This "Learn Landscape Photography" masterclass assumes you have read what I covered in "Better Landscape Photography" about the importance of light, particularly around dawn and sunrise, and takes it further.  John Perriment

Light is, of course, equally important whatever time of day it is and so now I'll take a look at other types of light that are encountered in landscape photography and how to make the most of them.

I guess we all like warm sunny days with bright blue skies and fair weather cumulus clouds. It's not necessarily the best weather for landscape photography, certainly not for really dramatic pictures, but these are undeniably the most pleasant conditions to be outside and therefore understandably popular. And as far as photography goes it is a great time for picture postcard views.Learn Landscape Photography

Learn Landscape Photography

But even on a day like this, when it may seem easy to get good pictures, there are things to take into account and careful thought is required if we are to make the most of the situation. Season and time of day are quite crucial.Learn Landscape Photography

Learn Landscape Photography In summer photography is best completed by about 10.00am and recommenced after 4.00pm. There's no hard and fast rule to say you shouldn't take photographs between these times and indeed good images can still be had, but there's no denying that it becomes more difficult with harsh contrast, short dense shadows that block up and the risk of distant haze.

If you plan your photography for early or late in the day, shadows become longer and lighter, allowing more detail to be retained and creating better modelling where they are cast across the land. The light is softer, more gentle and warmer in tone, with an almost indefinable quality of fresh crispness that really brings the scene to life.Learn Landscape Photography

It's definitely a case of the early bird catches the worm and those that linger reap the reward. Winter introduces a potential handicap in the form of shorter days, but even at midday the sun is relatively low in the sky and the premise that early or late is best for photography does not apply like it does in summer. Learn Landscape Photography

Nice as they are, thankfully not all days are like this. The best weather for landscape photography is often when it is unsettled and changeable with heavy showers interspersed with sunshine. There's the constant threat of getting soaked and, as these conditions are often brought to us by courtesy of a stiff north-westerly, it can be pretty cold from autumn through to spring. Sometimes, it is true, you do have to suffer for your art!Learn Landscape Photography

Learn Landscape Photography

The rewards are often spectacular, with dark brooding clouds dominating the sky, ominous and threatening. Foreground objects caught by a shaft of piercing sunlight seem to almost leap out of the scene against this sombre, menacing backdrop. The contrast of two different types of light - light against light, to borrow a phrase from Galen Rowell – is nothing short of amazing. These magic moments rarely last for long. All too often you see it just as the rampaging clouds are about to close that small window of opportunity and extinguish the sun, seemingly forever.

Anticipation, awareness, persistence and a propensity for luck all become vital qualities for the landscape photographer. If you think that luck is beyond your control it is worth noting that the more you go out in those conditions, the longer you wait and the more you practice, the luckier you seem to get! Learn Landscape Photography

There are days when the cloud cover is complete, with little or no chance of the sun appearing. In "Better Landscape Photography" I recommended these conditions for more intimate landscapes in woodland, etc., where the sky could be excluded and the soft light used to reveal fine detail closer to the camera. However, if the cloud is dark enough to allow some contrast and tone in the sky, you can still take open views.

Learn Landscape Photography Just be sure to have a dynamic foreground with strong shapes or details that benefit from the soft light. Such conditions can be successful at establishing a sombre or desolate mood, and mood is essential to landscape photography. With this type of light, unlike most others, time of day is relatively unimportant.
Learn Landscape Photography At the other extreme are clear blue, cloudless skies. They lack drama, seldom evoke a strong mood and, despite the initial attraction of not having to wait for the sun to appear, most photographers quickly realize that these conditions are not easily going to yield an image to get excited about. They do have their place, however, particularly when used as a backdrop against which bold shapes or colours can be displayed without the distraction of clouds competing for attention. 

Mood, if it exists, is invariably one of joyful exuberance; “All things bright and beautiful” springs to mind. Of course, you can always choose compositions that exclude the sky if that monotonous uniform blue is posing a problem, just the same as you can when grey sky threatens to kill the image. Learn Landscape Photography

Against the light, or contre-jour photographs are most often associated with sunset and sunrise but this technique can be used at other times of day, too. Remember, though, that the sun becomes stronger and brighter as it rises further above the horizon and therefore flare becomes more difficult to control or avoid, particularly if the sun itself is included in the image. Learn Landscape Photography

The reason for this is that the Earth's atmosphere contains at different levels various gases, water particles, pollution and dust. All these combine to act as a giant neutral density filter, reducing the intensity of the sunlight. When the sun is just above the horizon its light travels obliquely through the atmosphere, meaning there are more of these filtering agents for it to pass through before it reaches your lens than when entering the atmosphere at a more perpendicular angle around midday. 

The practical effect is that we need to be even more aware of the effects of flare than at either end of the day. When the sun is out of frame a lens hood, of course, is a good idea but most are not as effective as they might be, particularly if designed for a zoom lens. Such hoods have to be designed not to cause vignetting when the lens is set to its shortest focal length, therefore when a longer focal length is selected the sun could be outside the field of view but not shielded from striking the front element by the hood. The remedy is to use your hand or a sheet of card to shield the lens more effectively, but carefully check the viewfinder or screen to ensure it doesn't encroach upon the image.Learn Landscape Photography

Learn Landscape Photography When the sun itself is within the field of view you obviously can't shield it yourself, but you can use an object within the composition to shield it or partly obscure it for you. Suitable props for this technique include trees, buildings, rock formations and clouds. If you are still getting flare try opening or closing the aperture.

Much flare is created by stray light within the lens bouncing off the diaphragm blades and opening or closing these slightly can sometimes help significantly, even if it's just to reduce the size of the flare spots.

Also, if your lens is fitted with a UV or protector filter it is wise to remove it before shooting as these are often instrumental in causing flare, particularly if dirty. It is useful to employ these measures against flare for sunrises and sunsets too, as the sun is often still pretty intense despite the natural filtering action of the atmosphere.


Talking of sunsets, that brings us almost full circle to where we started. Almost, but not quite, because although similar light and conditions to sunrise are often experienced there are subtle differences. You are more likely to get mist at sunrise as the sun rapidly warms the Earth and its atmosphere, causing moisture to condense. Even on clear days there is a greater likelihood of a hazy sunset, caused by the build up of pollution throughout the day. This will often result in richer, stronger and more vibrant colours rather than the paler, pastel tones that are often associated with dawn.Learn Landscape Photography

Learn Landscape Photography

Sunrise is like a fire that has just been lit, the young flames of light grasping and expectantly licking at the fleeing darkness, eager to burn through the retreating night. The mood is one of excitement and anticipation. Sunset is more akin to the dying embers, fully replete and content. Rather than attack and banish the darkness like sunrise, sunset is ready to submit to the advancing twilight, at peace with the World. Both times of day can evoke a feeling of calm, but sunset also has a particular atmosphere of tranquillity.Learn Landscape Photography

Learn Landscape Photography

You may wonder what that has to do with photography. The answer is everything, because landscape photography relies upon mood, atmosphere and light. Without light there would be no photography. Without an emotional response to the light and the ambience it creates we cannot be successful landscape photographers. It starts and ends with light.Learn Landscape Photography

It's all about light.
Learn Landscape Photography



More of John's superb Landscape Photographs and his advice are available in his new book - The Light Fantastic.

 Some of his images are displayed in the
Gallery of Better Photographs and in his gallery at www.johnperrimentphotography.com

Recommended Reading for Learn Landscape Photography




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