Light is the all important ingredient.
It's really "lightscapes" we are talking about, not landscapes. The land, or sea, or sky is almost incidental, a stage upon which light can perform. Lakes, rivers, mountains, forests, plains and ocean shores are merely props that support the real drama, the drama of light. Once we understand that, we have unlocked the secret of better landscape photography.
Let there be light!
There is always a choice of what to photograph, maybe an expansive vista with powerful foreground leading to a distant horizon and a big sky, or perhaps an intimate woodland scene with a small stream tumbling amongst the trees. The same light won't be ideal for both but unlike a studio photographer we have no control over light, we must use what we are given on any particular day. The trick is to match the scene to the light, not the other way around. better landscape photography
Of course, there is nothing wrong with anticipating light and planning a composition to take advantage of it. However, if you arrive on location and the envisaged light fails to materialize, it's always good to have a back-up plan to fall back on. Not sure what I mean? Let's look at the different types of light and how best to use them.
The sun is
any influence and therefore the ambience is blue, adopted from the vast
the receding night sky above, from which most of the light is
bold shapes nearest the camera appear the darkest, those furthest in
distance the lightest due to tonal recession, but all represented by
shades of blue and creating tremendous opportunities for moody,
Personally, I think it's best to get exposure right at the
taking stage if possible.
Now the sun is peeping over the horizon and it's a great opportunity to grab a few shots to include it before it becomes too intense and ruins the images with flare. better landscape photography
Once again a decision needs to be made between silhouettes and detail and which, if any, graduated filters to use. Do consider, though, that too large an area of shapeless black, devoid of any detail, will almost certainly kill the image. Speed is really of the essence now because it's amazing how fast the sun climbs above the horizon and how quickly it builds in intensity. A few minutes at the very most is all you have so concentration on what is happening and good preparation is vital.
With all this unfolding in front of you it's easy to overlook what is occurring behind. The effect can be just as spectacular, with the low-angled sun raking across the scene, enriching everything it touches with crimson fire or a golden glow, depending on how far above the horizon it has travelled.
Should good fortune continue, there is yet another stage of opportunity to come. If that band of cloud is still lingering just above the horizon where the sun has risen, then very soon it will start to climb into that cloud and there is another chance to capture it partially obscured before it disappears completely. Even once it has, if the cloud is broken enough there may be further opportunities for dramatic pictures.
So it's turned out to be a dull, sunless day and the dawn session was a non event. You can either trudge your weary way home or put plan 'B' into operation. Remember what I said about matching the landscape to the light? It's now obvious that the planned view over the lake towards the distant mountains beyond isn't going to work in this flat light with white, featureless sky but what about the woods behind?
Better still, there's no harsh contrast between inky shadows and burning pools of sunlight piercing through the trees, which would bedevil this scene on a bright, sunny day and prove to be well beyond the dynamic range of either digital or film. better landscape photography
Just keep an eye on the white balance if using digital; the auto setting may over or under compensate for the coolness of the dull light and need manual override. Film users may need to fit a warm-up filter. Many outdoor photographers fail to appreciate the unique and useful qualities of this type of light, which ironically the studio photographer will spend much time and money trying to emulate with sophisticated diffusers for his studio lights. better landscape photography
We seem to have discussed a wide range of different light already, but in reality the dawn/sunrise scenario may have lasted little more than half an hour, maybe an hour at the most. What a glorious period of high activity and ever changing mood! Even the alternative strategy for a sunless start to the day may have taken us only until mid-morning.
The day will of course progress very differently depending on what type of light is forthcoming. Although we can categorize light into broad types there is an almost infinite scope for how it might influence our photography and what opportunities it is likely to provide according to time of day, how the weather changes and even what season we are in.
I look forward to an opportunity to explore with you some of the other types of light and how to make the most of them in my Learn Landscape Photography masterclass. In the meantime enjoy your landscape photography and don't forget, it's all about light.
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 book at www.blurb.com/b/1907120-the-light-fantastic
Recommended Reading for Better Landscape Photography
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