The game of landscape photography is 90% the quality of the light. It is the most crucial and uncontrollable factor in your shot. Here are some tips to make the best out of it.
Landscape photography is definitely not just about the location or the landmark seen in the photograph. Even the most beautiful locations and natural wonders lose a bit of appeal when photographed in terrible lighting conditions. This is why more than just planning and making ways to be at a certain place, it is important to do as much as possible with good light. There are many factors that surround having good lighting such as weather, direction, and of course, the time of day and planning your shoot should always consider all of them in order to get satisfying images. In addition to all the logistical matters, here are four tips to consider that will increase your chances of catching breathtaking landscapes with amazing light.
1. Aim for the Transitions
It is not new knowledge for photographers that the best light often happens around the transitions between night and day. This is why most photographers often prefer shooting around sunrise and sunset, but exactly why is it so? The rising and setting of the sun are the two most dynamic phenomena in each day. During these, the light coming from the sun changes in quality almost every minute, and each step in that sequence offers a unique character in lighting both in the sky and the ground. These transitions in lighting bring together all the various characteristics of light that can complement the character of the landscape. Being able to shoot around this particular time means being able to capture the different variations of lighting and take your pick on which one you can consider the best to go with.
2. Start Early and End Late
While landscape photography often feels like an activity with utmost freedom, it really does pay to be mindful of the time. Following the first tip mentioned above, it is absolutely rewarding to be early for the sunrise or sunset and to stay for a bit more after. Even though the most drastic transition and most dynamic changes in light occur during the 20 minutes surrounding the sunrise and sunset, the light continues to change even after and there are definitely a lot more things that can happen during that time that might give some value.
Being early for the sunrise or the sunset allows you to scout the location for the best possible composition for the most crucial shot of the day. At the same time, it can give you a clue of how the light will behave and change right in front of you and somehow allow you to prepare by deciding on how you will interpret the landscape and what exposure techniques you will be able to use. Aside from the fact that you can already start shooting during this grace period that you have given yourself, it can also be time to shake off any anxiety, fatigue, or overexcitement that can distract you while shooting.
3. Anticipate the Most Important Moments
For any kind of photography that deals with an environment that wasn’t contrived or entirely controlled, anticipation is the most important skill. While this is mostly practiced in genres such as weddings, events, photojournalism, and documentary, it is, without a doubt, also applicable for landscape photography, and being able to do so pays off quite well. Landscape photography deals with the interaction of the environment and the ever-changing light. There are environmental conditions that are advantageous for those seeking to photography dramatic and dynamic light, especially if set on a particular mood or feel.
While much of the environment can be ultimately unpredictable, there are certain factors to take a look at that can give clues on how the light will change and how it is going to affect the landscape. For one, the overall weather condition and the abundance of clouds is the first and most obvious clue on whether there will be anything exciting to look forward to as the time passes. In relation to that, the direction of the wind and how fast the clouds move will also give clues about how drastically the lighting condition can change.
The direction you are facing and the path of the sun are also very important factors to consider. With little experience in landscape photography, it should be obvious that facing the exact opposite direction from where the sun is setting or rising will give you the least chances for any dynamic lighting. Shooting landscapes that are lit by the sun from the side during sunrise or sunset can result in a lot of emphasized depth, especially if there are multiple layers of visual elements between the camera and the background. With or without anything dynamic in the sky, the strong and vibrant sunlight will be enough to transform the location into something impactful. Lastly, shooting towards the direction of where the sun is setting or rising (given that there is enough clearing of clouds for the light to penetrate) can, of course, produce very dynamic lighting. The condition of the sky determines a lot of this since too much clouds will occlude the light and too little won’t have enough clouds to illuminate. A sky that is 40-60% covered in clouds can produce some of the most dynamic sunsets and sunrises. It is also important to predict if there will be any partial obstructions to the sunlight that can help produce attractive sunbursts in the process.
4. Enjoy the Moment
Whether you are successful in capturing the image that you envisioned for that day and for that location, always set aside some time (and consciousness) to simply enjoy what is going on in front of you with your own eyes. You will, of course, feel much better if you are successful in getting the image you envisioned, but even if you are not, take the moment in and process it yourself. One benefit of this is obviously just being able to experience a pleasant environmental phenomenon, but being able to witness it yourself especially when you were unsuccessful in taking the shot can be helpful as the experience and the personal account of it in your own memory can help you identify mistakes and points to improve on later in the process and prepare you for the next possible instance of photographing something similar.
The video below shows the process of shooting the Mayon volcano sunrise photos above, but, more importantly, it documented the enjoyment of being able to witness such a pleasant transition of light.
As a landscape photographer, along with your own personal style and artistic vision, it is important to be able to develop a certain state of awareness of the natural environment and the light altogether. This not only adds up to your experience and ability to adapt to the changing light but, more importantly, increases your appreciation of all things governed by nature.