5 Tips for Creating Stronger Compositions Using Natural Light

Developing your eye for how natural light can shape your composition comes with time. Contemporary landscape photographer Kyle McDougall has put together five excellent nuggets of knowledge to take with you the next time you’re out shooting.

McDougall’s first tip relates to the importance — or not — of golden hour. While you might assume that this is the best time to head out, it very much depends on what you are photographing, as I’ve found out through my own experiences of shooting landscape photographs deep in a forest. With such dense trees and lack of changes in elevation, sunlight tends not to reach parts of the forest floor until long after the sun has risen, and consequently, getting up early can sometimes feel like a waste of time. Similarly, under the canopy, the evening's golden hour can arrive long before the sun nears the horizon and some of the best moments happen a lot earlier than you might otherwise expect. All of this changes if you can gain some height by finding some higher ground, which can sometimes allow you to extend golden hour and suck a few extra rays of sunshine out of the day.

Which other tips would you add to McDougall’s suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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Interesting but I am struggling to accept the statements about shooting into the shadows. In harsh ligh the difference between light and shadow would normally be so great that the results you have demonstrated are hard to believe. Either your sensor has incredible DR or you have HDR’d the bejesus out of those shots. How have you maintained tonal range in the shadow shots ?

Hey Paul, give Kyle a shout on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kyle__mcdougall/

I suspect that Kyle is exploiting the versatility of Kodak Portra 400 which allows him to keep detail in the shadows while retaining a lot of information in the highlights — even in midday sun.