The digital era has ushered in an abundance of stunning landscape photographs that represent clouds ablaze with color at sunrise or sunset. Thanks to increasingly capable cameras and software, photographing fiery skies and developing those images has never been easier. The wonderful visual impact of vibrant colors will surely guarantee the appeal of such scenes until the end of time, but there are many other options for creating compelling photographs of grand vistas. Here are some suggestions for types of light that can be very photogenic for large, scenic views.
1 ) Ambient Light
Even when the sun is well below the horizon, particles in the air can reflect its light, casting a soft ambient glow across the land. This type of light can be very subtle and warm, producing pleasing, feathered shadows and allowing colors and textures to appear very distinct. Once an area begins to receive direct light, shadows form hard edges and become strong elements on their own, often cutting across the lines of other forms. In areas where the lines of the land itself are what you want to feature, it is usually best to avoid hard shadows that complicate the scene. Locations that work particularly well with ambient light are those with interesting textures and with varying elevation of the terrain. Soft, warm light of any sort is great for bringing out colors, so colorful land can be particularly photogenic in ambient light as well.
2) Dappled Light
Dappled light occurs when the sun is still relatively high and cloud cover is about fifty percent or more. The effect of soft shadows alternating with bright, spotlit areas can be very dramatic. In these sorts of conditions, the light tends to change very quickly, so it’s often a good idea to find a composition and then wait and watch for a while. When your primary point of interest gets picked out by a spot of light, you’re likely to come away with an exciting photograph.
3) Diffused Light
Even overcast conditions can show off the special qualities of certain locations. A solid layer of clouds can act like a giant soft box when the sun is above them, diffusing its light enough to soften shadows. Like ambient light, diffused light works well for locations with a lot of textures.
Twilight is often called the “Blue Hour” by photographers because of the rich blue hues that the sky takes on while the sun is not very low beneath the horizon. This period is a great time to photograph the moon or to feature textures on the ground that appear clearly when reflecting soft light. After the sky goes black, it becomes a somewhat vacant space in an image until it is dark enough for the stars to shine brightly or for the colors of the Milky Way to be visible. I am placing twilight and night in the same category because landscape photographers often combine exposures of both for better handling of dynamic range in night scenes. A so-called “twilight blend” entails shooting the land portion of a scene at twilight and then leaving the camera in place on its tripod until the stars come out and can be captured in a second exposure (or the reverse order in the case of sunrise).
These four types of light are not the only alternatives to photographing scenic views at sunrise or sunset, but they can be especially fruitful. With the right combination of light and location, it is possible to produce compelling, expansive scenes at any time of the day. Creating photographs in different types of light can provide your portfolio with great variety and depth, and it will give you more options for the sheer enjoyment of photographing landscapes.
If you have any questions about these suggestions or would like to add to them, please feel free to leave a comment below!
Erin Babnik is a full-time landscape photographer, photography educator, writer, and speaker. Immersion in the visual arts has been the one constant in Erin’s life, including an extensive background in various studio arts and a doctoral education in the history of art. Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Europe, teaching workshops and giving talks on both continents. You can learn more about Erin and her ideas about photography through a variety of interviews with her. | Erin’s Website: www.erinbabnik.com