The art of photography is God’s way of saying man, he needs an audience. When his mighty yet subtle hands work their magic he needs someone to stand, behold and admire. Photographers are those blessed people who happen to be at the right place at the right time. Well when I say photographers I definitely mean landscape photographers. These are the people who spend as much time outdoors as they do indoors, finding the right light. This is one genre which is best placed to capture the truly stunning beauty of Mother Nature.
Light is the fundamental truth on which all of photography stands. It is the basis of everything that we do. Whether it is abundant or scarce, without light there can be no photography. It is thus natural that photographers give an incredible amount of time to finding the right light. Whatever we are going to learn in this article revolves around the use of that natural light. Though the fundamental principles of light also encompass sources that are artificial in nature, for the sake of focus I have chosen to leave those outside the purview of this article.
Diffused Light – God’s way of saying that he loves Photographers
One of the most misunderstood types of light is diffused light. Diffused light is primarily created by cloud cover among reasons. Overcast conditions e.g., is when light disperses in all different directions would be an example. This light is soft, produces almost no shadows and is extremely flattering. It works beautifully for portraits but also works for landscape and nature photography, especially when you add some rain or mist into the mix.
Diffused lighting is like a free softbox that stays on for the entire day. You could take this a step further and shoot even during fog and rain. Contrary to popular opinion they are both great times to shoot! Bad weather isn’t just a time to stay at home and post-process your images. It is actually a great time to make photos outdoors. Of course bad weather means you have to take extra care about your gear and yourself. With safeguards in place and with a getaway plan at hand make the most of bad weather.
A great way to follow the weather and know in advance how it is going to be like at a place you are visiting try using weather apps. Whatever platform you are on Android, iPhone, Windows download an app and milk it.
Side lighting, as the name suggests, is a type of lighting when the light comes in from the side. As you can imagine this can happen only during sunrise and sunset – the only times of the day when the sun is low at the horizon. This light acts as a character lighting for a landscape. I use the word ‘character’ because it brings forth a certain personality about a landscape which is impossible to be experienced with any other light.
Early morning and late evening are the times when the light traverses across the landscape at a right angle bringing forth those character lines that are invisible during other times of the day. The search for finding the right light starts very early in the morning and ends after the sky has turned completely black. It means you will need to be ready to get up before everyone else does and stay outside longer than everyone else.
Golden hour is that magical time of the day when literally your search for finding the right light ends for all conceivable reasons. You will realise the magical properties of this light when you’ve captured a few photos with that light. There are two times of the day when that happens and they are like small windows of opportunity for the discerning landscape photographer. It’s an open invitation from God – go out and make some images!
But what sort of images? Golden light will usually strike at a steep angle. It means this light will essentially side-light your subject. We have already leant about how to shoot images in side lighting scenarios. It works beautifully for portraits, but what about landscape? Golden light adds a golden hue to everything that it touches. It is magical the way it can transform everything in its path. Thus the name. You can use this light to capture a truly unique image of a landscape compared to what you would shoot on an overcast or foggy or rainy weather. Landscape photographers often come back to the same location at different times of the year. Different seasons allow a photographer to capture a different perspective and with it a different mood.
Back light denotes any light that is coming from behind. In this case the sun is directly in front of you and lower towards the horizon. There are different types of scenarios to watch out for. You could be shooting from a height which means the light is going to produce a sort of checkered shadow and highlight across the frame such as in a forest scene (check image below). Though this is not something I am complaining about you still have to watch out for the right metering for a scene such as this.
If you are shooting from a lower angle the subject or the point of focus of your image may be slightly obscured. Partial metering works better in such situations. Again there is the problem of lens flare to deal with in such situations. Covering the sun with your hand / hat or partially obscuring the sun using an element in the image helps are some of the techniques that you can use.
Finding the Right Light – Bonus Tip
All of the lighting scenarios discussed above are great for shooting not only landscapes but also portraits and that includes backlighting. In all these scenarios if you are into portrait photography as well you could do some really nice portraitures; which is a real bonus.
In photography there are no good rules, there are only good photos and bad photos. Almost any lighting scenario can be used to produce beautiful photos (except for the mid-day time, but that light is good for scouting locations) if you pay attention to the fundamentals and get yourself into a good position.