How to Use Natural Light for Amazing Landscape Photography

Written by | Photography

Natural light is tricky and unpredictable. And for landscape photography, there’s no escape to the safety and control of a studio. The whole purpose of our travels, early wake-ups, and hikes is to witness some great natural light. And unusual environments. That’s why this article will show you how to understand and read light. And how to use it for landscape photography.

The rule of thumb for landscape photography is to shoot around sunset and sunrise. But other types of light can also produce great photos. It’s a rare case when the light is so bad you can’t use it for anything.

Side Lighting During the Golden Hour

Side lighting is the most obvious choice for landscape photography. It reveals textures and structures, paints contrast and volume, and brings out colors.
This type of light is best during the so-called golden hour. Up to one hour after sunrise and up to one hour before sunset.
The name golden light refers to its transformation from red to yellow, going through all shades of orange. Another benefit of this light is the fact that it creates long shadows that you can use for composition.

You can use this light to reveal shapes and textures in your landscapes.
Walk around your subject and try photographing it from different angles. Even a small shift can produce another lighting pattern during the golden hour. This light is the best light for photography in general. And for landscape photography in particular.

Why You Should Pick Sunrise Light Over Sunset Light

Aren’t these the same thing? Well, no. Sunset and sunrise light are similar, but they are not identical for many reasons. The main one is light direction. In the morning, the light is coming from the East, and in the afternoon from the West. This will affect which part of your scene will look best.
Figuring this out is easy. Use maps or specialized like These show the light source’s exact direction. Another thing to consider is clarity. Light is clearer during sunrise than during sunset. This is because the ground heats up during the day, stirring up particles or creating haze.
This is also why sunset light is usually redder.

Back Lighting

This type of light is more challenging than others. It’s also more rewarding.
There are two main challenges with backlighting. The contrast is much higher in this scenario. The sky is bright because of the sun.
And this causes the second drawback. Sun glares will appear on your lens.
This type of light does bring out the most contrast. But it also highlights textures, lightens object edges, and increases the saturation.

To fix high contrast you have three options: underexposure, bracketing, filters. Modern cameras have a high dynamic range. You can expose the sky and then bring up the shadows in editing. Another option is to use exposure bracketing and then combine the frames into one shot later. The last option is to use graduated filters. To fix lens glare, you need to clean your lenses before shooting with backlighting. Every dust particle becomes enormous when lit. Also, changing the angle a bit can help you reduce the size of the flares or get rid of them altogether.
You also can take a few shots covering the Sun with your finger. And then combine shots with and without the Sun later in editing.

Last modified: February 26, 2021