If you are just getting started with landscape photography, then one of the most important lessons you can learn to instantly augment the quality of your photography is a good understanding of lighting.
Once you understand how lighting affects your landscape photography, then you will instantly be able to improve the quality of your work, and the impact will be massive.
There are different types of light you will interact with when you are shooting landscapes, and you need to know how these will impact your photos, and what you can do to ensure that they work with your photos and not against them.
It can be difficult to understand lighting for outdoors landscapes since there are so many different factors that can change how it works.
However, if you start with the basics, the information is a lot easier to understand, and making changes to your technique accordingly becomes much more simple.
We will be going over these basics to lighting with landscape photography, and also some advice on how to understand the type of lighting, and what to do with it.
If you have already tried landscape photography, and noticed that the light has degraded the quality of the final product, and want to know what you could have done to change this, then this guide will tell you what you could have done.
So, if you want to ensure that the light is enhancing the quality of your landscape photography, then keep reading!
Types Of Light For Landscapes
Firstly, we are going to dive into the different types of lighting you are most likely to run into when you are doing outdoors landscape photography.
We will give you some advice on how to work with this, but we will mainly be describing the different types of light, and save the advice on what to do with it for the next section!
Quality And Direction Of Lighting
So, one specific aspect of lighting you need to understand when working with lighting in your landscapes is the quality and the direction of your lighting.
When referencing the quality, we are mentioning the hardness and the softness of the light. You will find the soft light will not create many shadows and will desaturate the colors, while a hard light will create dark shadows and contrasting colors.
Then the direction of the lighting is where the light is hitting your subject. We know that the sun is in different spots throughout the day, so knowing how this will impact our subject is important to getting the best results!
A common type of lighting you will run into when you are shooting landscapes is reflected light. It might seem like something you only run into when shooting water, but this is not the case.
We are simply referring to light which will bounce or diffuse and this is when the light reflects off a surface and it can drastically increase the quality of your photos due to its soft effect.
A common example is sun reflecting off rocks and this can create an interesting final result when shot from a specific angle.
Understanding how the light will diffuse off your subject is incredibly important for getting the best results possible!
Depending on the weather, you might run into overcast light. This is common on foggy days especially and it is when the light will be more blue and subdued.
The shadows are nowhere near as impactful and the direction of the light is nowhere near as important.
You will find that cloud light can be useful with landscape photography, however, you need to make sure that your photos still have life.
Make sure that your subject is interesting and impactful to make up for the subdued effect of the lighting.
This is why overcast light can be perfect for photos that would otherwise be seen as busy as it makes the scene less garish.
A type of lighting you will recognize quite commonly in your landscape photography is backlight, and as the name suggests, this is lighting which you will find sourced from behind your subject.
There are different types of backlighting, like partial backlighting, or total backlighting, depending on how covered up your subject is.
One of the reasons why you will find this type of lighting being used so commonly in landscape photography is because of the drama it lends your photos (see also “Why Are My Landscape Photos Not Sharp?“).
It is a great way to bring life to a photo which might need it, and it also emphasizes the shape and size of your subject which can be very complimentary.
When doing landscape photography, you will find that certain areas will not be directly lit by sunlight, and the shade will be exposed.
In these areas you will of course have more soft lighting. Because of all the nature and more close subjects, this is a common type of lighting for shooting in a forested area, or mountainsides.
This light is very convenient since it stays pretty consistent throughout the day so you are not as impacted by time limitations as you could be.
However, you want to make sure you are also shooting from inside the shade as shooting from out in the sun can make the shots far too harsh and difficult to view!
Finally, we are going to mention combination light, and this is situations where you have both a direct light and a diffused light.
This is not common in a more intimate landscape photo, and you will more often find it in a much larger and sweeping landscape. This type of lighting is especially common when there is plenty of elevation difference for the subject.
For example some of your subject could be covered in clouds, but then the rest has sunlight. This combination can create a very dramatic effect, but if not taken advantage of, it can look accidental and unintentional.
Advice For Using This Light In Landscape Photography
Now we have gone over the main types of light that you are going to run into when doing landscape photography, we are going to give you some specific advice for using the light in your landscape photography.
Not all of this advice will cover all of the different types of light mentioned in the previous section, however, we will cover the most important advice to follow when using light in landscape photography.
Sunrise Or Sunset?
Whether you are shooting at sunrise or sunset will drastically impact the lighting direction on your subject, so understanding and knowing this is important.
This is an important use of lighting direction as if the lighting is coming from an unflattering angle, then it can ruin the whole subject, but if it is complimentary, then it can make the photo.
Ensure that you know which side the light is coming from and when to make sure that your landscape photography will have the best lighting possible.
Avoid Front Lighting
While it is not something you always have to do, we will nearly always prefer the effect that you get from back lighting as you would from front lighting, when working with landscapes that is.
If you are working with front lighting, the image will usually end up being too bright and way too vivid. This can sometimes work in your favor, but most of the time it makes the picture overwhelming and unpleasant. This will also get rid of the shadows robbing the photo of any depth.
One of the best types of natural light you can work with for your landscape photography is skylight.
This is the light you will get before the sunrise and after sunset where the sky is still reflecting and diffusing light. The light is subtle and gentle, however still strong enough to allow your photos to have texture.
You will also not get shadows which are too strong and will still getting shadows that are impactful. We recommend using long exposure here to get the best contrast and colors.
You can get very similar results to working with sunlight as you can with moonlight. You still have one big source of light that is moving around the sky, however, with moonlight it is a lot more dim, and this can give you more control over the final result.
You will want to work with a longer exposure to make sure you are getting all the light you can from this limited source.
Hopefully this guide has given you advice which is easy to understand when it comes to working with lighting in your landscape photography!
While this may seem like a lot of different advice to keep in mind when looking at it from a theoretical perspective, once you are using this information in practice, you will find it a lot more simple.
Of course this is not all the information you can know about lighting and landscapes, however, this is a perfect jumping off point and foundational information for working with light in landscape photography.