Landscape Photography Lighting: A Comprehensive Manual

Landscape Photography Lighting: An extensive Guide

landscape photography lighting guide

By understanding lighting, you are able to instantly improve your landscape photography portfolio.

It is true. The quality and path of the light  dramatically  affects your surroundings photos, which is why it’s essential to master lighting as thoroughly as possible.   Unfortunately, surroundings lighting can be a tricky subject. Lighting quality, direction, color; it’s enough to give anybody a headache, right?

Well, in this article, I actually aim to break it straight down for you – so that, next time you go out for some panorama photography, you know exactly what to complete. I’m going to discuss my personal favorite types of landscape photography lights and how to work with them just for beautiful results, plus I can give plenty of tips as you go along.

Let’s jump right in.

Lighting quality and path

Landscape professional photographers talk about two essential lights characteristics: the quality and the direction.

Lighting  quality  refers to the particular hardness or softness of the light, where soft gentle produces limited shadows and saturated colors, while tough light adds lots of contrast and heavy shadows.

And lighting  direction  refers to the particular direction at which the light hits your subject. For instance, noontime sunlight hits the subject previously mentioned, evening sunlight hits the topic from the side, etc .

Generally, lighting high quality is the bigger deal here. Because while it’s possible to experiment with different directions for beautiful results, if you are not able to understand lighting quality, you’ll capture consistently mediocre (or just  bad ) photos.

At the same time, you should understand how to use different lighting directions – it’s how you can add depth and dimension to your photos, for one – which is why I dedicate several sections to the topic.

Reflected light

Reflected light, also called bounced or diffused light, occurs whenever direct sunlight reflects off a good adjacent surface. It can make for stunning photos, thanks to its soft, even, beautiful effect.

The valleys in the Southwest are perfect for this type of light, as the sun beams against the rocks and is reflected all around, creating a gorgeous warm glow:

landscape photography lighting Zion

To work with shown light, you’ll generally require a bright surface such as pale rock walls, a white-colored beach, etc . – otherwise, you’ll fail to get a fine reflection effect. You’ll also need bright sun, ideally toward the middle of the day.

Overcast light

foggy, overcast lighting Morro bay

Light upon overcast and foggy times is soft, subdued, plus bluish. Shadows are minimal, and light directionality essentially disappears.

Whilst cloudy light can work perfect for landscape photos, thanks to the excellent, soft effect and insufficient harsh shadows, you need to be careful; a cloudy sky has a tendency to look boring, so do everything you can to block it out with trees, mountains, and other landscape elements.

Cloudy days also are great for  colorful  landscape scenes , such as fields associated with flowers. The soft gentle evenly illuminates your subject matter and gives colors a subtle, saturated glow.


Backlight refers to any light that will comes from  behind  your subject, like this:

morning light seascape

Note that you can have  partial backlighting , once the sun comes from roughly at the rear of the subject, and you can have total backlighting , when the sun beams out from directly behind the subject.

Backlighting is a landscaping photography favorite, especially when the sun is just above the horizon. Why? Backlighting is dramatic, whether it’s combined with HDR effects (such as in the image above), or whether you use it to capture spectacular silhouettes.

1 tip: Pay careful attention towards the position of the sun in your frame. You generally want to partially block the sun having a solid edge; that way, you can capture a beautiful sunstar . Alternatively, you are able to keep the sun out of the frame or position it behind a solid object, like a forest or a rock, to prevent the blown-out sky.

Direct light

direct light sand dunes

Direct lighting is strong, harsh, and extremely unforgiving; you can generally believe it is a few hours after sunrise to a couple hours before sunset, though as the sun moves higher in the sky (i. e., nearer to noon), the light becomes a lot more direct and even less excellent.

Because lead light produces such a harsh effect, some landscape photographers avoid it completely. I don’t go that far me, but I do recommend you shoot in black and white , which works quite well with high-contrast illumination.

Also, if you’re shooting in direct gentle and your photos keep switching out dull and uninspiring, try looking for subjects that offer significant tonal range (that is, subjects that stretch out from deep black to bright white). That’s what I did for the photo over.

Morning plus evening horizontal light

Morning and evening horizontal light refers to light in the hour or two after sunrise and the hr or two before sunset; it’s warm, it produces soft shadows, it looks super flattering, and it’s prime light for scenery photography, thanks to its mixture of low contrast and attractive tones.

Professional photographers often refer to this time associated with day as the  golden hours ,   because the lighting looks amazing and, well, golden . Check out the photo below, that i took during this special time:

landscape photography morning light

While you can shoot content from any angle, I highly recommend sidelight, which will shape your subject and add plenty of depth and dimensions. In fact , I used sidelight in the photo above to give the mountain plenty of texture plus volume (notice how the correct side of the peak is within shadow, while the left aspect is in sun).

Also, quick tip: The golden hours are often followed by another wonderful time for landscape photography, the blue hour – which is when the light starts to fade from your sky, the world becomes ethereal, and you can capture some stunning photos. So don’t pack up when the golden hours are over, even if it seems like the light is gone!

Open shade

Inside landscape photography, open tone consists of areas not lit up by direct sunlight. The light can be soft, and you’ll usually find it in forested places, along with steep valleys plus mountainsides.

The best part about this type of light? You are able to shoot all day without ending, since the light never really diminishes in quality.

But you’ll need to stay  firmly  in the shade; step out into the sunlight, and your shots will become harsh and likely unpleasant.

shaded light waterfall

Mixture light: direct and diffused

Combination light refers to situations with  both  direct and diffused light. You’ll seldom find this in passionate landscapes; instead, look for it in broad, sweeping vistas, especially those with lots of height differences (i. e., mountains).

You see, you will sometimes get situations where part of the landscape is covered by clouds, but the rest is lit by beautiful sun. I’ve included an example below so you can understand the beauty of this particular effect. It was shot about Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierra, and there were sun rays of morning horizontal sunshine shining from behind me while a portion of the hill was shaded or diffused by the clouds overhead. The end result? A gorgeous spotlight effect on the mountain peaks!

partially lit landscape mountain peaks

This was the effect of several hours of waiting for the light, and we were greatly amazed and rewarded for our initiatives.

Human-made light

Many landscape photographers don’t consider human-made light…

…but it can actually be useful, especially if you like creative effects in your photos.

For one, you can use the lighting of cars to create wonderful light paths . In the example beneath, taken on the Big En déambulant coast at dusk, I captured a  row of vehicle lights with a long exposure and a sturdy tripod.

Big Sur light trail highway

You can also use human-made light to carefully illuminate subjects having a flashlight (this technique is known as  light painting ).

Landscape pictures lighting: final words

Well, there you have it:

All of the fundamentals of lighting a landscape photo. Start by committing the different light types in order to memory – and get in the habit of looking at the sunshine, evaluating it, and identifying whether it works well pertaining to photography.

Pretty soon, you’ll be a lighting learn!

Now over to you:

Do you have a favorite kind of landscaping light? A least favourite? Share your thoughts in the responses below!






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