Timing and Direction in Landscape Photography

Landscape photographers might have a much easier time only when we could move the sun to suit our whims. (We’d be sure to put it back afterward. ) Alas, unless you’re a good unapologetic Photoshopper – or maybe a Luminary these days – you can’t do much to alter the natural light.

That’s both good and bad. On one hand, natural light can be some of the most wonderful, inspiring, and emotive light you’ll ever capture as a photographer. On the other hand, if it doesn’t look good at the moment, it almost feels like you’re stuck.

Portrait photographers may always change their adobe flash setup if the light doesn’t look good on the first try. Studio photographers have nearly limitless control over the light. Yet landscape photographers – aside from a handful who mainly photo light painting at night – don’t have those luxuries.

Instead, there are two skills that landscape professional photographers must cultivate in order to catch better natural light: timing and direction. But before I show examples of timing and path in landscape photography, let us analyze what “good light” means in the first place.

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What Is Good Light?

Good lighting seems like it has a pretty reduce definition. Is a sunset great light? What about an intense thunderstorm rolling in? A tranquil fog in a forest?

All of these sound good, but they’re not what I mean by good light. When I mention good light, I’m talking about light that carries the emotions you need in your photo . For instance , you may be standing in front of a subject that demands very dramatic light. If it’s a gentle, pastel sun overhead, that could actually be a negative rather than a positive.

Iceberg on the beach with pastel sunset light - not good lighting in this case
Normally, a pastel sunset would be considered good gentle. But not all subjects work effectively with that sort of lighting, including this iceberg.
Same composition of iceberg but at blue hour
Deep, blue lighting just after sunset works much better for this dramatic subject. The composition is almost the same, yet this photo is more successful than the prior one.
Aerial Mountain Black and White
I took this photo under midday, super high contrast lighting. That’s not normally regarded as good light in landscape photography, but because these highs are so sharp and jagged, it complements the feeling of this photo.

Personally, my perfect in photography is for almost everything about the photo – our subject, composition, and gentle – to be “on the same page, ” so to speak. I want them all to convey similar feelings as one another.

That’s why sometimes the best light in landscape photography is blue hour: dark, high contrast, and blue. Sometimes it’s sunset: vivid and colorful, usually along with bright highlights. Other times, the very best light might even be during the middle of the day with a severe sun overhead, if that’s what works best for your subject. There’s simply no universal “best light, ” there’s just the best light for the photograph at hand.


Even though we can’t change the position or color of sun light, we can always wait around for it to change on its own. Spoiler alert: The sun moves across the sky. If the light isn’t great right now, try to figure out what conditions would allow it to look the best. Then, wait.

Sometimes it’s a few waiting just a few minutes to get a cloud to pass in front of the sunlight. Other times, you may need to wait many hours or simply return another day in order to get better lighting conditions. We return to some of my favorite landscapes constantly in hopes that the gentle and conditions will be just right for the image I have in your mind.

Here’s an obvious example:

Overcast sky over the Faroe Islands
Darkish and stormy. Stay within.
Sornfelli Overlook Faroe Islands
A golden sunset illuminating the particular frame! (Same evening as the prior photo, just with a difference in timing. )

I took these photos less than 30 minutes apart. The compositions are essentially the same. Exactly what changed is that there was a brief clearing in the clouds once i took the second photo, which usually added a lot more interest towards the image and meshed better with the subject in question.

It’s not rocket technology. Timing impacts the light in landscape photography more than almost anything else. By keeping that in mind – especially in combination with what “good light” is in the first place – you can improve your landscape photos just by waiting around.

Listed here are couple more examples. The first set is a cityscape rather than landscape, but once again, I didn’t have any capacity to change the light in this frame myself. I just waited. In this instance, I like the second photo the best of the three:

Cityscape at night - timing example
Nighttime, with iffy illumination overall.
Cityscape at blue hour - timing example
An ideal balance between azure hour in the sky and the cityscape before dawn.
Cityscape after sunrise - timing example
A bit too late in the morning – right around sunrise, once the balance of natural and artificial light isn’t as pleasant.

And then back to a landscape photo. For the following subject, an intense and moody atmosphere was my goal, thanks to exactly how imposing the mountain will be. Watch how the light within the three images gradually will get more ominous, and the photos also gradually improve (at least to my tastes):

Mountain with bright sunlit peak at sunset
About an hour before sunset with the sun shining on the peak.
Same mountain later in the day with darker light
Alpenglow shortly after sunset. It’s a bit deceptive, but that’s not direct sunlight to the peak, just reflected lighting from lingering orange above.
Mountain at blue hour with optimal light
Blue hour. Dramatic. Imposing. It fits with the mood from the subject.

That’s the power of timing. But timing isn’t the only method you can control the light in your landscape photos. The other useful tool is direction.


Unless sunlight is directly overhead, you are able to control the type of light within your photo simply by pointing your own lens in different directions. It is particularly apparent near dawn or sunset. Point on the sun, and you get high-contrast backlight; in the opposite direction, front lighting; off left or right, side light. Weather conditions can also look various as you face in different instructions.

Here’s a great case in point. The following photo includes a calm, misty atmosphere, like the feeling of a gentle rainfall:

Changing Light 3
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 160mm, ISO 100, 1/15, f/7. 1

This photo, however, is punchy and dramatic. It’s much more intense, plus certainly the light is different:

Glowing sunrise in one direction
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 130mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/7. 1

Yet I took these two photos about 200 secs apart from one another. The difference in their light isn’t because the sun or clouds moved position; the sun was behind the same cloud the whole time. Instead, the difference is because I changed my direction.

I always like to emphasize the importance of looking around – including at the rear of yourself – while you’re doing landscape photography. The sunshine at any given moment might be completely different as you look 360 degrees around.

Personally, I find it is especially important to keep direction in mind when I’m performing forest photography. Facing one of the ways, the forest could be a topsy-turvy scene with shadows going everywhere:

Chaotic light in a forest due to side lighting
Dark areas, everywhere you look!

But pointing in another direction can transform that. Personally, I always try to observe if there are good compositions pointing toward the sun, considering that backlighting tends to simplify chaotic scenes:

Simplified light in a forest due to backlighting
A far more simplified and gentle feel, despite the identical subject plus similar time of day.

The last thing I’ll point out has to do with camera equipment – specifically your lens. The lengthier your focal length, the greater easily you can isolate person spots in the landscape based on a qualities of light. An extensive angle can reduce your options a little by comparison. Wide angles continue to be great for landscape photography, when you happen to be using a telephoto, it’s a nice bonus to have more flexibility with your quality of light.


If there’s one thing to take away from this article, this is it: Even in landscape photography, you might have the power to change the light to complement the mood of your photo. It takes some creativity, however the tools of timing plus direction are there to help. Hopefully this article gave you some really good ideas of how to use them for your own personel landscape photography.

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