Canon 5D-MKII: 16:19, 1/320, f/8, ISO-100
Landscape Photography Tips – A cairn of rocks marking the post box walk to Cox’s Battery on St Helena. Shadows work brilliantly here to bring out the sharp shapes of the rocks and highlight the surface patterns.
OUTDOORS WITH THE CAMERA | Darrin Henry
Recognising good photography light for landscapes is sometimes confusing for beginners. I mean, midday or early afternoon with clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine is when scenery looks fantastic, doesn’t it? It’s easy to think this might be a good time to take a picture?
The Camera Can’t See What We Can See
In fact, in most cases this turns out to be the worst time to photograph landscapes. Reason being, our cameras don’t cope well with the strong contrast between the sun-kissed glare and shadows that midday sunlight creates.
When the sun is lower in the sky these contrasts are more gentle. This allows cameras to cope better and capture an even balance of bright parts (sky, white buildings, clouds etc) and the darker areas (trees, rocks, etc.)
When it comes to landscape photography tips an easy method I use to help me recognise good light is to look for shadows. Let me explain.
Canon 5D-MKII: 09:37, 1/250, f/14, ISO-200
Landscape Photography Tips – Start of summer in Company Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. Table Mountain in the background. The monument shadow is falling away to the right but even at 9:37am the light is already becoming intense.
Landscape Photography Tips
Preferred conditions for capturing most outdoor scenes (landscapes, architecture, street scenes, etc) is early mornings or late afternoons. Identify the right shadows and chances are you have good light conditions. But what are good shadows?
Longer shadows that fall away from objects are generally going to be better, it automatically means the sun is lower in the sky.
Sharp edges on the shadow is good, it indicates sunlight without cloud interference.
Canon 40D: 16:55, 1/320, f/10, ISO-400
Landscape Photography Tips – The south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. The sheer scale of this place was a challenge to convey in a photograph. The depth in the pictures got better as the shadows grew longer and people in the foreground helped with the scale.
Position and direction is important.
You don’t normally want the shadows falling towards you; from where you point the camera they should fall in any direction away in an arc from hard left all the way around to hard right.
Shadows also add depth and texture, compensating for the ‘flat’ 2D effect we get with photographs.
There are many more landscape photography tips but ‘shadows’ is my top tip.
I’ve included examples here, with camera settings for fellow nerds who find this data useful.
Breaking The Photography Rules
Remember though, landscape photography tips are always just that, tips – keep your mind (and eye) open for the creative moment where you need to do the complete opposite to convention. Harsh midday sun might suit the look you’re shooting or the shadows that fall straight toward you could work perfectly in a particular situation.
Here’s another article you might find useful, from another site, for some extra reading about landscape photography.
That’s enough theory, now go outdoors and practise!
The secret hides in the shadows!
Canon 5D-MKII: 07:10, 1/250, f/14, ISO-200
The volcanic coastline of Sandy Bay on St Helena Island, photographed from on top of the Sandy Bay Barn. To capture the light (and shadows) at this time of day meant a really early hike, setting off before dawn. The shape of the hills are clear to see in this picture because of the shadows defining the outline.
These pictures were taken on the same walk to Sandy Bay Barn on St Helena, a week earlier, when the weather turned completely overcast by the time we reached the post box. Without the sunlight and shadows the landscape photo was never going to work, which meant hiking back on another day for the shot we saw earlier. Sometimes you have to put in a lot of work for good landscape lighting!
Canon 5D-MKIII: 18:03, 1/320, f/14, ISO-200
Breaking all the rules again with this shot, shooting directly into the late afternoon sunshine on this ferry ride in Toronto, Canada. The long shadows became a feature of this photograph as the students in the foreground were silhouetted against the city skyline.
Canon 5D-MKIII: 14:24, 1/250, f/16, ISO-200
I love weather conditions like this; dark, brooding clouds overhead but sunlight flooding the foreground, it just allows the most dramatic photographs to be captured. This was taken during our day in the City of Oxford, UK, in 2015. Even though it was a little early in the afternoon, the shadows were surprisingly long. Keep an eye out for these conditions, you’re bound to get some great images.
Canon 5D-MKIII: 09:02, f/250, f/16, ISO-200
St Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Summer in the US you really need to get our early for photography as the sun gets high in the sky very quickly. We just about made it in time to photograph this beautiful cathedral. A little later and the white facade would have reflected the sunlight so intensely that the foreground/background balance would have been lost.
Canon 5D-MKIII: 07:40, 1/320, f/13, ISO-200
Shadows on this World War One memorial in the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, really help bring texture and three-dimensional depth of the sculpture.
Canon 5D-MKII: 08:33, 1/320, f/11, ISO-200.
Early morning on the sun deck of the RMS St Helena on voyage to Cape Town. Early morning light at its best giving a nice balance between the foreground detail and the sky. The long shadows are clearly visible in this picture.
Canon 5D-MKIII 18:34, f/250, f/8, ISO-400
The dark sky and sunlit foreground made this shot irresistible, even from inside the car. Taken during our US road trip, driving towards Harrisburg in Pennsylvania.
Take Our 7-Day Photography Challenge
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post about landscape photography and you’ve picked up a few useful ideas.
If so, you may also enjoy having a go at our 7-Day Challenge, a no-pressure set of 7 exercises to do at home to improve your own photography. We designed this series after completing three Project 365 Challenges and realised how setting a daily target can really improve a photographer’s skills.
Our 7-Day Challenge is a Free Download which you can then save to your laptop or phone for later reference. Good luck, let us know how you get on.