landscape photography lighting

Interesting lighting is one of the most important and meaningful elements that will make landscape photos stand out and be impressive. Almost everyone who is interested in photography in general and also in landscape photography, has heard or will hear about photographing sunrises, sunsets and the golden hour. Sunsets and sunrises are definitely classic and offer very good lighting for landscape photography, but they are not the only lighting scenes that can create an impressive feeling in a photo. How do you use different kinds of light in the best way? All the answers in the next article!

Deadvlei Namibia - Tomer Razabi

Contrast of light and shadow - photographed during sunrise at DeadVlei reserve in Namibia

what is good lighting for landscape photography?

A question that I don't think has a definitive answer. I have seen beautiful landscape photos in almost every possible lighting. In general, it can be said that good lighting is a lighting that will compliment the photo and create a sense of impression. There is no doubt that in most, if not all times, classic lighting will work amazingly - sunset and sunrise lighting for example produce a soft, golden, warm and pleasantly contrasting light that works great in landscape photography. On the other hand, there are quite a few other lightings that can be flattering and good. There are several important features that should be considered in the context of lighting:

  • Contrsat - we usually prefer light with relatively low contrast that will create a pleasant smooth transitions between light and shadow. Low contrast light usually happens when the lighting angle is low, such as during sunsets and sunrises, or when there is cloud cover that diffuses and softens the sunlight.
  • Color - we usually get great colors when the light angle is low. The light is warm and golden as in sunsets and sunrises. On the other hand, even in stronger lighting combined with good cloud coverage, will give rich and pleasant colors. Twilight lighting is also very interesting because it is very soft, and has beautiful transitions of warm and cold colors according to the angle of the sun below the horizon.
  • Direction - It is hard to say that there is a preferred lighting direction. Depending on the sky/clouds coverage and especially depending on the composition we will shoot, almost any lighting direction can be good. Front lighting of sunset and sunrise is of course very impressive. When the sun is in frontal lighting, but hidden or not present in the picture, we can get an impressive and interesting backlight. When the sun is behind us, we will usually get gentle, soft and balanced lighting on the foreground and background, without large contrast differences. Side lighting can also be interesting.
צילום נוף - חוף פלמחים בשקיעה | צילום: תומר רצאבי

Direct and frontal sunset lighting - dramatic light at a relatively low angle that is partially softened by cloud cover that hides most of the sun, with warm colors. The overall contrast of the light is relatively subtle, but the contrast of the light between the sky and the ground was strong and balanced by using a graduated ND filter and post processing.

Deadvlei Namibia - Tomer Razabi

Side sunrise lighting. The sun is not present in the picture, but creates a contrast of light and shadow areas with a relatively low and pleasant contrast on the dunes in the background. The lit areas get a warm color, the shadow areas get a cooler color.

Dolomites landscapes - Tomer Razabi

Sun light at a high rear angle that is refracted and softened by scattered clouds. The color of the light is mostly normal "white". The overall contrast is relatively subtle and does not create large differences between light and shadow areas, thanks to the refraction of the light by the clouds.

צילום נוף זריחה בים המלח - צילום: תומר רצאבי

Direct, frontal twilight lighting, just before the sun rises over the mountains in the background. At twilight, a subtle transition of colors is created - warm colors where there is more light and cool, bluish colors where there is less light.

sunrise and sunset

Sunrise and sunset lighting are probably the most classic lighting for landscape photography and for good reason. In sunsets and sunrises the lighting is soft , with golden colors and relatively subtle contrast which is usually very pleasing to the eye. Depending on the type, height and cover of clouds at the time of the photograph, there can be different situations with excellent lighting at these times. When there are no clouds at all, the best lighting will usually be right when the sun is on the horizon, a little bit above or below it. The higher the sun is above the horizon line, it light becomes more and more contrast. That can generate burnt areas in the sky and a general hard contrast less pleasing to the eye. The direction of the lighting can be frontal, side light or back light and can be Interesting in every way.

צילום נוף שקיעה בחוף הבונים - צילום: תומר רצאבי

Frontal sunset lighting with a combination of low and high clouds. Most of the sun is hidden behind the clouds that break and soften the direct light. The low angle of the sun creates interesting colors and lighting on the clouds.

צילום נוף שקיעה בנחל צין מדרשת שדה בוקר - תומר רצאבי

Rear sunset lighting and a little on the right side. The light is at a very low angle, creating warm and golden colors where it hits the ground. The general contrast is very subtle and allows for good balance between light and shadows. The clouds get soft and pleasant lighting.

twilight in landscape photography lighting

Many photographers miss or give low importance to twilight lighting - before the sun rises or after it sets. It is often seen as less interesting as it seems to have less dramatic colors than when the sun is present in the image. Twilight lighting sometimes has very great advantages such as a very subtle contrast and pleasant transitions of warm and cold colors. There are times when the most dramatic and impressive lighting happens at twilight. Usually when low angle of the sun below the horizon illuminates the lower part of clouds and creates dramatic and unforgettable colors.

זריחה בהר צין ושדה הבולבוסים קורס צילום נוף מתקדם - תומר רצאבי

Twilight lighting before sunrise on the right. The sun colors the clouds in dramatic orange and peach hues thanks to its very low angle below the clouds.

צילום נוף - תומר רצאבי

Twilight lighting after sunset in the desert. Only indirect light illuminates the ridges in the image and creates soft and uniform lighting in all parts of the image, from the high to the low areas.

scattered cloud coverage

Scattered clouds can create interesting and good lighting, even when the sun is relatively strong and at a high angle in the sky. In such situations, the clouds actually soften the strong sunlight and create softer transitions of light and shadow with a lower contrast. In addition, scattered clouds creates a beautiful combination of cloud textures together with patches of blue sky. On the ground, scattered clouds can also create patches of light and shadow. There is no doubt that even during sunset and sunrise, scattered clouds can be beautiful.

מעבר הרים סלה | טיול צילום נוף דולומיטים - תומר רצאבי

Mid day light with Scattered clouds. The ground is completely shaded and receives soft, gentle and uniform lighting. In the sky you can see areas with clouds and areas of blue sky.

צילום אווירי של קרחון אלץ' בשוויץ קורס צילום נוף - תומר רצאבי

Mid day light with Scattered clouds. The light transitions of illuminated and shadow areas becomes softer thanks to the refraction of the light by the clouds. You can see spots of light and shadow on the ground.

heavy cloud coverage in landscape photography lighting

Heavy and dense clouds is sometimes perceived less interesting, but it can also create very favorable and impressive conditions, especially when there are interesting textures and shapes in the clouds. When there is heavy cloud cover, the light is very soft and with a low contrast that creates uniform lighting in all parts of the image.

Dolomites landscapes - Alpe Di Siusi | Tomer Razabi

Mid day light with heavy cloud coverage

צילום נוף הר קירקיופל באיסלנד - תומר רצאבי

Mid day light with heavy cloud coverage

full shadow in landscape photography lighting

Very similar to the lighting of heavy clouds. In general, full shadow can be created in any situation when there is no direct light on the surface - during twilight, heavy clouds and even in sunlight when the angle of the light does not reach certain areas. This will make the lighting uniform, soft with a very low contrast.

צילום נוף הקניון האדום בהרי אילת, נחל שני - תומר רצאבי

Full shadow lighting where the sun is still in the sky, but direct light does not penetrate the interior part of the canyon.

צילום נוף מפל הבניאס - צילום: תומר רצאבי

Full shadow lighting where the sun is still in the sky, but direct light does not penetrate the interior part of the forest and stream.

direct sunlight

As you can probably imagine, during direct sunlight in the middle of day and without clouds, it is almost impossible to get good lighting. Such situations often create high contrast lighting, with strong differences of light and shadow that are less pleasing to the eye.


conclusions

There is a variety of lighting with different features that can create interest lighting in landscape photography. When you understand the characteristics of different lighting, you can use the light properly, even in situations that don't seem interesting at first.

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