Friday, April 17, 2009

The Light and Landscape Photography

With landscape photography, the vast majority of the time we get to shoot using sunlight. This light can vary dramatically depending on time of day, time of year, atmosphic conditions, latitude, and very importantly, which way you are facing. Beautiful or dramatic lighting is the other key to a great and truly memorable photograph (along with good composition and getting the technical bits of focus, exposure, white balance etc. right).

Where or when do you get beautiful or dramatic light? Most commonly around sunrise, sunset and the edges of storm clouds, but there is limitless variety to the light and conditions you can get, and different light suits different subjects, or can create new and interesting versions of the same subject, so you just have to keep your eye out for great light when it happens, and even better, try to predict it and be in the right spot at the right time.

Here are some of the effects of the direction of the light on your subject:

Sidelight: this is where the light comes from the side of your subject. Sidelight is great for giving your landscape shots a real sense of contour and dimension, because you see highlights on one side and shadows on the other for every object and curve in the landscape.

Frontlight: this is where the light is behind you and shining on the front of your subject. While it's not so good for creating a sense of depth and dimension, it's great for bringing out intense colours in things and usually makes getting the right exposure pretty easy because everything is evenly lit and of similar brightness.

Toplight: when the sun is directly overhead you can get fairly flat looking landscapes with harsh shadows. On the other hand, this light is great for shining down into the bottom of narrow gorges or showing all the bright colours of a beach scene.

Backlight: This is one of my favourite kinds of lighting. Backlight is when light comes from behind your subject, and it creates wonderful highlights around the edges of things and shines through leaves making them look bright, saturated and glowing. Like sidelight, it's great for making things look very 3-dimensional. However, it can be tricky to work with getting the exposure right and stopping the light shining on the lens and creating a hazy-looking image or bright spots across it.

Qualities of light - colour and "hardness":

Light from the sun is typically yellow, while shade is blue, but the colour of your light can vary dramatically with different times of day, year and atmospheric conditions. In the early morning and late afternoon the light is typically a warm gold colour, although morning is usually cooler and bluer light than afternoon. Sunrise and sunset have lots of wonderful warm colours that subtly light the landscape and not-so-subtly light the sky. Sunset or sunrise light on clouds can be particularly colourful, dramatic and beautiful, and this reflects from the clouds onto the landscape.

Direct sunlight in the middle of the day is considered to be "hard" light. The shadows are very dark and the lit areas very bright, so there is a lot of contrast, sometimes more than the camera can cope with, resulting in blown-out highlights or black detail-less shadows. Towards either end of the day the light becomes softer and there is less contrast and more detail in both highlights and shadows.

Diffuse or indirect light happens when there is shade, reflected light, clouds (or mist, dust or smoke) across the sun or the sun is just below the horizon. While it doesn't create strong highlights or shadows to give your landscape shape, it is very soft and suits some subjects very well. Rainforests are great in mist or on cloudy days for example, and the soft light after sunset looks good on lots of landscapes. Sunset or sunrise light on clouds can be particularly colourful, dramatic and beautiful.

Next: Landscape Photography and Exposure

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tutorial 2 - Composition for Landscapes part 1

I think of composition in landscape photography as a bit like Zen gardening. You have a limited space - the frame - in which to arrange all the elements in a manner which is particularly pleasing to the eye.

If you're thinking "how do I arrange a landscape", the answer is that while you may not be able to simply pick up bits of the landscape and put them where you want, you can change not only where you point the camera, but also where you take the photo from, how high above the ground your camera is, and your focal length (ie wide-angle, normal, telephoto), and these things make a big difference to your composition.

What to include: give your shot a clear subject or focal point so the viewer knows what they're looking at.

What to exclude: before you take the shot, look for unwanted details such as power lines or rubbish bins that you can leave out of the shot by moving a bit and re-composing.

Now lets explore the tried and true composition tools.

The Rule of Thirds. It's a bit misnamed, as it's really just a guideline, but it's good.
Imagine your frame is divided horzontally into thirds. Next divide it vertically into thirds. You end up with a grid that looks like this:

The rule of thirds says that the eye is drawn to things that rest on these imaginary lines and at their intersections, so if you place the important elements in your landscape on or near these lines and intersections (the horizon in particular), then you immediately have a much stronger, more interesting image than if you just placed them in the centre of the frame.

Leading Lines. Obvious lines in the picture create paths for your eye to follow. They can be straight, curvy, wiggly, whatever. They are powerful ways of drawing attention to a part of your shot, and can create a strong and visually arresting image.

Foreground, middleground, background. Including all three of these gives a real sense of depth to an image. When you do this, it often helps to include something of interest in the foreground. To get all of it looking sharp and in focus, have a look at Tutorial 1 - Getting it all in Focus.

Balance. Balance the visual weight of elements or tones across your frame. This can be symmetrical as in a formal garden (ie using reflections on lakes), or asymmetrical, as in a Zen garden, which is more common for landscapes. While there is even a mathematical formula (the Golden Mean) for achieving this balance, you have a natural instinct for the visual weight of something and you will know if a picture seems balanced or unbalanced.

To view more of my landscapes, check out my gallery here:

Coming next, Tutorial 3 - The Light and Landscape Photography (Composition for Landscapes part 2 will be after we've covered the basics).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tutorial 1 - Getting it all in Focus

Have you ever looked at a landscape photograph and wondered how the photographer got every single detail in the picture looking sharp and focussed, right from the very foreground to the far distance?

Including a close foreground to your picture adds a real sense of depth, sometimes giving the impression that you could just walk into the picture, but the difficulty is getting it in focus along with the rest of the picture.

Well here's how to get a big "depth of field"

What you will need: An SLR (digital or otherwise) or any camera that allows you to set aperture and focus anda tripod or something to rest your camera on.

First of all, choose a relatively wide angle focal length (ie not telephoto or zoomed right in) because that helps to increase your depth of field (the amount of the scene in focus).

Next, set your camera to manual or aperture priority mode.

Choose your smallest aperture - strangely enough that's the one with the biggest number (ie f/22)

Set up your camera on a tripod or something solid (where it will stay still, and very importantly not fall off and break!). You need to do this because your exposure will take longer with a small aperture, so you might get camera shake if you hand-hold it. Particularly if you've set the ISO to something like 100 or 50 to get the cleanest, most noise-free image you can.

Set your focus to manual and focus on a point about a third of the way into your frame. If you have a depth of field preview button you can now check what's in focus and adjust your focus as necessary.

If you have your camera mode set to manual rather than aperture priority, you will need to set the shutter speed to get the correct exposure (your inbuilt camera metering will help you do this).

Now to take the shot. If you have a remote shutter release, this is ideal because you can easily avoid touching and potentially shaking the camera. If you don't you can set the timer and that way avoid touching it at the time it takes the shot.

If you've got a digital camera you can now check your shot to see if you managed to get it all sharp or if you need to adjust your point of focus closer or futher away.

And that's it! Go practise and have fun!


Depth of field

Depth of field (DOF) is the amount of the scene that appears to be in focus. A narrow depth of field is great for portraits, wildlife, or anything you want to really make stand out from the background (ie subject in focus, background blurred). A large depth of field is the norm for landscapes and story-telling images.

DOF is affected by focal length (narrower for telephoto, larger for wide-angle), aperture (narrower for wide aperture, larger for small aperture), and the distance from the point of focus (narrower for closer, larger for further away).


The aperture setting is the size of the opening that lets light into the camera and onto the film or sensor. A small aperture is indicated by a big f-number ie f/22, and vise-versa - a big aperture is indicated by a small f-number ie f/1.8. Due to diffraction, the image gets fuzzier with very small apertures. Crop-sensor cameras (the majority on the market at the moment) should ideally be set at no smaller than f/16 to achieve acceptable sharpness, and this should give a similar depth-of-field to a full-frame sensor camera with a smaller aperture setting.


This is the sensitivity of your film or sensor to light. In digital cameras you can set this on a whim for each shot, with film you have to decide on your ISO when you buy your film. The higher the ISO, the more sesitive the film/sensor is to light. You can get a faster exposure time in low light with a high ISO, which has lots of advantages, but you also get more grain/noise in your final shot. Most landscape photographers prefer to set the ISO as small as possible to get the cleanest, crispest image, and the resulting long exposure time (by also using a small aperture) usually makes a tripod essential.

More of my landscape photography - First Light Gallery

About Me

Landscape photographer, Flinders Ranges

My name is Pamela Inverarity, and I've been a professional photographer as of late 2007.

I've bitten off a big bite of this career and I'm chewing as hard as I can. It's been a completely DIY project and I'm learning as I go. It can sometimes be scary, but also really rewarding.

I now have a gallery of some pretty nice landscape photography which is popular with the locals, a professional award, some happy portrait customers (including some dogs, a cat and a horse) and even a wedding for which the shots turned out rather well, all in a remote town in the dusty north of South Australia.

I'm not on the road to fame and riches yet, but all in good time. :) Meanwhile, you are welcome to visit my website for a look at my work - First Light Gallery I have an exhibition coming up later this year but more on that later...

The idea of this blog is to share my photography tips and techniques, starting with some basics of landscape photography. Coming soon, tutorial 1, Getting it all in Focus