One of the biggest mistakes in landscape photography is thinking that the best light just appears at sunset or sunrise. You might also get the best light you’ve ever seen in your life around noon. This is what you need to consider.
After a few rainy days in Slovenia, I decided to go down to Tuscany in Italy. It also rained the previous days, which increased my chances of getting breathtaking landscape photography weather in the best light, even during the day.
I arrived in Tuscany, I wanted to start my photography in one of my favorite photo spots, which is the Alley of the Gladiators in Pienza. Over the years, I’ve learned to use my camera not just to take different snapshots, but more as a tool to expose after having thought deeply about a composition. That’s why I decided to explore my scheduled sunset photo spot at noon to be ready for an exceptional composition for the evening. The rain of the previous days formed a lot of isolated clouds, so I decided to take my small Sony A6500 camera with me. You know, just in case there’s some sort of “emergency camera” if the light gets awesome.
I was vlogging and just then, as I was explaining the importance of light to my audience, I saw the shadows of the clouds moving towards the scene I wanted to shoot. I just threw away my vlogging camera, grabbed my emergency photography camera, framed a composition, and took the shot. It was half past one at the time and the light was exceptional. A few minutes later, everything seemed flat and boring. What happened?
It is a serious mistake to think that the quality of light in landscape photography would simply be given by the low sun, as is the case around sunrise or sunset. This would, however, lead to more oranges and reds in the spectrum of light, as blue is dispersed in the atmosphere. And this indeed immerses the landscape in enchanting colors, but there are other criteria that define the quality of light. Most important in my experience is the contrast. And that’s what made the first image above.
I simply used the spaces between the shadows as bright spots to light up the parts of my composition that add to the flow. The illuminated meadow in the lower left is quite large. It has a high visual weight and grabs the viewer’s attention. It only works because the area behind has been cast into shadow. This is how contrast is defined: the difference between light and dark areas. As the thicker cypresses in the lower right are quite dark, they also draw the viewer’s eyes to this area and the bright spot on the left side of the meadow in the middle of the field supports the view along the road, towards the farm . I saw the shadows of the clouds forming this formation and just waited a few seconds to get the whole grassland in the left midfield in shadow, but having the foreground layer bushes still lit, to get the contrast needed to create that incredible sense of depth. The light was just superb. It couldn’t even be better, especially for this composition.
Light as a component of your composition
I was happy with the first photo I took around noon and I already knew it would be hard to get better light for this scene. But I still followed my plan to go back in the evening with my Sony a7R IV, because I also knew one important thing: light alone is not enough. You also need to nail the composition.
To be honest, I was lucky that I had already started thinking about a rough composition before the cloud shadows arrived at noon, so I was already a bit prepared to get a strong composition, but I was sure that I would get an even better composition when I tried again later. I think I nailed the composition at noon, but I was sure the same composition wouldn’t work for sunset. Why?
The noon shot light didn’t create any textures in the landscapes, which are created with a lower light source on the side. The sun was high and the grassland texture itself seemed flat. The only reason it didn’t look flat overall was the contrasting cloud shadows which created some interesting textures. But they also induced a very specific visual weight. For the first photo, it was a question of balancing the three luminous points at the bottom left, in the meadow on the left and right next to the farm.
In the evening, the shadows were not built through the clouds, but through the hills of the landscape and through the bushes and trees. This led to a totally different appearance of the whole scene. The left side of the hill was already appearing with deep shadows which together with the distant mountain led to more visual weight on the left side of the frame. That’s why I decided to take more of the right side of the illuminated meadow in my frame for the evening shot, to make the scene nicely balanced. Light changes everything, not only the mood but also the visual weight in a composition.
Amazing light doesn’t just appear at sunrise or sunset. You can use a thinner cloud layer to cast shadows on your landscape for awesome contrast and best case scenario support the flow of your composition.
To enjoy the whole adventure and get lots more landscape photography tips, watch the video mentioned above. And feel free to leave us a comment below about how you experienced the best light you’ve ever seen in your life. What’s the best photo you’ve taken that isn’t during one of the golden hours? Share it in the comments section below.