3 Mistakes to Avoid When Working with Light

Light is integral to all genre of photography; travel and landscape photography are no different. However, what makes travel and landscape photography challenging is the fact that, unlike some other forms of photography, you cannot control the light in landscape photography. To overcome this challenge, I recommend that you learn to see the light and develop a workflow that allows you to capture stunning photos in any light condition. To get you started, here are a few mistakes to avoid when working with light at your next bucket list location.

Using the Wrong Equipment

Light enters your camera through the lens. This makes your lens a great tool to control the light entering your camera. Choosing the wrong type of lens can be the difference between a great photo and just another tourist snap shot.

While filming our Illuminated Course in New Zealand, I wanted to capture the storms that were creating breathtaking and moody scenes. So I decided to restrict the light entering the camera by using a long lens and magnify the storm clouds behind the famous Wanka Tree.

  • Photo taken with a Long Lens, Lake Wanka, New Zealand

  • Wide angle Long Lens View, Lake Wanka, New Zealand

Similarly, a cheap UV filter on my lens left me with diffraction pattern in the “greens” while photographing the Northern Lights. Make sure that you are familiar with the limitations of your equipment and develop a workflow to choose the right equipment to get the job done.

Diffraction Patterns caused by cheap UV Filters, Egilsstaðir, Iceland

Not Returning to a Location

We often get this question: Why would you want to return to the same location if you have already photographed it before?

My answer is always the same: Because light is is always different giving a different mood and feeling to the image.

I have visited Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park several times. Each time I have been able to capture these magnificent dunes in a different kind of light.

  • Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, California (CA), USA

  • Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, California (CA), USA

    Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, California (CA), USA

  • Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California (CA), USA

Sometimes you arrive at the location and find that the light is not ideal for photographing the subject you are trying to capture. In this case, you either have to go find another subject or return to the location when the light conditions are just right. My first attempt to photograph Sol Duc falls under harsh light resulted in less then spectacular shots (as you can see in the image below). My second attempt in the right kind of light produced a more pleasing image.

  • Midday Harsh Light at Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

    Midday Harsh Light at Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

  • Soft Light before sunrise at Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

Not Knowing When and How to Bracket

One of the biggest challenges facing landscape and travel photographers is high dynamic range. Not knowing when or how to bracket produces images with blown highlights, clipped shadows, or both. While it is easy to imagine why back-lit images require bracketing, even front-lit images sometimes require it.

Here is a side-lit image from Fiji that required bracketing.

Manually Blended Photo, Mana Island, Fiji

  • Bracketed Exposure: -1ev, Mana Island Overlook, Fiji

  • Bracketed Exposure: 0ev, Mana Island Overlook, Fiji

  • Bracketed Exposure: +1ev, Mana Island Overlook, Fiji

In the Skaftafell case study from our Illuminated Course, Varina shows us why she decided to bracket a relatively even front-lit image. Our Illuminated Course gives you a first-hand look at how to capture great travel and landscape photos in any type of light. Working with Light uses the cases studies from our Illuminated Course and shows you how the choose the post processing based workflow depending on the type of light.

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To be continued: 3 More Mistakes to Avoid When Working with Light

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams