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. Moreover, develop a workflow that allows you to capture stunning photos in any light condition. To get 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.
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. In addition, develop a workflow to choose the right equipment to get the job done.
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.
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.
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.
In the Skaftafell case study from our Illuminated Course, Varina shows us why she decided to bracket a relatively even front-lit image.
Not Shooting at Midday
Ask any seasoned photographer or read any photography book… they both say that, to capture great photos, it is best to avoid the harsh midday light.
It is true that you can get some fantastic photos during the golden hours, but midday light is can also be spectacular. You can use midday light in a variety of different way to capture stunning photos. Here are few examples of photos captured at midday.
Shooting at midday not only allows you to maximize your landscape photography time on location, but it also allows you to diversify your portfolio.
Not Knowing How Light Interacts with the Subject
Working with light requires you to know how light interacts with your subject. When I was trying photograph this sea urchin, I noticed that the reflected light from the bright white areas in the background was causing the “rainbow effect” around the spines of the sea urchin. This made the photo look out of focus. When I chose a different sea urchin that was surrounded by darker background, I was able to capture my subject with striking details and without any distracting “rainbow distortions”.
Here is another example from Iceland captured during the filming of our Illuminated Course. At first glance, this photos seemed like an evenly-lit scene that would be easy to capture with a single exposure. However, working with light required me to use a 3-stop GND filter to balance the light between the sky and the foreground.
Not Knowing How to Process Photos
One of the most important aspects of working with light comes into play during post-processing. When shooting a studio portrait, you want to make sure that light sources are controlled and no unwanted color casts are present in the image. However, this is not the case for landscape photography. In the following image, Varina left the blue color cast in her image to give the cool feeling to the ice.
Similarly, here are few images from Badwater Salt flats in Death Valley National Park. Here, Jay choose to leave the color cast that was present in the field.
What is your experience in working with light in landscape photography? Feel free to share your own experience in the comments below.