Kevin McNeal: Photographing Dramatic Light

Canon 5D | Canon 24-70, F2.8L | 1/200s @ F10, ISO 400 | No Filters

Canon 5D | Canon 24-70, F2.8L | 1/200s @ F10, ISO 400 | No Filters

Kevin is a full-time landscape photographer who makes a living conducting workshops, selling his own calendars, licensing his images, and giving talks around the world. He is also a member PhotoCascadia, a small community of very talented photographers.

Kevin’s photos include very engaging compositions and dramatic light. Here are some tips from Kevin McNeal on how to capture dramatic light.

Morning light is often softer and adds a bit of mood to my images
I love the light in the mornings especially when it’s a little softer and especially when you have atmospheric conditions to go along with the light. I love light that is reflected in the foreground, especially in ocean images with low tide pools.


Nikon D800 | Nikon 14-24L | 1/30s @ f/22, ISO 400 | Filters

Best time to find dramatic light is to catch the weather systems moving in and out of the area
In terms of finding light, especially dramatic light, I use weather forecasts to catch weather systems moving in and out of the area. Like most photographers, I am obsessed with weather on the Internet and my phone apps are constantly checking for areas with good photography conditions. I also use apps such as Photographers Empheris ( and Sun Scout to pre-visualize light and composition together.

Nikon D800 | Nikon 14-24L | 1.3s @ f/16 , ISO 400 | Singh-Ray LB Color Combo

Nikon D800 | Nikon 14-24L | 1.3s @ f/16 , ISO 400 | Singh-Ray LB Color Combo

Histograms are a best way to determine the proper exposure
I use the histogram on the back of the camera to determine exposure. Relying on a camera’s automatic metering often produces unreliable results no matter how intelligent the manufacturer’s metering system. I highly encourage all photographers to learn to use your camera’s histogram.

Post processing skills are a must to bring out the details in all parts of the image
I shoot with a Nikon D810.  I can really underexpose an image with my Nikon D810 and recover the shadows in Camera RAW with little to no noise because the camera has very low shadow noise. The only thing I need to do is avoid blowing the highlights; the camera’s histogram is a great tool for this.


Nikon D800 | 6s Exposure for Aurora, 1+ min exposure for Foreground | No Filters

Subtle but dramatic light can be found after the sun has gone down
It is a little known fact that you can capture some fantastic night shots. Photographing Aurora or the Milky Way and capturing the glow of an active volcano are some examples. Night photos are often shot in very low light conditions with a very wide aperture. Because of this, focusing and sharpness are always a challenge. I rely on multiple exposures to capture images like the Aurora image above.

Kevin McNeal is based out of Washington State but travels frequently to capture fantastic images and to lead workshops in U.S. and overseas.

About Author Kevin McNeal

Kevin McNeal is a Washington St. photographer focusing on grand colorful landscapes that reflect the most unique places on earth. Capturing moments of magic light and transferring this on print, images behold a combination of perseverance, patience, and dedication to capture the images in ways unseen before. The stories of how these images are rendered come across in the feelings the images convey. Traveling all over North America with his wife by his side, shooting diverse landscapes and finding remote places to bring the message to the public that this Earth is worth saving. His award winning images can be seen in galleries and showings across the United States, and was recently selected to the Art Wolfe Art Gallery for the Environmental Photography Invitational. As well Kevin was the grand winner of the Landscape category for the Natures Best Magazine and was selected for the Smithsonian National Museum of History in Washington D.C..