Myth of bad light for landscape photography

How many times have you heard it: “This light is terrible!” I hear it constantly and it drives me crazy. “I can’t shoot in the middle of the day; the light is horrible.” Light is not “good” or “bad” in-and-of itself. Light is simply light… and it either helps your subject or doesn’t help your subject. As landscape photographers, we covet the warm light just before dusk and right after sunrise. We head out while it’s still dark in search of the perfect sunrise followed by 30 minutes or so of beautiful, inviting light. Avoiding traffic this early is just an added bonus!

I’d like to offer some suggestions on things that I happen to think look great in the middle of the day.

Macro Subjects

You can find open shade just about anywhere on a bright sunny day. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere without trees or building, you can block the sun with your own body, camera bag, a fold-up diffuser, even your jacket. This image was taken in the middle of the day on my back porch, shaded by my house. One of the benefits of shooting with lots of ambient light is that your shutter speeds are faster. You may even be able to shoot hand held! (But you didn’t hear that from me… I’m always on a tripod!)

Example of Macro Photography when during harsh light using shade

Macro Photography when during harsh light using shade

Backlit Subjects

I am a huge fan of back-lighting. While complicated for your camera to figure out on its own, you can practice with your settings to get the exposure correct or even give HDR a try and end up with absolutely stunning images of back-lit foliage, animals, and other subjects.

Sun through the trees. Zion National Park

High Contrast

Photographing in the middle of the day is a great time to practice thinking in terms of black and white. Look for high contrast compositions with lines, texture, and deep shadows to increase depth. I loved all the patterns among these boats at a marina. I added a slight blue tone in post-processing instead of a straight black and white.

Boat Reflections

Reflections of White Clouds

I love clouds… especially big, white, cumulus clouds. And if I can include them in a reflection, even better! They contrast so incredibly well against a deep blue sky. Using a polarizing filter increases this effect. But beware, while using a polarizer increases the contrast between blue sky and clouds, it also removes your reflections. I took multiple exposures of this image, not to blend an HDR, but to blend different levels of polarization. I wanted to see both the lily pads and the reflection. A little Photoshop masking was all it took.

Clouds and trees reflected

Beach Scenes

While the beach is beautiful at sunrise and sunset, there’s no reason why you can’t shoot in the middle of the day when clouds are present. Again, white clouds and blue sky are very inviting. A blue-green tropical sea will draw in any viewer.

Little Talbot Island, Florida

Between this, sunrises and sunsets, and perhaps some night photography, just think… you may never sleep again!

Best of light to you all!

About Author Kate Silvia

Kate is a professional landscape photographer and educator based in Charleston, SC. Her intense passion for the natural world is matched only with her desire to share that passion with her students. "Being a great photographer is not about what kind of camera you own. It's about studying the light, crafting a great composition, and expressing your vision through practice and education"