Light in Landscape Photography: A Matter of Life & Depth

Good light can bring shape and depth to a photograph. In particular, low side-lighting or “glancing light” can be used to transform your landscape photographs and make them come to life.

In Photo A (below), the feathery June grass, yellow flowers of hoary puccoon, and other ground foliage are smothered in the open shade of nearby oak trees. And, though the composition helps to impart a feeling of depth, the picture doesn’t possess that “sparkle of life,” particularly in the lower part, where the subject matter is more discernible and, hence, where our eyes like to go.

PHOTO A: Here, diffused light is cast upon a foreground of June grass, flowers, and foliage, resulting in a flat image that no amount of additional compositional prowess can improve.[/

PHOTO A: Here, diffused light is cast upon a foreground of June grass, flowers, and foliage, resulting in a flat image that no amount of additional compositional prowess can improve.

Now, take a look at Photo B (below). It is essentially the same composition at Photo A, except for a foreground, which is under the magical influence of glancing light coming from the right.

PHOTO B: As you can see, light really matters. As the glancing light kisses the tops of the understory, it leaves exciting highlights mixed with soft shadows, resulting in an immersive image filled of shape and depth.[/

PHOTO B: As you can see, light really matters. As the glancing light kisses the tops of the understory, it leaves exciting highlights mixed with soft shadows, resulting in an immersive image filled of shape and depth.

Side-lighting is known for revealing details and form, but glancing light is special because it only occurs when the sun is no higher than thirty to forty-five minutes above the horizon, at time when the sun’s rays are golden warm and the shadows are soft and blue—a truly yummy combination.

In landscape photography, glancing light can impart sparkle, realism, and drama to a scene—a powerful influence that is truly a matter of life and depth.

To learn about the ideas expressed in this article, take my hands-on landscape photography workshop called Light & The Landscape. And, learn special techniques for composing your landscape photographs in Art of Landscape Photography. Both classes are held during the summer.

© 2014 – 2017, Mike MacDonald. All Rights Reserved.

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2 Responses to Light in Landscape Photography: A Matter of Life & Depth

  1. Dave Boege says:

    Mike,
    Great article. Your use of light is fabulous.

    Dave..

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