Light Qualities Change
Light and its qualities are the main ingredients for great photography, regardless of subject. When photographing landscapes this mean you don’t have control as you would if using strobes / flash in a controlled environment like a photo studio, so there are times when you have to be patient.
Landscape photos in particular take a lot of planning, researching locations and when the light will be at its best for the shot you want. Even when it is perfect weather, which can mean waiting for light to change, or move to highlight specific areas of your composition.
I was leading the Lanzarote workshop last week and was explaining this to a group of photographers, so I thought I’d go to one of my favourite locations and make a video about it to share with you.
Our eyes don’t see light in the same way a camera does. What might look low contrast to us often has deeper shadows and brighter highlights when we photograph it. So we have to learn what those differences are, how to ‘see’ light and how to use it to our advantage.
Us humans don’t do this naturally. We tell ourselves we can see something so there’s light. Only with practise do we notice the qualities of the light and where it’s falling on a scene.
As clouds move across the sky so the gaps between them move with them. Behind those clouds is the sun shining down on them, so as those gaps move the sun shines through and puts highlights onto the ground below. That makes landscape photography on a cloudy day a waiting game. And clouds in the sky are much more interesting than a flat blue expanse.
We have to wait for the light to shine where we want it to so it makes areas of the composition stand out from the rest.
It can take ages for the light to do what we want it to, and sometimes it just never does. Landscape photography is a bit of a lottery in this. And sometimes that long awaited shaft of light is there for only a fleeting moment so we have to be ready for it.
Whilst waiting, get everything else set up. Think how you can compose the shot. Try different compositions so you know you have the best one ready. Ask yourself how much depth of field you need, what focal length makes the shot how you want it and set the camera accordingly, so you’re ready.
Don’t get distracted by something else or you’ll miss the moment. It’s all too easy to start chatting to people with you discussing camera gear etc. Or to feel under pressure from family and friends who aren’t into photography and don’t understand you could be there for many minutes waiting for light to change.
Photography isn’t only about cameras. It’s about being aware of your environment and what’s going on around you. It’s about planning your shots and thinking them through from what you want, to how to capture it.
I think it’s better to go slow, come home with maybe 3 images you’re proud of than run around spraying shots all over the place and hoping there’ll be a ‘good one’ if you shoot enough frames.
Because light can change so fast you have to know what your camera controls do so you can set them quickly. This isn’t about memorising settings because they will only work for one shot at a time. If you take the settings I used in this video and try them, it’s most likely they won’t work for you. They worked for me at that moment because that’s what that specific shot required AT that specific moment in time.
The same shot taken a couple of minutes later could well need different settings depending on changing light, changing composition, changing desired depth of field etc…
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