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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Extraordinary Light


Learn to use the subtleties of illumination for dramatic landscape images



This Article Features Photo Zoom
Reflections
Reflection
You know the difference between frontlight, sidelight and backlight. You’ve heard about the need to capture the “magic hours” around sunrise and sunset. But to master light, the essence of photography, you have to move beyond these basics and learn the nuances—the subtleties that can make a dull image brilliant.

Reflections
Reflections

Reflections

The best reflections show sunlit objects mirrored in shaded water. Sunlight glaring on the water’s surface kills reflections. Look for mountains, hills or trees that catch late

Smooth, mirror-like water is great, but not essential. Ripples, reflecting a kaleidoscope of hues, can be interesting. A fast shutter speed freezes this wave pattern, while a long exposure (if the light is dim enough) can blur the water’s surface into a beautiful sheen.


Directional Soft Light Directional Soft Light
Directional Soft Light
Directional Soft Light

Backlight penetrates translucent objects like leaves, flowers or grasses, making them glow. Hard backlight—the sun shining from behind—creates strong contrast. But some subjects, like flowers, look better with gentler light. Try putting the flowers in the shade, but keep most of the light coming from behind. This soft backlight makes the translucent flowers glow without making the image too harsh. Sidelight brings out texture and form, showing the roundness of a tree trunk or the ripples in a sand dune. Sunlight cutting across a forest scene might be too harsh or produce a confusing pattern of shadows, but soft light coming from the side highlights form and texture without the complexity.

Soft frontlight, where the subject is in the shade, but most of the light is coming from behind you, is the flattest, most even light you’ll find in nature, which makes it perfect for showing pure, vivid colors.

Chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro

This painting style is often associated with Rembrandt. His theatrical use of light and shadow produced paintings with drama and a sense of depth.

In landscape photography, broken sun and clouds create chiaroscuro. Sunbeams highlight some landforms while others are thrown into shadow, creating strong contrast. Of course, you want the light to highlight the most interesting points. This takes timing, patience and a little luck. "Waiting" and "photography" are synonyms in my dictionary.

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