Finding Your Light


Finding Your Light

Landscape photographer Chris O’Donnell shows us some simple ways to improve your photography

Light plays an enormous role in your photography. Not only can light change how your image looks, but it also can completely transform the mood and emotion behind each shot. With a few simple tips you can take the first steps in choosing the right time to capture your moment.

Directional lighting

This type of light is typically seen outdoors when the sun is out, coming in from one particular angle. Photos taken around sunrise and sunset are extremely directional since your light source (in this case, the sun) is at such a dramatic, steep angle. This “spotlight” effect brings out a huge amount of texture, and has the potential to cast a shadow on even the smallest of objects.

I love using directional light on landscapes when the sun is out as the mood of the photo is relaxing, warm, and carefree – quite different than if this was taken on a stormy evening.

Even (soft) lighting

“Overcast” lighting simply means soft, non-directional light that is cast evenly across your image. No strong highlights or shadows are present here, which creates a smooth and soothing color palette.

I enjoy shooting on cloudy days as overcast lighting has a fantastic “flattening” effect, which eliminates shadows and texture and makes everything soft and soothing – it’s a better choice if you want to capture an evenly-lit photo.

Additionally, the colors are so deep and so saturated – it’s perfect for photographing flowers, foliage, or anything you want to be really vibrant. I particularly love photographing autumn foliage under a cloudy sky because the leaves and trees just come alive.

The softer effect of the light also affects the mood and overall feeling of a photo – typically, you’ll find these type of shots to be more solemn, peaceful, and quiet with a cooler color palette.

The twilight time

Another beautiful time to capture this light is just before sunrise or just after sunset, where the sun is not visible in the sky – also known as the twilight hours. This will cast an even, soothing light across your image, but without the harshness of the direct sunlight.

The light is so much softer. It’s a bit directional, but still filtered enough so that you can see the deep blues of the water and great color of the sky. As soon as the sun comes up over the horizon, it will be too strong and the color will be washed out.

The same method of thinking applies here. The sun is just coming up over the horizon, but it’s not there yet. This magical time gives you enough light to take a photo, but still has the overcast light needed to bring out the fantastic color of both ground and sky – not to mention the ethereal tones in the water.

A great exercise that illustrates how different lighting affects the look of your photos is to take one object and photograph it throughout the day. When you compare photos side-by-side, the difference is incredible!

Keep practicing, and keep shooting – the more experienced you are at taking photos, the easier it will be to judge your lighting and seek out environments that will give you the results you want!

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