Photograph the Light not the Land - Digital Photography School

Photograph the Light not the Land

Light-5Image by Today is a good day

Here is a quick quote that caught my attention today when talking to a friend who is a landscape photography enthusiast.

He said:

“Photograph the light not the land.”

His theory is that it’s the light not the actual subjects in a scene that can make or break a landscape image.

While I’m not sure I’d throw out the scene completely (and neither would my friend I’m sure) I think he’s onto something.

Different kinds of light can completely transform a scene from something that you might not take a second look at to something that takes your breath away.

Here’s a few shots which I think illustrate his point pretty well.


Light-6Image by ESOX LUCIUS

Light-2Image by -RobW-

Light-1Image by carlos jm

Light-3Image by |ash|

Light-4Image by peter bowers
LightImage by Fort Photo

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://kwerfeldein.de Martin Gommel

    Hey Darren. Inspirational thought. I think light is the most essential thing that transforms scenes into somthing special – or not. So very often the photographer has to wait for the right moment to click the shutter – then, when the light draws colours and athmospheres into the landscape…

  • http://jollence.blogspot.com Jollence

    Those are fantastic photos. I wish to capture those kind of masterpiece. In my opinion land and light must comes together in creating a masterpiece, and of coz Darren was right..the right lighting created it

  • Matt

    Those are some great examples of “photographing the light”. My biggest challenge with that kind of subject is getting the metering correct. I have not quite figured out how to quickly bump the exposure up or down a stop on my Nikon without going fully manual.

  • http://www.klaidas.lt/ Klaidas

    Great examples! Any tips on actually photographing the light? ;]

  • http://www.flickr.com/people/bunch_of_photons Navneeth

    Just how do you manage to pick these wonderful example shots, Darren? Not just for this post, but virtually all of tutorial/tips-style posts.

  • Innershell

    You know there’s good light when there’s good shadows. ;)

  • http://sightings.loneroad.info AC

    Wonderful images. I will have to try this out.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jgonzalezs Javier

    I liked a lot this topic, and of course the examples.

    May I suggest to play with the white balance. Sometimes it really gives new alternatives to use the light.

  • saralonde

    Very inspiring images! Sometimes just a few minutes can make the difference between a good photograph and a great one.

  • http://www.xltphoto.net xlt

    Contrast is what usually caughts our sight.
    Thanks for food for thought. And samples, too – they are awesome.

  • http://www.priaphotos.blogspot.com pria

    Amazing photos and no words to describe the beauty of light.

  • luscious

    I found this a very timely article. On the weekend I woke up in the middle of the night, it was a foggy misty night and there was a light on in a yard behind my home. The rays of the light were shining through the trees and it gave a similar effect to the suns rays through the tree in the first image with this article. These articles certainly open your mind to other opportunites when taking photos. Especially helpful to us amateurs. THANK YOU

  • Vaddadi Suryaprakasarao

    They are all masterpieces. It is beyond doubt that light is the life of a picture.

  • Michael Seljos

    I keep this concept in mind all the time. One of the things I am always aware of is shadows. When there are long shadows, there is good, interesting light. I also keep aware of what affect clouds are having on the sunlight. If you bracket your shots by about one stop, you are sure to get some great photos. I normally shoot in aperture priority (AV) mode, but sometimes in manual – never auto.

  • Jon Holland

    Years ago I took a lot of photo classes from an instructor (Charles Mason by name) who frequently asked his students, “What is the subject of every photograph?” The correct response of course was, “light,” a truth so stunningly obvious that we often forget it. It becomes part of the “white noise” of our consciousness. As is often the case, the difference between ordinary and superior photographs is the photographer’s ability to see what they are looking at.

  • http://www.cosmictap.com Anthony

    Great advice and wonderful example images.. thanks!

  • http://www.fotokraze.com Seo Mehboob

    This image is very good it give inspiration to all about freshness to share your Photos online

  • http://radiogandy.blogspot.com Graham Marsden

    Lovely pictures and my sort of photography – just a pity that mine aren’t as good !

  • http://rving4fun.blogspot.com Charlie Eyster

    Can’t stop looking at the first photo!!

    The problem is that you have to know exactly where to meter that photo and what exposure compensations you need to make. then you really have to know your camera and its features. Because the light in this photo is momentary. I dream about taking a photo as good.

    I have just finished Bryan Peterson’s book ‘Understanding Exposure’ and it has helped me allot. I have my estimate on how to take this photo from reading this book and think that I could come close.

  • m lockstone

    “the subject is irrelevant – photograph the light” i thought this was the catchphrase of one of the great photographers , cant remember which one (but luc bresson rings a bell )
    you get a complete idea of what he was on about if you look at many of nasa@s pics – the light in outer space is awesome
    yes all great pics here though

  • http://www.alexwisephotography.net/blog/ Alex

    Great post mate! Some of the example images are amazing.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/merinashakya/ Merina

    The second last image (peter bowers) reminded me of a recent shot that i took:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/merinashakya/3754374636/in/set-72157622016133090/

    I’m still very, very new.. :-) but I love this site; pretty much everything I know is coz of these posts! Keep them coming, Darren!

  • approximate

    The technique certainly has transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://dyoselin.kissedmuses.com Jocelyn from Dubai

    Very true. Stunning photographs that inspire as always. Our photography group (Lightform Filipino Photographers Guild in Dubai) always teaches us to “capture the light”. Photography after all is about light and how much of it you capture on your image.

  • http://jplumansoc.blogspot.com JP

    no light, no photo. unless you’re into gloss or matte black pix. hahahaha

  • http://photofingers.blogspot.com sbunting108

    Great photos I too partially agree with the idea!

  • http://www.flickr.com/spencerslife Spencer

    Great insight and inspiration. Thanks!

  • juan

    Your friend is absolutely right. Photography is not all about just things put together in a scene, though it matters, too. But I’m not so sure to what degree. I think light is the most important thing in a scene, howerver low or scarce is. I’ve seen many of mi shots improve substantially when light changes, when a sumbeam happens to wash a part of it right in the moment of releasing the shutter. That happened to me these days when shootng flowers. I thought I had got the best shot of one when a some light shed on it and actually gave me the best. It just would not be the same.

  • http://www.mypetimpressions.com Kimberly Gauthier

    These photographs are beautiful. Now I want to head out and capture the light.

  • http://photographyforsoul.com Can Berkol

    I totally agree with this ideology.

  • http://philt.redbubble.com/ Phil Thomson

    Darren, I agree wholeheartedly with your friend’s comments, as many times I have been in situations where the light and mood will change quite dramatically within a few minutes, especially during the ‘Magic Hours’.
    Of course, the usually factors of composition, format, leading lines etc. will play a large part, but as someone prior said,’no light, no photo’
    I have also gone back to the same location either at different times and different days to find that there is a completely different atmosphere due to many factors, such as Colour Temperature of the light, climatic conditions and position of the sunlight.\
    The other thing is just being in the right place at the right time or ‘Divine Appointments’, as some of my most popular captures have come from that scenario, as seen “Here”:http://www.redbubble.com/people/philt/art/665103-9-the-covenant
    Regards and thanks for the article.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sw-sm/ ????? ? ???????

    Nice post. Beautiful photos.
    So tell me please, what do you think of this one:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sw-sm/3874450553/

    Thanks.

  • http://www.shutteria.com Joel

    Beautiful and truly inspiring. I took a panorama of Munich’s skyline (with the Oktoberfest celebration somewhere in the background) recently. The light definitely did the trick for me there: http://www.shutteria.com/2009/10/oktoberfest-and-munichs-skyline.html

  • http://www.joarduo.com JO

    these are simply awesome!!!

  • KRIS

    Extremely Breath taking. I have been taking pictures for the past 7-8 years, and am not sure when I will be able to take one of this kind. Hats of to these Photographers.
    Kris

  • http://innershell.ca/blog Melvin

    @kris: You can take pictures like these, but you have to take the time and effort to find the place and time. Sometimes, I know there’s a good picture to be had at a certain location and time of day, but I’m just too lazy to pack up my gear and trek my way to the location. :P

  • Masoud

    Nice advice and lovely shots! Thank you Darren!

  • http://www.photoasia.com.my Christopher

    Amazing! A lot of photographers tend to shot the landscape and forget about the light. Very inspirational. I’ll recommend it to a couple of our photographers and see what they have to say.

  • http://kislingphoto.com Yvette

    I took me a long time to figure out to shoot with the light and not against it. Basic really but something I think a lot of people struggle with. Those images inspired me to explore what I’ve learned about light since my early days…thank you.

  • http://www.yolandevisserphotography.com Yolande

    Amazing, absolutely fantastic. That’s all I can say.

  • George E. Norkus
  • Tim McAdam

    Darren,
    Here’s a pic I took a few weeks back that definitely shows what this article is about.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/subconscience_sight/3991522991/in/set-72157622433210901/
    It’s a cloudy sunset but the way the light falls you don’t even notice the sunset, only the rays that make this look like a waterfall picture.

  • Sebastian

    Hello….I’m an amateur and I have always had the doubt of how to ilustrate the rays of light like that…I mean how can I take a picture at the rays of light like on the first picture…???
    thanks

  • christine

    i am so into this lately. I take tons of pictures of my son but the light on this one just got me darn right excited to shoot again!

    [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/christine_dehaven/4004259240/in/set-72157622442694679/[/img][img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/christine_dehaven/4004239572/in/set-72157622442694679/[/img]

  • Margaret Chapman

    I agree completely with the quote ‘photograph the light ,not the land.’ I take many of my best images while out walking and try to choose times when the light is dramatic. Stormy days often provide exciting photo opportunities which may only last for a few seconds so you need to be out there when it happens. Thank you for all your valuable tips.
    Best wishes,
    Margaret Chapman

  • joanne cruz

    awesome shots! very inspiring.. it’s one of the things I’m interested to capture.. It’s the “light.”
    Thanks. I hope I can have one and go for many. :)

  • http://www.mauibyphoto.com Kris

    A very intriguing thought, indeed. Seeing that the majority of what I shoot are landscapes and what little time I do spend thinking about lighting has to do with where shadows are falling, I’ll need to remember this one the next time I go out.

  • pictureperfect

    These photos demonstrate your concept exactly, though composition must come into play as well. Beautiful pics; it inspires me to get out soon and take some myself!

  • Susov

    great pictures. I had a question though. Could you tell me how to take these kind of pictures. I have tried a lot but never been able to capture the light as the subject. If you have a tutorial about it, that would be great as well. Thank you.

Some older comments

  • Susov

    April 29, 2011 03:05 pm

    great pictures. I had a question though. Could you tell me how to take these kind of pictures. I have tried a lot but never been able to capture the light as the subject. If you have a tutorial about it, that would be great as well. Thank you.

  • pictureperfect

    October 19, 2009 09:00 pm

    These photos demonstrate your concept exactly, though composition must come into play as well. Beautiful pics; it inspires me to get out soon and take some myself!

  • Kris

    October 19, 2009 04:30 pm

    A very intriguing thought, indeed. Seeing that the majority of what I shoot are landscapes and what little time I do spend thinking about lighting has to do with where shadows are falling, I'll need to remember this one the next time I go out.

  • joanne cruz

    October 19, 2009 01:44 am

    awesome shots! very inspiring.. it's one of the things I'm interested to capture.. It's the "light."
    Thanks. I hope I can have one and go for many. :)

  • Margaret Chapman

    October 17, 2009 08:12 pm

    I agree completely with the quote 'photograph the light ,not the land.' I take many of my best images while out walking and try to choose times when the light is dramatic. Stormy days often provide exciting photo opportunities which may only last for a few seconds so you need to be out there when it happens. Thank you for all your valuable tips.
    Best wishes,
    Margaret Chapman

  • christine

    October 17, 2009 03:45 am

    i am so into this lately. I take tons of pictures of my son but the light on this one just got me darn right excited to shoot again!

    [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/christine_dehaven/4004259240/in/set-72157622442694679/[/img][img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/christine_dehaven/4004239572/in/set-72157622442694679/[/img]

  • Sebastian

    October 17, 2009 03:11 am

    Hello....I'm an amateur and I have always had the doubt of how to ilustrate the rays of light like that...I mean how can I take a picture at the rays of light like on the first picture...???
    thanks

  • Tim McAdam

    October 17, 2009 12:02 am

    Darren,
    Here's a pic I took a few weeks back that definitely shows what this article is about.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/subconscience_sight/3991522991/in/set-72157622433210901/
    It's a cloudy sunset but the way the light falls you don't even notice the sunset, only the rays that make this look like a waterfall picture.

  • George E. Norkus

    October 16, 2009 12:43 pm

    It isn't much, but I like it.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/2773018256/

  • Yolande

    October 16, 2009 11:54 am

    Amazing, absolutely fantastic. That's all I can say.

  • Yvette

    October 16, 2009 11:02 am

    I took me a long time to figure out to shoot with the light and not against it. Basic really but something I think a lot of people struggle with. Those images inspired me to explore what I've learned about light since my early days...thank you.

  • Christopher

    October 15, 2009 06:44 am

    Amazing! A lot of photographers tend to shot the landscape and forget about the light. Very inspirational. I'll recommend it to a couple of our photographers and see what they have to say.

  • Masoud

    October 15, 2009 02:47 am

    Nice advice and lovely shots! Thank you Darren!

  • Melvin

    October 14, 2009 04:37 am

    @kris: You can take pictures like these, but you have to take the time and effort to find the place and time. Sometimes, I know there's a good picture to be had at a certain location and time of day, but I'm just too lazy to pack up my gear and trek my way to the location. :P

  • KRIS

    October 14, 2009 03:46 am

    Extremely Breath taking. I have been taking pictures for the past 7-8 years, and am not sure when I will be able to take one of this kind. Hats of to these Photographers.
    Kris

  • JO

    October 13, 2009 02:20 pm

    these are simply awesome!!!

  • Joel

    October 13, 2009 01:52 am

    Beautiful and truly inspiring. I took a panorama of Munich's skyline (with the Oktoberfest celebration somewhere in the background) recently. The light definitely did the trick for me there: http://www.shutteria.com/2009/10/oktoberfest-and-munichs-skyline.html

  • ????? ? ???????

    October 12, 2009 06:14 pm

    Nice post. Beautiful photos.
    So tell me please, what do you think of this one:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sw-sm/3874450553/

    Thanks.

  • Phil Thomson

    October 12, 2009 03:46 pm

    Darren, I agree wholeheartedly with your friend's comments, as many times I have been in situations where the light and mood will change quite dramatically within a few minutes, especially during the 'Magic Hours'.
    Of course, the usually factors of composition, format, leading lines etc. will play a large part, but as someone prior said,'no light, no photo'
    I have also gone back to the same location either at different times and different days to find that there is a completely different atmosphere due to many factors, such as Colour Temperature of the light, climatic conditions and position of the sunlight.\
    The other thing is just being in the right place at the right time or 'Divine Appointments', as some of my most popular captures have come from that scenario, as seen "Here":http://www.redbubble.com/people/philt/art/665103-9-the-covenant
    Regards and thanks for the article.

  • Can Berkol

    October 12, 2009 02:39 pm

    I totally agree with this ideology.

  • Kimberly Gauthier

    October 12, 2009 11:49 am

    These photographs are beautiful. Now I want to head out and capture the light.

  • juan

    October 12, 2009 10:50 am

    Your friend is absolutely right. Photography is not all about just things put together in a scene, though it matters, too. But I'm not so sure to what degree. I think light is the most important thing in a scene, howerver low or scarce is. I've seen many of mi shots improve substantially when light changes, when a sumbeam happens to wash a part of it right in the moment of releasing the shutter. That happened to me these days when shootng flowers. I thought I had got the best shot of one when a some light shed on it and actually gave me the best. It just would not be the same.

  • Spencer

    October 12, 2009 10:15 am

    Great insight and inspiration. Thanks!

  • sbunting108

    October 12, 2009 07:04 am

    Great photos I too partially agree with the idea!

  • JP

    October 12, 2009 04:07 am

    no light, no photo. unless you're into gloss or matte black pix. hahahaha

  • Jocelyn from Dubai

    October 11, 2009 01:56 pm

    Very true. Stunning photographs that inspire as always. Our photography group (Lightform Filipino Photographers Guild in Dubai) always teaches us to "capture the light". Photography after all is about light and how much of it you capture on your image.

  • approximate

    October 11, 2009 10:45 am

    The technique certainly has transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary. Thanks for the tip!

  • Merina

    August 14, 2009 11:25 am

    The second last image (peter bowers) reminded me of a recent shot that i took:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/merinashakya/3754374636/in/set-72157622016133090/

    I'm still very, very new.. :-) but I love this site; pretty much everything I know is coz of these posts! Keep them coming, Darren!

  • Alex

    November 30, 2007 11:44 am

    Great post mate! Some of the example images are amazing.

  • m lockstone

    November 9, 2007 07:24 am

    "the subject is irrelevant - photograph the light" i thought this was the catchphrase of one of the great photographers , cant remember which one (but luc bresson rings a bell )
    you get a complete idea of what he was on about if you look at many of nasa@s pics - the light in outer space is awesome
    yes all great pics here though

  • Charlie Eyster

    October 15, 2007 08:07 am

    Can't stop looking at the first photo!!

    The problem is that you have to know exactly where to meter that photo and what exposure compensations you need to make. then you really have to know your camera and its features. Because the light in this photo is momentary. I dream about taking a photo as good.

    I have just finished Bryan Peterson's book 'Understanding Exposure' and it has helped me allot. I have my estimate on how to take this photo from reading this book and think that I could come close.

  • Graham Marsden

    October 14, 2007 04:50 pm

    Lovely pictures and my sort of photography - just a pity that mine aren't as good !

  • Seo Mehboob

    October 13, 2007 07:39 pm

    This image is very good it give inspiration to all about freshness to share your Photos online

  • Anthony

    October 13, 2007 11:59 am

    Great advice and wonderful example images.. thanks!

  • Jon Holland

    October 13, 2007 10:34 am

    Years ago I took a lot of photo classes from an instructor (Charles Mason by name) who frequently asked his students, "What is the subject of every photograph?" The correct response of course was, "light," a truth so stunningly obvious that we often forget it. It becomes part of the "white noise" of our consciousness. As is often the case, the difference between ordinary and superior photographs is the photographer's ability to see what they are looking at.

  • Michael Seljos

    October 13, 2007 10:15 am

    I keep this concept in mind all the time. One of the things I am always aware of is shadows. When there are long shadows, there is good, interesting light. I also keep aware of what affect clouds are having on the sunlight. If you bracket your shots by about one stop, you are sure to get some great photos. I normally shoot in aperture priority (AV) mode, but sometimes in manual - never auto.

  • Vaddadi Suryaprakasarao

    October 13, 2007 04:43 am

    They are all masterpieces. It is beyond doubt that light is the life of a picture.

  • luscious

    October 13, 2007 12:15 am

    I found this a very timely article. On the weekend I woke up in the middle of the night, it was a foggy misty night and there was a light on in a yard behind my home. The rays of the light were shining through the trees and it gave a similar effect to the suns rays through the tree in the first image with this article. These articles certainly open your mind to other opportunites when taking photos. Especially helpful to us amateurs. THANK YOU

  • pria

    October 13, 2007 12:06 am

    Amazing photos and no words to describe the beauty of light.

  • xlt

    October 12, 2007 06:27 pm

    Contrast is what usually caughts our sight.
    Thanks for food for thought. And samples, too - they are awesome.

  • saralonde

    October 12, 2007 10:55 am

    Very inspiring images! Sometimes just a few minutes can make the difference between a good photograph and a great one.

  • Javier

    October 12, 2007 06:59 am

    I liked a lot this topic, and of course the examples.

    May I suggest to play with the white balance. Sometimes it really gives new alternatives to use the light.

  • AC

    October 12, 2007 03:55 am

    Wonderful images. I will have to try this out.

  • Innershell

    October 12, 2007 02:20 am

    You know there's good light when there's good shadows. ;)

  • Navneeth

    October 12, 2007 01:51 am

    Just how do you manage to pick these wonderful example shots, Darren? Not just for this post, but virtually all of tutorial/tips-style posts.

  • Klaidas

    October 12, 2007 01:47 am

    Great examples! Any tips on actually photographing the light? ;]

  • Matt

    October 12, 2007 01:42 am

    Those are some great examples of "photographing the light". My biggest challenge with that kind of subject is getting the metering correct. I have not quite figured out how to quickly bump the exposure up or down a stop on my Nikon without going fully manual.

  • Jollence

    October 12, 2007 01:38 am

    Those are fantastic photos. I wish to capture those kind of masterpiece. In my opinion land and light must comes together in creating a masterpiece, and of coz Darren was right..the right lighting created it

  • Martin Gommel

    October 12, 2007 12:38 am

    Hey Darren. Inspirational thought. I think light is the most essential thing that transforms scenes into somthing special - or not. So very often the photographer has to wait for the right moment to click the shutter - then, when the light draws colours and athmospheres into the landscape...

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