The Best Light for Landscape Photography

Storm Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Storm Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

When I first started off shooting photos a decade ago, I naively believed what I’d read in the photography magazines and how-to books about how the best light for landscape photography was during the “magic hour” around sunrise and sunset so most of my photography reflected that. After a while though, I realized how limiting that was. It was a formula for your standard postcard-rack photo. It’s nice the first few times you see it but like too much of anything, it gets old after a while. Photography is visual-storytelling so what story does pretty sunset after sunset tell? That the sun always sets and everything looks pretty.

You can’t tell the same story over and over again otherwise no one would ever listen to you. In 1001 Arabian Nights, Scheherazade would have gotten executed for doing such a thing! So let’s re-frame this line of thinking to: Each landscape has it’s own unique story to tell. Light plays a major role in landscape photography no doubt so consider what type of light will best help tell the story of the landscape; that is the best light for landscape photography.

Take my Storm Mountain photo for instance. I didn’t make up this name. This peak is called Storm Mountain because it receives heavy precipitation almost year-round. If I had clear weather and decided to shoot this same landscape at sunset it might look prettier but it would be betray the true story of this landscape. Instead I have a photo that was not photographed at sunset nor in what most people would consider “good light”, yet it is one that conveys the story of this place.

See more of my Canadian Rockies pictures.

10 thoughts

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more Richard. Maybe this isn’t what’s considered good light, but it’s perfect light for the photograph. Beautifully done.

  2. Amen. It is very limiting to only photograph during the golden hours…interesting light and scenes can present themselves at any time of the day.

    As a corollary of what you said, I would add that the crummier the weather, the more interesting the light.

  3. I enjoyed your blog post. When I see a subject I wish to photograph, I often times ask myself when the light will be best at that location. Sometimes it is indeed sunrise or sunset, but often times there are other conditions that are ideal.

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  5. Of course you know that I’m going to agree with you here because my father pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde was known for photographing in the middle of the day. Not only does it limit your work to only photograph a few hours out of each long day full of opportunities, but I like the way you explain that to tell a good story, you need a variety of light and conditions. I like the dark and gray stormy feel of your photograph above. Well done.

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