What makes a great landscape image? We probably all know many compositional rules and graphic design qualities to look for in our images. But how are you going to distinguish yourself from the other landscape photographers standing right beside you photographing the same scene? What is interesting to me is how many photographers get so focused on the minute details in their images (a good thing!), but they forget the most important thing (in my opinion)…quality of light.
All photography hinges on light. No light, no photograph. A boring subject in amazing light looks….amazing. An incredible subject in flat light looks….flat. And landscapes photographers know that early morning and sunset light has warm qualities that make images look terrific. But here is a tip to help you create landscapes that others may not have…when the sun first illuminates the scene, you will have two minutes of exquisite light. After two minutes (plus or minus) the light will still look great, but it won’t have the same quality as the edge of light when it first hits the scene.
Take a look at the shot at the top of this post. A few days ago I was with a group and we were photographing fall color near Ouray Colorado. One morning we set up to photograph Mt. Sneffels, hoping the clouds would break and the sun would light the scene. Suddenly the sun rose above the ridge to the east, and the scene started to come alive. Initially the light hit the scene with beams and shafts as it cleared the ridge. The subtle contrast in the scene was sublime, almost painterly. But then quickly the entire scene and mountainside was bathed in warm light. The scene still looked good, and would be a nice photograph for anyone who took it. But in those first two minutes of illumination, the scene transformed through light. Make sure you are photographing when the sun first hits…two minutes of transformational light….chances are those will be your best, and most unique, images.