When you see a great landscape, do you just jump from your car and take a quick snapshot? If you do, it probably doesn’t do the scenery justice. These photos of iconic photographic locations, like Oxbow Bend in Grand Tetons National Park, are usually boring, “one and done” snapshots that impress no one. Instead, learn to use natural light, your physical location for capturing the image, and lens perspective to create stunning landscape images.
Great photography requires great light, so research your location to determine the time for best lighting. For example, The Tetons and Oxbow Bend are best photographed looking West; so sunrise is usually the best time for great light. Beautiful sunrise light is short-lived so arrive early. During the fall season, the sun does not rise directly behind you. Instead, it comes up slightly to the north providing angled light giving your image a three-dimensional quality.
The images you see here were all captured from the same general location during one fall day. Compare the featureless, late-morning snapshot of Oxbow Bend below with the more vibrant sunrise image. I took the sunrise image on a cool fall morning and hung around till late morning when the tourists arrived, jumping from their cars for quick snapshots of blank skies. I came much earlier when I knew low angled light would give my image depth, saturated color and tonal glow.
I also wanted a simple composition that featured the key components of the scene so I took the sunrise image from a slightly different location than the late morning image. Using a longer lens to reduce the extraneous foliage in the mid-morning shot, I emphasized the mountains and amazing alpenglow on Mount Moran. The morning clouds at sunrise were also a definite improvement on the blank blue sky in the late morning image.
After capturing your sunrise image, look for different interpretations of the scene. Move around, using your viewfinder or LCD display to check different perspectives and compositions. Exclude anything that does not contribute to the quality of the image. For my sunrise image, a longer lens omitted the busy foreground, and made the Mountain the point of interest. During fall, quality morning light lasts longer, giving you additional time to find other compositions before dull mid-day light takes over. This morning image was taken a short distance from the sunrise location using a wide angle lens to capture the Snake River, the brilliant fall colored aspens and the Big Sky grandeur of this Montana location.
Sunrise is usually the best light; however, sunset light can also provide some interesting compositions. In the image below, the sunset silhouettes the Tetons with a partial solar halo around Mount Moran, changing the scene completely. Look at the difference in the sunrise and sunset images even though taken from almost the same spot. Now you have a striking, moody image to complement your soft, sweet light alpenglow sunrise image. Use your camera histogram to check your exposures. Sunrise and sunset both have wide tonal ranges and you don’t want to underexpose with no features or overexpose with blown out highlights. If you have a wide tonal range you can take bracketed exposures and combine the image using HDR techniques to even out tonality.
About the author: Dave Welling is a full time professional photographer specializing in wildlife, landscape and nature with over 75,000 6×7, 6×4.5, and 35mm film and digital images. He has been capturing evocative images of the natural world for over 25 years, producing the highest quality images for publication. His images often capture unique behavioral characteristics of wildlife or special lighting or weather conditions of landscapes. You can see more of his work at www.strikingnatureimagesbydavewelling.com.Have something to add to the story? Leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.