In a follow-up to a previous article, “A Study in Vision, Light, and Shadows”, I decided to share my thoughts and experiences on my most inspiring topic in photography – light. For simplicity, I decided to write about light in a narrow context from the perspective and experience of a landscape photographer, since outdoors scenes are what I gravitate to. Much of the analysis and discussion that follows is equally applicable to other genres of photography, such as portraits, macro, still-life, and commercial photography. In this article, I will cover broadly what quality of light means for me in landscape photography as well as discuss a variety of scenarios where the scenic photographer can use different properties of light to create a given effect. Please note that this discussion is based on my own personal observations and experiences, which may differ from those of other photographers. My goal is to help beginning landscape photographers understand the different qualities of sunlight and how this instrumental tool can be harnessed to fulfill the visualization process.
No matter what you photograph, there is one thing you should realize about light. Not all light is created equal. I’m not talking about the quality of light, but rather the color of light. What you might see as white light from different sources can actually have different colors, or what are referred to as color temperatures. Direct sunlight at noon (which I’ll just refer to as sunlight) is considered to be a “normal” color temperature, so all light sources are compared to this as the standard. For example, light from an incandescent light bulb appears to be more orange than sunlight. On the opposite side of the spectrum, shady areas appear to be more blue than sunlight. In photography, we refer to these differences as being “warmer” (or more orange) and “cooler” (or more blue) than our neutral sunlight reference point. In this article, we will go over the basics of white balance and color temperature, topics that can be a bit intimidating for beginners to understand.