It is all about the Light! The importance of understanding light for creating stellar photographs.

PART 1 | Open Shade and Overcast Light

When I began to really understand the importance that good light plays in making great photographs my results improved immensely. Of course, good composition is equally important but when you combine good composition with good light that is when you really get stellar images.

I will break this topic up into three posts and will talk about the different types of light and show you examples illustrating them. I will write about open shade and overcast light, direct light, and blue hour light, and I will touch on the times beyond the blue hour periods when there is even less light. I will also write about the direction of light and how very important it is.

Open Shade

Open shade under the porticos in Old Town Prague, Czech Republic. Czech Republic Photo Tour.

This is the type of light that portrait and commercial photographers create in their studios or on location with the use of softboxes and umbrellas. It is that classic beautiful soft light with open detailed shadows. Portrait photographers love it for skin tones and commercial photographers love it especially for eliminating glare on shiny and reflective products.  But what I am talking about here is the natural open shade or overcast light in the field that is so wonderful for photographing colorful architecture and landscapes. This light can be created by a cloud cover obscuring the glaring sun or by simply moving into the shade on a sunny day by walking across the street to get on the shady side.

Overcast light is wonderful for colorful Burano, Italy. Venice Photo Tour.

Overcast Light

This is not always desirable light. If the cloud cover is too thick and dark it can be very unpleasant light for landscape photography, especially if you want to include the sky in the composition. In this situation, it is usually best to leave the sky out of the frame. But this type of light can be good for building facades and closeups of landscapes. I captured the image below on the Valensole Plateau in Provence, France. When I first arrived the sun was out and the lavender had a washed-out look. When the cloud cover came in and obscured the sun this was the optimum time to photograph this scene. Notice how the colors of the lavender really pop. 

Lavender fields Provence.

Overcast light is wonderful in the lavender fields for the best color. Valensole Plateau, France. Provence Photo Tour.

Three boats, Riomaggiore, Cinqueterre, Italy

Open shade and no distracting shadows. Riomaggiore, Cinqueterre, Italy. Cinqueterre Photo Tour.

Sometimes you may encounter high overcast light which is quite bright. This is often very lovely light and the sky can usually be included in the composition. The image below was taken mid-day on the Valensole Plateau in Provence in southern France. Typically midday is not ideal for photographing the vast lavender fields as it is usually quite hot and the light is harsh. In this situation, the midday light was quite unusual and forgiving. It was like a giant softbox and ideal for photographing the lavender fields.

Lavender fields, Valensole Plateau, Provence, France.

Lavender fields, Valensole Plateau, Provence, France. Provence Photo Tour.

We also experienced this lovely, bright overcast light on our last photography tour to Portugal when visiting the seaside town of Nazaré. This light was incredible and rare to find midday.

On the beach in Nazaré, Portugal

Love those giant soft-boxes. Nazaré, Portugal. Portugal Photo Tour.

When photographing in the forest you definitely want overcast or open shade light. On our yearly visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, we are always hoping for overcast light as the harsh sun casts distracting shadows. If we don’t have an overcast sky, we visit the park in the early morning and late afternoon and concentrate our photo sessions on the shady side of the gorge. 

Boardwalk, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Overcast or open shade light is necessary in the forest to prevent harsh, distracting shadows. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Slovenia & Croatia Photo Tour.

The image below taken in Keukenhof Garden in the Netherlands is another good example of when you want overcast or open shade light.

Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands

Early morning open shade in the Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands. The Netherlands Photo Tour.


We find that overcast and open shade is the best light for photographing reflections in the water. Burano and Venice are perfect places for photographing these watery reflections.

Afternoon, open shade is ideal for reflections. Burano, ItalyVenice Photo Tour.

Gondola reflections, Venice, Italy

Open shade again. Venice, ItalyVenice Photo Tour.

I hope that this will give you an idea of how overcast and open shade light can enhance your photographs and that you now have an understanding and awareness of the situations in which to use it.

Stay tuned for our next blog when I will write about Direct Light and how important the direction of light is.

Tre Cime, Dolomites, Italy

Direct light on the Tre Cime. The Dolomites, Italy. Dolomites Photo Tour.