The word “photography” comes from the Greek words for “Drawing with Light.”
The stay-at-home situation has given me time to filter through the zillions of raw images I have accumulated over the past 15 years. Perhaps like many of my fellow photographers I hang on to these images for various reasons. For me, a big one is that I’ve spent time, money, and energy to travel to the locations and I simply find it difficult to find my way to the trash folder. Another reason for hanging on to a photo is that it shows at least some potential because of a pleasing composition.
I have been opening some of these images in Photoshop in the hope that the miracle of post-processing will deem them worthy of avoiding that trash bin. My conclusion? While post-processing is essential for all my images and can really make a photo shine – if the light is not happening the image usually falls flat. The more post-processing I apply to attempt a rescue the more it becomes obvious that that is just what I’m up to.
I recently opened some files from our trip to the Meteora monasteries in Greece a few years ago. I had already cherry-picked and processed the obvious standouts, the ones with good composition and light. This time, I noticed a few good compositions that I had previously overlooked and attempted to find some magic in them with post-processing. Again, the flat ones just did not cut the mustard and finally found their home in the trash. I did find a couple of hidden-gems and with minor post-processing tweaks, I was even more convinced of the need for good light to create stunning landscape photos (stay tuned for a short processing tutorial next week).
So what is good light?
The obvious answer is the low light situation that takes place twice a day in the morning and afternoon. It’s hard to beat low angle sunlight highlighting your main subject while creating deep, dark shadows. These shadows not only accentuate the landscape but can also turn into compositional shapes and elements in themselves.
Top-light and Back-light
We can also find good light at other times of the day. Midmorning and midafternoon light can create nice top-lit or back-lit situations producing successful compositions with a combination of shadows and direct light.
Do we always need this direct, bright light?
Absolutely not. It really depends on the situation. Photographing waterfalls in a deep forest is best done with bright, overcast light. Direct sunlight would produce too many distracting shadows. Bright overcast light also allows for the color in the lavender fields of Provence to really pop.
I have had good results well after the sundown before full dark while there is still a hint of light lingering. Long exposures are necessary here.