One of the “rules” outdoor photographers learn from the get-go is to avoid contrasty midday light. The idea is to shoot in early morning or late afternoon when colors and soft illumination is far more preferable. That’s good advice but we can’t always choose when we’ll come upon a beautiful scene, and there are ways to capture epic photos under harsh conditions.
This behind-the-scenes tutorial below British landscape photographer Nigel Danon reveals several pro tips will help increase your odds of success when the light is far from ideal. Danson is hiking up a trail with mountains in the background as he searches for some heather to photograph. Sunrise is long gone, and sunset is hours away, but he manages to capture some very impressive photos with a few tricks of the trade.
One simple approach is to wait until the sun passes behind a cloud, and your patience will often be rewarded in a number of ways. When this happens light immediately softens, contrast is significantly reduced, and colors become more vibrant as distracting shadows and small reflections disappear from the scene. It’s important to work quickly because the sun may reappear at any moment.
Choosing the right shooting position, like in the shade of a large tree, is another way to minimize harsh when the sun is high in the sky—especially when there are a few clouds in the distance to protect interesting background elements from unsightly light. Danson explains how bracketing your exposures can help achieve good results in scenes with the “massive” dynamic range that occurs when the foreground of the frame is in shade while the background is brightly lit.
Another cool trick is how Danson uses mixed light to “transition the viewer through a scene. He prefers to compose images in a way that the bright and dark areas are clearly divided—rather than having the entire photo mottled with patches of light and shadow.
Danson demonstrates several other very effective techniques for dealing with harsh overhead light. One of these involves the proper way to position yourself relative to the sun when photographing waterfalls, streams and other areas with water. If you do it right you can prevent gaudy reflections from killing the shot.
The focal length of your lens can also be part of the equation, and Danson provides a list of his preferred gear in the description beneath the video. His instructional YouTube channel is well worth visiting, especially if landscape photography is your thing.
We also suggest watching the earlier tutorial we posted from another successful pro, demonstrating a unique Photoshop Curves adjustment trick for perfect landscape photography edits.