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Landscape Photography — It's All About the Light

Published by Diana Tula · August 28th 2013

In order to take a good photo it is important to recognize what light you are shooting with. Let’s learn about eight different types of light with Holly Higbee-Jansen. Holly is a landscape photographer and instructor with years of experience in the industry. She shoots with natural light only and in this article she will share her tips on how to identify and shoot with the right light.  



Me and my husband have been specializing and teaching photographic workshops in landscape photography for many years and what makes our work unique is the use of light. We only shoot in those magic hours when the light is warm and perfect.  What many people don't realize it there are lots of different types of light that affect the quality of your landscape photography.  

How you approach this light will make a huge difference in the quality of your images.  That magic time of light for landscapes of course is sunrise and sunset, but specifically what other types of light will make or break your images? I'm going to talk about it with a few of our favourite images.

Reflected Light

Reflected light can also be called bounced or diffused light. This particular light occurs when there is direct sunlight that is reflected off an adjacent surface.  The canyons in the Southwest are perfect for this type of light as the color of the canyon walls is bounced back and reflected giving a warm soft glow to the walls.  The quality of this light is soft, even and beautiful.


Overcast Light

This light is found on overcast and foggy days and is very soft and bluish.  The color of this light comes from the whole sky, so acts like one big soft-box and in the right situation can be very dramatic…



A typical backlit picture will have a rim of the sun's rays around the subject, or you will be able to see the sun as a bright spot in the photograph.  

If you are using a small aperture, you will be able to get a "sun star" effect like this one.


Direct Light

Direct sunlight Is usually found approximately one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. This light is both intense and direct and unforgiving in many ways, casting strong shadows.

This light works great for black and white and can sometimes be overly intense for colour photography.


Morning and Evening Horizontal Light

This light is the warm horizontal light of sunrise and sunset. Horizontal because the suns rays are cast in a horizontal direction as the sun is rising and setting. This is the prime light for photography due to its combination of low contrast and warm tones. Objects lit directly by this light may seem to glow, as if illuminated from within, with details emerging with clarity.  Learn to use this light on a regular basis and you will be amazed at the results.


Open Shade

In landscape photography, open shade consists of areas not lit by direct sunlight.  This is very soft light and will be common in forested areas.


Combination Light - direct and diffused

Here are some examples of combination light, both direct and diffused.


Fire and Manmade Light

You  don't really think of manmade light in landscapes, but here it is!



Try shooting the same subject in the exact same location before sunrise and after sunset.  What are the differences in the light?  Is the colour and tone different?  Notice how the details look different in the light areas and in the shadows. Enjoy!

Holly Higbee-Jansen has been exploring her fascination with light through photography since she was a young child. Holly, along with her husband, Mark Jansen , teach digital photography, and guide for Jansen Photo Expeditions, as well as run a successful glamour photography business, Natural Light Photography. Holly also keeps a blog Holly’s Photography Explorations, where she writes about her life as a photographer, artist and adventurer. Join Holly &Mark on one of their photographic workshops or try one of their online photography classes. Live life creatively!

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed Holly's tips and will put them to practice. If you have landscape or nature photos taken with creative light or with one of the types of light that Holly has described, please share links in the comments below.

Would you like to write a guest post for our blog? We'd love to hear from you, email


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bruno mandolesi  9 months ago
Hi Holly,

thank you for sharing!

If you have some time have a look at my new photo-book about the Dolomites!

Margherita Runcio  10 months ago
Many Thanks, for your advice and Congratulations for your fantastic photos..I love them
Niciyou DUAN  10 months ago
easy understand with precisely wording and pretty sample photos~ thanks!
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Sitzwohl Bernhard  10 months ago
Geat tutorial, really appreciated to read it!
Lulight ...  10 months ago
I just came back from Yosemity, Sequoias and Big Sur. Now I know what to improve on my next visit. Thanks for the great ideas!
Micaiah Wiafe  10 months ago
Thanks a million! I've actually learnt a whole new stuff.
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bun lee  10 months ago
Great post! Thanks for sharing!!
Mark Gamblin  10 months ago
Great post, some good useful information. Thanks
Ismail Al-Sulaiman  10 months ago
Nice and useful post , Thank you alot Mrs.Holly Higbee-Jansen
Rodrigo Feistauer  10 months ago
Nice post!
Very didatic and easy to understand the difference between these kinds of light!
Nice motivation to go out and try different shots!
Andrew Marron  10 months ago
Great post and beautiful pictures - I've started to become more interested in landscape work and this was a great motivator.

I don't have too many examples (yet) but here is one that deals with light in it's absence..

Rodrigo Andrade  10 months ago
Fantastic post
Holly Higbee-Jansen  10 months ago
Thanks for all your comments. My regular blog is:
Come visit!
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Jorge Coromina  10 months ago
One of the finest tutorials posted on Even though there are things here many of us know, it's always good to recap this info. Good for you, Diana. Keep the good stuff coming!
Holly Higbee-Jansen  10 months ago
Thank you!
Hugo Guilherme  11 months ago
amazing tips, so good.
Holly Higbee-Jansen  10 months ago
Thank you!
Holly Higbee-Jansen  10 months ago
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Holly Higbee-Jansen  10 months ago
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Dice Projects  11 months ago
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susan dobson  11 months ago
Thank you for the wonderful tips. I will give it a go

Alireza Rostami  11 months ago
Diana thank you i will translate this . to persian language . for my student and some friend in iran .
Eric Vilendrer  11 months ago
Good read! Thanks for sharing.
Geo Messmer  11 months ago
very good blog..thanks a lot

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