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DPChallenge Forums >> Tips, Tricks, and Q&A >> Learning Thread — Landscape Photography
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04/02/2006 01:11:32 PM · #1
A few days ago I was asked to start another eductaional thread on Landscape Photography. Unlike the earlier "Mentorship" thread, which was limited to a specific group, I am calling this one a "Learning Thread" and keeping it open to the entire community.

Lighting, Exposure, & Composition in Landscape Photography — Overview

In this learning thread we will be exploring Lighting, Exposure, and Composition specifically as they relate to photography of the natural landscape.

Participation is open to all but I ask that participants keep “on track” with the lessons; I want this to be a structured approach rather than a scattershot approach. So, please don’t jump the gun by hopping ahead with question or examples on topics not-yet-covered.

We will begin (very shortly) with a lesson that explores the “types” of light that we work with, and follow that with a quick overview of exposure (how light meters work and how to “interpret” the information your camera gives you, basically), then from there we will move into the areas of using specific types of light for specific effects and, in parallel, different compositional “rules” or “models” and how to incorporate them into technically and emotionally satisfying landscape photographs.

At some point we will probably move into a discussion of color itself, particularly as it relates to post-processing of landscape mages for maximum impact.

From time to time I will “open up” the lessons to suggestions as to what else might be included as we progress; areas of particular concern, as it were. The entire process will be a drawn-out one, beginning with basics and moving on to more specific topics, so I expect that some of our more-skilled photographers may hold off participating until we get deeper into our topics; and that’s fine.

Remember: this thread is open to all who wish to participate, but PLEASE help me keep it on-topic and reasonably structured.


04/02/2006 01:35:32 PM · #2
Let’s begin with a description of the basic “types” of direct light we work with, and an exercise that explores them.

Lesson 1 — “Types” of Light

Assuming that we are shooting our landscape in direct sunlight (we will cover overcast conditions later) we have three basic “types” of light: “flat light”, “shaping light”, and “backlight”. We also have a subset of “shaping light” called “raking light”, so we have four types of light to explore.

Basically, in “describing” light, we have two components working together; the horizontal angle and the vertical angle. In other words, from which direction is the light reaching your subject in relation to your camera position, and how high (or low) in the sky is the sun (your light source)?

For this first discussion, we will ignore the vertical angle of the light and concentrate on the horizontal component; we will learn to “describe” the light in terms of its relationship to the subject as seen from the camera’s point of view. Obviously, if I set my camera up on a tripod in the middle of an open space and pan around through 360 degrees, the light will be “different” depending on which direction I happen to be facing, even though the light itself has not moved.

So here are the basic categories of light as we have defined them:\

1. Flat Light — The light is coming from behind you. Objects in your field of view are lit evenly or nearly evenly on all visible sides.
2. Shaping Light — The light is coming from one side or the other in relation to your camera’s angle of view. Objects in your field of view are being “shaped” by shadows, with some portion of them brightly lit and other portions in shadow.
3. Raking Light — The light is coming from one side or the other in relation to your camera’s angle of view, and it is aligned with your subject in such a way that a primary plane of your subject is parallel, or nearly parallel, to the light, so it is lit in a highly-textured way. (note that the vertical angle of the light can also be a strong component of raking light; more on this later).
4. Backlight — To some extent you are shooting towards the light. There are degrees of backlighting. Characteristically, in backlighting no visible plane or surface of your subject is actually “lit”; the entire subject is within its own shadow, so to speak.

Exercise 1 — “Types” of Light

Take a brick, carton, or some other solid, 3-dimensional, rectilinear object and find a space outdoors in full sunlight. We're not looking for artistic value here, so the lawn or a deck is fine. I want you to set this brick up and shoot it with the sun directly behind you, looking at a corner of it. Think of the brick as a skyscraper on a corner, and yourself as shooting it from the opposite corner on the intersection. The light will be flat, both faces will be receiving the same light. (flat light)

Now move the camera so the light's off one shoulder at 45 degrees from behind you, rearrange the brick so one face is in shadow and the other lit. (shaping light)

Rearrange again and do another shot with the light at an angle from one side, arranging the brick so the light is nearly parallel to, barely lighting, one side of it and fully lighting the adjacent face. (raking light)

Finally, do a 4th shot with the light leaving BOTH visible faces of the brick in shadow (backlighting).

Study and be prepared to discuss. Feel free to post your shots when you've made 'em. Repeat, don't worry about making them pretty; this is a technical exercise to get you thinking in terms of how the light interacts with your subject(s).


Message edited by author 2006-04-02 14:19:05.
04/02/2006 02:13:48 PM · #3
I got my popcorn and jotting down notes Bear. Thanks for taking the time again ;)
04/02/2006 02:15:52 PM · #4
Originally posted by Rikki:

I got my popcorn and jotting down notes Bear. Thanks for taking the time again ;)

Why not start us off with some exemplars of Exercise 1, Rikki? It's right up your alley, so to speak.

04/02/2006 02:18:50 PM · #5
Yes I will take some images. Sun is hard to come by around these parts of the country. It's been raining too much 26 out of the 31 days in March ;(
04/02/2006 02:45:28 PM · #6
I take alot of landscape images. I will be watching and learning. Thanks.
04/02/2006 02:48:59 PM · #7
You are now watching this thread.
04/02/2006 03:01:01 PM · #8
I will be watching this discussion with baited breath... landscapes are a favorite type of imagery for me. The types of lighting you suggest are right on. I have done each of those types of lighting at one time or another for various purposes.

I am very interested in how this discussion progresses. At first I will not likely take new pictures, but rather use old images, only because it works better for me right now.

I am working on some other stuff right now that takes my time, but will participate.
04/02/2006 04:32:57 PM · #9
Old pictures are fine, but it would be nice to see some of y'all complete this simple little exercise to kick us off on the right foot. 20 minutes to shoot, process, and post :-)

04/02/2006 04:54:21 PM · #10
Originally posted by Bear_Music:

Old pictures are fine, but it would be nice to see some of y'all complete this simple little exercise to kick us off on the right foot. 20 minutes to shoot, process, and post :-)


Sorry, no time for outside play right now, but here is my contribution (I think) from what I have already uploaded.

Raking and streaming light are my favorite, flat light seems to work best when you have a strong element to grab attention, like some foreground flowers. Foreground elements with texture work well in raking/shaping light. Niel's Acadia rocks comes to mind.

raking [thumb]263370[/thumb]

shaping [thumb]271644[/thumb]

backlight [thumb]253210[/thumb]

flat [thumb]254781[/thumb]
04/02/2006 06:33:58 PM · #11
This has got to be just as important as my homework, so what the heck.
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Do I have them right?
04/02/2006 07:19:26 PM · #12
Originally posted by wavelength:

Sorry, no time for outside play right now, but here is my contribution (I think) from what I have already uploaded.

I appreciate the effort, Wave, but let's try to keep step with the actual assignments rather than practical applications of them, or we'll be jumping all over the place OK? Not too long from now we'll be taking what we've learned from this exercise and applying it to actual landscape shots.

04/02/2006 07:20:46 PM · #13
Originally posted by MadMan2k:

Do I have them right?

Yup, pretty much so. The fact that you're looking DOWN on your subject brings the top into play, so you're using the vertical component of the light as well, but...

04/02/2006 07:21:39 PM · #14
Raining most of the day today. Supposed to be sunny tomorrow. Should get some shots taken then. Thanks for doing this!
04/02/2006 07:57:48 PM · #15
Am I on the right track? Will I be able to continue when it gets more technical with my point and shoot? Thanks for taking the time : )

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04/02/2006 10:32:28 PM · #16
Originally posted by Penny Lane:

Am I on the right track? Will I be able to continue when it gets more technical with my point and shoot? Thanks for taking the time : )

Fine examples, except that you've reversed the labels on your "raking" and your "shaping".

Point 'n shoot is fine, nothing we will be doing requires expensive equipment, and anyway you can just follow along on whatever you CAN do. At some point we'll be discussing extreme wide angle landscapes and your P&S doesn't go that wide, but otherwise you're fine.

04/02/2006 11:18:59 PM · #17
<Sneaks into the back of the class and takes a seat>
04/03/2006 08:01:05 AM · #18
Thanks Bear Music for taking the time to do this.

I'm stuck in my office from now until next weekend, and it's still dark when I leave work so no chance to get out in the sun with my camera. I'll be watching the thread as it goes along though, maybe I can participate a bit later.
04/03/2006 09:05:12 AM · #19
I'm eagerly watching this thread. I'll participate when I can, and catch up later when I can't participate real-time.

Thanks for taking the time to cover this subject!
04/03/2006 10:03:51 AM · #20
In class for the day and sunless, but I'll post the first exercise when I get home tonight. I hope artificial lighting is okay...
04/03/2006 10:39:11 AM · #21
I have been sunless for the last few days. I too am watching this thread. Thanks Robert.
04/03/2006 11:59:48 AM · #22
The purpose of the first exercise is to understand how the light interacts with objects to "shape" our perception of them. If you simply don't have any sunlight, you can replicate this with a single light source, indoors. I've got no objection to that. Just use a solid object, not a translucent one. We'll be dealing with translucence sometime in the future, i.e. how to use backlighting when shooting foliage and flowers and the like.

04/03/2006 12:06:55 PM · #23
Here you go. I wasn't quite clear about rake, but, I think it's ok.

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04/03/2006 12:30:57 PM · #24
OK, here's mine...

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Thanks for doing this thread!
04/03/2006 12:35:27 PM · #25
Not to jump in and be off topic slightly. But I particapated in this during the Mentoring threads with Bear. You will be grateful at the end. And I found after it all sunk in to be expanding on my landscape shots.
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