George Lepp, who was a Canon Explorer of Light and long-time regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer Magazine (no longer published), once said, (I’m paraphrasing at bit): “It’s not about the subject. It’s about the LIGHT on the subject.” How right he was and still is.

What makes or breaks the creative impact we use in a landscape image is the light we choose to shoot in.

My favorite light for landscape photography is warm (colorful), soft, indirect light. This doesn’t mean that other lighting scenarios don’t result in great imagery. It just means it’s my personal preference.

Landscape view of last minutes of sunlight on Mt. Alpenglow and Beluga Point near Anchorage, Alaska © Michael DeYoung

Turnagain Arm 1 of 3: This is the last 10 minutes of sunlight on Mt. Alpenglow and Beluga Point along Turnagain Arm, Alaska on March 8. It this was the best light of the day, I would take it! The sky was covered with mid level clouds and it was clear where the sun would set, meaning there was a high likelihood of even better light-my favorite, which is warm, soft, indirect light.

Landscape photo of pink skies above Mt. Alpenglow along Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, AK © Michael DeYoung

Turnagain Arm 2 of 3: Almost the whole sky is glowing pink even with a touch of the last rays of sun are fading from the summit of Mt. Alpenglow. This warm, soft pink light is now cast over the entire scene and I prefer this over version 1 with direct sun and even slightly better than version 2 because of the softer pink light in the sky and water. Light toned and reflective surfaces work best with this type of warm, soft, indirect light. I usually look for sky, snow, sand, or water as landscape subjects for my favorite light.

Sunset image along Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, Alaska. © Michael DeYoung

Turnagain Arm 3 of 3: This was the sunset with the colorful mid and high clouds that created the lighting in the previous 2 images. Shooting into colorful backlight can also be a subject itself, or the background to other subjects like people, animals, buildings, etc.

 

What is this light? My favorite light takes place when the sun is not directly lighting the landscape, but instead, is lighting certain clouds, or ice crystals that are then creating a soft wash of warm colored light on the landscape. If you are in a suitable location, shooting the light source as a subject can also result in great imagery. These are the kind of situations I like most.

 

Reflection of Peru's Cordillera Huayhuash © Michael DeYoung

Peru 1 of 2. This reflection view of the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes is entirely lit by a big glow on the eastern horizon before sunrise with the cirrus clouds above bouncing a soft light back onto the high peaks. This is my favorite light for landscapes.

Sunrise on the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peruvian Andes © Michael DeYoung

Peru 2 of 2. Ten minutes after sunrise, the light is already becoming more contrasty. I think the morning light is still good here and I would be just as happy with this shot if I had missed the first one. However, I prefer the warm soft indirect light in the first image of the Cordillera Huayhuash.

 

Where and when do you find this light? This light doesn’t happen before every sunrise or after every sunset. In fact, it’s rather uncommon. The most favorable scenario for capturing warm, soft, indirect light is having a sky with the presence of mid or high level clouds (altocumulus or cirrus) and clear air where the sun will rise or set. That sets the stage for the clouds or sky to turn color, which then casts a soft glow of light on to your subject before or after you see direct sunlight.