Interview: Professional Photographer Shows Why Light Is Essential in Landscape Photography

Why Is Light Important in Landscape Photography?

Understanding light is an important part of photography, but do you really know why? Though it's sometimes more associated with portraiture and studio work, light is a critical part of any type of photography—particularly when it comes to landscapes.

Professional photographer Stephan Fürnrohr, who is known for his aerial and nature photography, counts light as the number one most important element in landscape photography. Why? For him, there's nothing more essential in setting both the mood of the photograph, as well as the technical parameters needed to capture the image.

Light can take an image to new heights and inspire creative ideas. As photographers, learning to adapt to what's in front of you is critical and Fürnrohr proves this with a set of four photos of an iceberg. Taken over the course of several days, the photographs clearly show how different lighting can completely transform the outcome of the final image.

Interestingly, Fürnrohr didn't set out to photograph the same section of the iceberg multiple times. It was only once he was home that he realized he'd done so, as the lighting conditions were so different. You can read extensively about Fürnrohr's thoughts on lighting on his blog, but read on to get some of his professional tips about light in landscape photography.

Landscape Photography by Stephan Fürnrohr

Afternoon backlighting with amber-colored ice fragments on the water surface.

What do you think is people's biggest misconception about how light can change a photograph?

People tend to distinguish between “good” and “bad” light, whereas “good” light means something like postcard-like colorful sunsets and “bad” light refers to the diffuse lighting produced by the overcast sky on dull and cloudy days. But there’s no such thing.

The quality of light should always be evaluated in connection with the intended image effect. For example, if you want to take a photo with soft pastel colors, you don't need what is often referred to as “hallelujah light.” In the case of a landscape photographer who has to get by with the light he finds in the field, this means either waiting or returning at a time when the light is more suited to his vision.

Alternatively, you can also remain flexible and adapt the choice of your motifs and the image composition to the actual lighting situation. In this case, there is rarely a reason to lament about the light.

Landscape Photography Tips

Typical mercury light of the Arctic when the sky is overcast

What is your top tip for new landscape photographers when it comes to mastering light?

Especially in extreme lighting situations such as strong backlighting, the automatic exposure systems quickly get unreliable. Therefore, you should try to get a camera where you can choose exposure time and aperture completely manually. Then you should think about how the settings can affect the appearance of the light in the image and verify it by taking experimental pictures.

Vary aperture, time, and perspective and observe all changes in the image impression to develop a sense for the basic technical and creative possibilities of mastering light. And, most important—never stop experimenting!

Tips for Landscape Photographers

The night sun hides behind a cloud bank.

Light and Landscape Photography

Unbelievable light of the midnight sun shining below a dense cloud cover, which makes the ice shine like gold when the sky is dark

Stephan Fürnrohr: Website | Facebook | Twitter

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Stephan Fürnrohr.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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