Landscape Photography – Using Different Kinds of Light

It’s All About the Light – Landscape Photography

Jansen Photo Expeditions

We have been teaching photographic workshops in landscape photography for many years and what makes our work different 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 a few with some of my favorite images.

Reflected Light

(also called bounced or diffused light)

This particular light occurs when there is direct sunlight 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.

Landscape photography in Zion National Park

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 or not so much…

Jansen Photo Expeditions


Back Light

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.

Big Sur Photo Expedition


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 color photography.

White Sands Photo Expedition


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.

Mt. Assiniboine Photo Expedition

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.

Big Sur Photo Workshop


Combination Light – Direct and Diffused

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

Eastern Sierras Photo Workshop


Fire and Manmade Light

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

Big Sur Photo Workshop


Try shooting the same subject in the exact same location before sunrise and after sunset.  What are the differences in the light?  Is the color and tone different?

Holly Higbee-JansenHolly Higbee-Jansen has been exploring her fascination with light through photography since she was a young child.  Holly teaches digital photography both online and in person, as a personal photo coach, blogger and guide for Jansen Photo Expeditions.  Holly can be reached by email at:

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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Co-Owner and Workshop Leader at Jansen Photo Expeditions
I am a passionate photographer and workshop leader, and I have been exploring my fascination with light since I was a young child. As a co-owner and guide for, I love taking our small groups of clients to beautiful places to help them explore their photographic creativity. Join us on one of our photographic workshops in the American West, Iceland and Central America: or take one of our online photography classes.  Live life creatively!  Reach me by email at:
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  • I love your blog! This is so informative. Thank you so much for posting. Everyone loves taking pictures and we can all use a crash course in perfecting our pictures. Thank you for the helpful tips.

  • I love the different effects light can produce. You have a pretty good tackle on these things! Keep the good things up 🙂

  • Your images take my breath away. The people who learn from you are very fortunate.

  • Thanks Holly …love light. The photos are amazing.