Late to Bed, Early to Rise

When it comes to landscapes, morning and evening are the best time of day

If you’ve ever taken a photograph in a beautiful location and had it turn out bland and uninteresting, it could be the angle and color of the light. This is especially true if you took the photo in the middle of the day.

Angle of Light

Anywhere from 10am to 2pm, the sun is fairly high in the sky. The entire landscape is flooded with approximately the same amount of light. There are few shadows, and the ones that are apparent are not very long.

All of this results in a photograph that looks flat. Here is an experiment you can do to see how this works. It’s somewhat artifical, but the concept is the same. Take a light (a flashlight will do) and find a surface that has some texture to it (brick, stone, etc.). Shine the flashlight straight at the textured surface and take a photo.

This should result in a photo with some pattern, but nothing pronounced. Now, take the light and hold it at a steep angle relative to the object you are photographing. Take another photo. Now, you should clearly be able to see texture in the object. In fact, you may notice some texture that was completely invisible without the angular light.

This same principle is at work with the sun and a landscape. Take sand dunes for example. In the middle of the day, sand dunes do not look like much of anything except great big piles of sand. There are no shadows to give them depth and dimension. However, when the sun is rising and setting, every single pattern in every single dune is visible, and this makes for wonderful photographic opportunities.

Color of Light

The color of light also changes at different times of day. Morning light tends to have a “cool” or blue cast to it, while afternoon and evening light has a “warm” or orange cast to it.

In the middle of the day, the light shining on your landscape does not have much color. While this may not be a problem in some cases, a lot of times it will affect the “wow” factor of your landscape photograph. A normal photograph taken in the middle of the day will really come to life in the afternoon.

I am especially fond of late afternoon light and the golden color it lends to a landscape. This effect is more pronounced when the scene that you are photographing already includes some red, orange and yellow colors.

The best way to see for yourself how the color of light changes over the course of the day is to take several different photographs of the same view at different times of day. This exercise is much easier to do on a weekend at home rather than when you are on vacation, so you might want to try it before the next big trip.

In Summary

While many of us are not inclined to schedule our entire vacations around the time of day, it can make a real difference when looking for that special photograph. If you have the opportunity, get up early one morning to take some pictures. Or, arrange the timing of your nature hike so that you can take photos from a scenic vista as the sun goes down.

And by all means, continue to take photos in the middle of the day. While they might not have the same punch as ones taken earlier or later, it’s better than no photograph at all.

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