Paying more attention to light is perhaps the single most important step you can take to improve your photography. With many landscapes, having good natural lighting can even be more important than the choice of subject itself. Different types of natural light can also produce a wide variety of subject appearances even though these all have the same light source.
Three factors influence how natural light renders a subject: time of day, camera direction and weather. And while the landscape in my images is the same when it comes to camera direction, the time of day and weather will change. Let's explore what's different in these shots.
Natural Light Photography
Clear Midday SunshineMidday lighting is primarily comprised of direct, downward sunlight. Such light has little chance to scatter and diffuse through the atmosphere, or to bounce off the ground and illuminate the subject indirectly. This results in the hardest and most neutrally-colored lighting of any time of day, and is typically the least desirable type of natural light. Due to these drawbacks, too often photographers put their camera away potentially missing unique opportunities. For example, water may appear more transparent, since light penetrates deeper and direct reflections off the surface are less likely. Alternatively, other types of photographs are more about capturing a particular event, as opposed to achieving an image with optimal lighting.
Golden Hour and SunsetThe hour just before sunset and just after sunrise (the "golden hour") is typically regarded as having the most desirable light for photography. This is characterized by horizontal light that casts long shadows and gives subjects a warm glow. Sunsets and sunrises make for exciting and highly varied lighting. Clouds are rendered using sunlight which reflects off them from underneath as opposed to sunlight which has diffused through them from above potentially causing the sky to light up with a soft, warm light.
Twilight, Dawn and DuskTwilight, dawn and dusk typically describe the half hour before sunrise or after sunset when the sky is still bright but there's no longer any direct sunlight. The primary source of light effectively becomes the entire sky, with one side appearing warm and reddish and the other becoming a cool blue or purple. This can produce wonderfully soft, multicolored lighting that gives a calm, peaceful mood to subjects. Perhaps the biggest disadvantages are the lack of contrast and ambient light. Hand-held shots are therefore rarely possible, and achieving a sufficient sense of depth may require more attention to composition. Cameras also often over-expose twilight scenes when using automatic exposures potentially washing out the otherwise delicate colors since twilight almost never contains any fully white objects.
I hope these example images could showcase the various aspects of natural light photography and how various lighting conditions can give you many looks.