Landscape photography and learning how to see the light . . .

I believe all photography is about learning how to see light but in many cases seeing light is just one tiny aspect of a long list of skills needed to produce good and/or great images. A perfect example of the added complexities in photography is creating images at a sporting event, the subjects are constantly moving and at times their movements can be very unpredictable, whereas with landscape photography for the most part the subjects are not moving and the only thing that changes is the lighting and how it reacts with the subject.

Therefore landscape photography requires two things, great subjects and the ability to see how and when the light is reacting perfectly with you subject to make great photographs.

One such example of a perfect subject is Monument Valley in Arizona, the iconic location of countless Glen Ford western movies and the subject of thousands of landscape photographers from all over the world. There aren’t many people who wouldn’t recognize the photograph above of West Mitten as being taken in Monument Valley.

See the rest of my Monument Valley adventure by clicking on the more link below:

Monument Valley is on Native American Tribal land and there are restrictions on the times when you can visit and where you can go in the valley, these restrictions can make capturing the perfect landscape shot with fantastic light difficult. I said difficult, not impossible, and there are so many different sub-locations in the Monument Valley Tribal Park it’s difficult to pick just one. I loved the totems and the dunes pictured above.

There are so many less iconic buttes that can make fantastic photographs all over the valley it’s hard to pick which one you want to spend time photographing. With the time restrictions it’s difficult not to run around trying to capture as many beautiful photographs as you can and really not spending as much time as you would like to find that one perfect shot, all the while knowing that the perfect sunset light will be gone in just a few minutes.

When the perfect afternoon sunlight comes up over the valley and the red Navajo sandstone glows bright you want to be set up for that perfect shot of both East and West Mitten and the valley below.

Learning to see how the light and shadows react with the locations you are photographing can help you make interesting photographs. One key thing to know is that you are not going to make images like this if you show up at noon and start clicking away. When I say learning how to “see the light” I think it can be beneficial for a photographer to take some time and pick a location where you can go and watch the light change from afternoon to sunset. When you are able to “see the light” as the color temperature changes, the shadows get longer and the intensity grows, knowing the exact moment when the light really “pops” is key to a landscape photographer.

You just can’t appreciate the intensity and depth of these images when they are presented at this size, you really need to see large prints to get a sense of how much you just want to step into the photo and walk around. Feel free to contact me if you would like to purchase large prints (for these 11 x 14 is the smallest size I will sell).

Some people would say it’s unfortunate that there were no clouds in the sky that day to give additional depth to some of these images and I agree but I am OK with the fact that I can neither predict or change the weather so sometimes you just live with what you get. Now, I’m not saying you show at 10:00 am and start snapping away with your camera and just live with what you get, I’m saying you learn to see when the lighting is good and that is when you take your camera and make beautiful photographs.

Some would say that a landscape photographer’s best friend is a wide-angle lens, well many of these shots were taken with the equivalent of a 300 mm lens, so that rule goes right out the window. There are times when you best landscape shots will be captured with a telephoto lens.

I was really trying to make some nice images of the totems but struggled with distance, haze and the limited positions available to shoot because there is a main road that you are not allowed to venture from that keeps you a bit of distance from these beautiful rock formations. You can get closer and access the red sand dunes near the totems by joining a private tour with some extra cost and time involved.

For this day we were blessed with fantastic sunset light and I was frantically grabbing frames as fast as I could from each sub location just hoping I didn’t run out of light or time.

It was getting more and more difficult to balance the exposures between the long shadows and the bright sunlight as time went on so I tried to incorporate the beautiful light into my images.

You could spend a week just capturing images of the Mittens in all kinds of lighting conditions and still feel like there was at least a few shots you didn’t get.

Some areas of the valley just didn’t seem to translate into photographs as well as others and like many landscape photography locations the photos just don’t show you the massive scale and fantastic feeling you get just being there.

The totems were another area that was very difficult to capture the scale and beauty of the area on a photograph.

I’m not sure what this butte was called, but the lighting was great so I captured several different images from this section of the road.

There were some bands of clouds in the sky way off in the distance but I was not able to take advantage of them as well as I would have liked to.

This place is amazing, I would love to spend a week here photographing sunrise and sunset everyday, but sadly unless you know someone who can get you down in the valley before sunrise or let you stay past sunset that just may not happen. Oh well, Monument Valley what a great place to capture landscape photographs.


4 thoughts on “Landscape photography and learning how to see the light . . .

    • The reason you don’t see people is because Momument Valley is on Native American Tribal lands and you are only allowed to visit during select times of the day and only allowed to go to a few places along the main road.

      You will just have to guess at the scale, but it’s big if that helps at all.

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