Along with composition, the quality of light is perhaps the most important factor affecting the success of a landscape photograph. Whilst composition can be completely controlled, good quality light, on the other hand, cannot.
When I first started out in photography I often heard and read about, "Good Light". Always being a little confused as to the meaning, and lacking in confidence with this fear of understanding to ask others what they meant. People discussed the golden hour and what wonderful light that brought. At first, I was lead to believe this was the only light and time of day to shoot in, but after not too long, I queered in my own mind the idea of any one specific time of day being better than another.
What I figured out is that good light is light that matches your goal for the image you wish to make. It complements your subject and works with your subject. Often, the best light will even mirror the character of the landscape you’re photographing, or the personality that you want your photo to exhibit.
This image was made just after midday. The weeping branch in the water has a soft feel about it and the soft light made by the fog complements the subject and works harmoniously with the whole image. Any other srt of light I think would not work leaving just a branch in a lake which by itself is not that interesting.
I also believe that you can favour one type of light over another, the same way as you may a style of photography, with this changing or evolving over time. I once was a sunrise / set shooter only and would entertain nothing else. Always shooting towards the sun and looking for that "fire in the sky" , now I almost avoid these shots at all costs, preferring the soft pastel tones and minimal to no shadows, Usually shooting the 30 mins before and after sunset or sunrise and also at about 180 degrees away from the sun. This, where the light is softer and the most colourful with the least amount of contrast, or my absolute favourite, foggy misty weather. Shooting in this diffused light is just a joy and makes photography throughout the day possible.
So for this reason, I do not believe in such a thing as universally good light. If the light complements your subject and magnifies your message, rather than conflicting with what you’re trying to show, you are doing something right. Every landscape will be different. The right conditions for one image will be totally wrong for another. But if all the elements combine to form a singular, strong message, then you are well on your way to hopefully communicating with your viewer.
Laguna Colorado- Bolivia
Taken about 5 mins after the sun had gone down with a 1 stop grad. The colour in the sky once again complements the red of the lake. Shooting away from the sun has helped to control the contrast between sky and foreground and gives a softer feel to the tones.
Good light is not always easy to find. It may take some scouting, planing and it certainly requires plenty of patience. The chances of just turning up with the most suitable light being available to you first time, are slim, but if you believe the shot is worth it, wait around or revisit and then sometime it will all come together.
“Good Light” is a bit fuzzy of a fuzzy concept. It's a personal choice and the characteristics of the scene will dictate what it requires. It also depends upon your goal for the image – the emotions and message you want the image to carry.
But it does exist. If you begin to understand how to evaluate the light, you’ll see your landscape photos improve significantly. Hopefully, this may have helped you to have a better idea of what to look for.