Beginning photographers face the challenge of knowing how the sunlight’s direction affects subject matter outdoors. Sunlight produces varying color casts and shadows depending on its direction as it hits the earth. The sunlight comes in from a larger angle nearer dawn and dusk. It comes straight down at noon.
Direct overhead sunlight often mars outdoor subjects by robbing them of their texture and color density. This produces a snapshot look. The harsh light washes out the color and details of the light areas. The dark areas suffer with reduced detail and stronger darkness.
A subject’s texture emerges with the shadows cast by side lighting. For example, a flower photograph may be more appealing with visible texture on the petals. Overhead lighting tends to wash out this detail.
When the sun shines at a larger angle to the earth, the color of the light looks warmer. The warm yellowish or reddish cast affects a grand scenic as well as a small object. A person’s skin, a flower, or a rocky cliff look very different in the angled light of sunset and sunrise than in the straight down sunlight at noon.
Planning for beautiful scenic photography means knowing in advance the direction of the sunlight. Pertinent information can be found by researching the exact geographical location, using maps, books, the Internet, or asking other photographers. The best time of day for photography at certain scenic locations is already published by other photographers. Trips to popular photography destinations, like New England in the fall, can be planned with published information on what to photograph and at what time of day.
Once at a photo location, the photographer observes the direction of the sunlight and thinks about the effect on the subject. Can a good photo be taken now, or would it be better to return at a different time of day or season when the light approaches the subject from a different angle?