Torridon Scotland

The story behind the image

Practice photography in spectacular surroundings. Find out more about our photography adventures here.

Dealing with directional sunlight –

So when is it so bad that you just wouldn’t bother? Well that depends on how much effort your prepared to make. If we’re fortunate, we can pick and  choose the days we go to take landscape photographs based on the promise of suitable weather and hopefully good light.

Soft directional light may be preferential for most seasoned photographers, but sometimes when duty calls I find myself on location with a client on a day of their choosing. We can often end up with blazing summer sunshine which creates harsh shadows not to mention a little frustration.

So what can be done? I’ve taught myself over the years that anything is possible with a little thought, awareness and effort. To go beyond the obvious, and create a successful image….if the chance arises.


The featured image was taken late summer near Loch Maree in Torridon. Fortunately on this occasion, there was just enough broken cloud around to interfere with the harsh sunlight. The clouds are moving too which means that there’s a dynamic present, so the light is changing every so often, being slightly diffused as the cloud passes by. It’s not totally soft but it just takes the edge off it when this occurs.

The light direction relative to the subject is critical and we need to pay attention to this. The Scot’s pine trees of Torridon are well known and photographed, so I ensure that the light hits them side on ( from the right hand side in this case ) by simply standing in the right spot.

As the light softens, this ratio of light between highlight and shadow (or contrast) drops, enabling the camera to record both shadow detail and highlight detail comfortably. There is no need for bracketing or any HDR techniques. All I need is to correctly expose (in manual) and utilise the dynamic range of a RAW file.

Option 1. If I shoot into the light, I’d be looking into shadows and see minimal contrast. Option 2. Shooting with the light source behind me, makes all the shadows fall away from me and the image appears flat.  Option 3. Directional side lighting creates highlights (light) and shadows (shade) and therefore the illusion of depth due to the appearance of form that the said light creates.

Being aware of light quality and its direction is just as important as the quality of the subject your photographing. They both combine to create a successful image. Ansel Adams once said that “a good photograph is knowing where to stand”. I’m guessing here but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just referring to composition, but light direction and observing where the shadows fall and his position in relation to them.

So in my image example, there are some softer shadows in the foreground, creating depth. Light is also wrapping around the tree trunks , creating form and therefore interest. Some dappled light is hitting the mountain of Slioch in the background too and the red tree branches of the beautiful Scots pine. It’s all quite subtle but hopefully it all combines to create a mood and narrative of the place.

Of course composition is important too. The line of trees are diminishing in size which helps the eye run into the image  and create a depth and perspective. Creating this balance of good light and strong composition is really what makes a landscape photograph tick.

So next time the light isn’t so forgiving just take some time to analyse your position in relation to the light direction. Think about its quality and how you could combine it with your subject  for best effect. It’s all about being visually aware.

Nikon D800E

16-35mm @ 25mm – F11 @1/40 seconds 100 ISO

Post Production: Basic RAW workflow and minimal dodge and burn. Desaturated  yellows and some cyan from sky.