The 5 Keys to Award Winning High Impact Photography

1/5.........The 1st Key: Great Light

I'm sure your thinking "Great work Captain Obvious" and you would be 100% right. Its not so much the elements of the Formula that are the secret but the combination.

Great Light is very well known to almost everyone with a camera. That being said not everyone truly understands what to look for and how to capture it and this is where I can help.

If we look at the numbers, when I studied the photos that did well in international landscape photo competitions a huge 70% of photos contained "Great Light".

By reading on, I will give you all the information you need to help you see, read and compose your photos so that more of your subjects are illuminated by that elusive Great Light .

The word "photography" was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), "light" and γραφή (graphé) "representation by means of lines" or "drawing", together meaning "drawing with light".

Given that the word photography literally translates into Drawing with Light, it is of no surprise that Light and the way we capture it is the most important aspect in creating great photos.

But its not just any old light we need for high impact photos, we need to be on the lookout for Great Light.

What is great light? What does it look like? How do we capture it?

What Is Great Light?

Great Light in landscape photography is the use of light and shadow to illuminate our subject in a way that portrays volume, details, and added drama.

Great light should contain both light and shadow, it is the interaction of the light and shadow that will give our subject added volume and depth via light on one side and shadow on the other. Landscape photographers are always chasing the holy grail of depth and 3-dimensionality, and the biggest influence on this 3D effect is the light, more importantly "Great Light".

What does Great Light Look like?

Great light in its simplest definition is the intimate interaction of light and shadow. By Intimate, I mean light and shadow interacting in close proximity, lets take a look at some examples.


 Horse Head Rock - Adam Williams

Horse Head Rock - Adam Williams

Above is the first example of great light, notice how the light and shadow are interacting on the main subject to enhance the details, give a greater sense of volume/3D feel and add to the overall drama of the image. Don't be distracted into thinking that a colourful sky equals great light, this is not always the case, we will look into that a bit later.

 Mt Sonder - Adam Williams

Mt Sonder - Adam Williams

Once again the photo above is an excellent example of great light, notice the light and shadow interacting in close proximity creating the greater sense of depth that we are always searching for.

 Flinders Ranges SA

Flinders Ranges SA

Again in the above photo notice the transitions and interaction between the light and shadow.

In the above three examples you may have noticed another pattern, the great light that we are searching for is almost always found when the sunlight is coming from the side of our composition, In the first photo the light was coming from the far left, in the second the light is streaming across the scene from the far right and in the final image the sun was setting in the top left.

Pro Tip: In the search for great light, set up your camera position so that the sunlight is streaming across the scene. Have the sun warming one side of your face and not the other as you compose your shot!

You can definitely find examples of great light from other angles, however generally the vast majority of Great Light will be found when the sun is positioned to the side of our scene.

How do we capture Great Light more often?

There are two main details that we should be concern about if we are trying to capture Great Light in more of our photos.

1. The position of the sun in relation to our camera position.

As I mentioned above, to maximise your chance of capturing great light you need to position the sun to the left or right of your camera allowing the light to stream across your scene. 

2. The time of the day.

Similar to the direction of the light there is also a specific time of the day when great light is most likely to occur. To maximise your chances you want to be shooting when the sun is just above the horizon.

This is where some often get mixed up that great colour equals great light. This is not always the case, because usually the rich colourful clouds are at their best when the sun is below the horizon and the warm golden side light is at its very best when the sun is slightly above the horizon. See the example below.

 Great Colour, not so great light.

Great Colour, not so great light.

 Great light!

Great light!

The photo above were taken 10 min apart, the top photo was taken with the sun below the horizon and is showing some nice vibrant colours in the sky, however the light on the main subject is quite flat an lacking volume and drama. Notice in the second photo when the sun was still just above the horizon that we have the presence of great light emphasising the volume of the subject. Also note the direct of the light is once again streaming across the scene from the far right.

Creating the illusion of Great Light

If it wasn't there on the day, I have no concerns with using Photoshop to enhance and even create the illusion of great light. We still adhere to the directional rule above and paint in the light to enhance the volume, depth and drama.

Below is an example of creating great light in Photoshop.

 The Illusion of Great Light. Camel Rock - Adam Williams

The Illusion of Great Light. Camel Rock - Adam Williams

As you can see with some simple adjustments I was able to create the illusion of Great Light and Enhance the volume, depth and drama of this photo. 

If you are interested in learning how to paint in great light and much more, why not take advantage of the great courses at Easy Way Photography and sign up today!


Great Light is the most important factor in creating Award Winning High Impact photos, to give yourself a greater chance of capturing great light. Be sure to position the sun to the far left or far right and shoot when the sun is just above the horizon. Be sure to take a look through your current collection of photos and see if you can identify the photos that contain Great Light.


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