The photography instructor stuck wads of one dollar bills in his pockets; 500 hundred to be exact.  He set the camera on a tripod and began photographing a model. Each time he clicked the shutter, he threw a dollar bill on the floor. Click; another dollar on the floor: Click; another dollar on the floor: Click; another dollar on the floor.

His point was very literal; each time a professional photographer took a photograph, it cost $1 to process the film into proofs. Since most wedding photographers using film (before digital) averaged 500-750 images a wedding, it cost us $500-$750 just in film and processing for a wedding.  One pays very close attention to details when each click costs a dollar.

Because I spent $1 with each image I captured , I learned the most critical component of any and all photography: how to understand light. It was very annoying to get a proof back and find I had under or overexposed the image.

Without light, there is no image to capture; only blackness. I studied light more than I studied any other aspect of photography. (oddly, when digital came on the market and it didn’t cost $1 each time you clicked the shutter, many professional photographers found their images starting to deteriorate in quality because they got lazy with light assuming they could fix it in post processing)

Landscape photographers call it chasing the light; looking for that optimal time of the day to capture stunning images and it’s really simple.  I refer to this as Right Times for Great Light:

    • 30 and 60 in the Morning
    • 60 and 30 in the Evening

The best time for landscape photography is 30 minutes before and 60 minutes after sunrise in the morning; 60 minutes before and 30 minutes after sunset in the evening; the angle of the light to the earth creates great color.  Therefore, the worst time of the day to do landscape photography is high noon; we refer to that light as flat-light. How many times have you ever said, “My, what a beautiful high noon sun it is!” Probably never. However, you’ve probably said, “What a beautiful sunrise!” or “Did you see that sunset last night?”

Let me illustrate:

This photo is in the Valley of Fire in Nevada about 3:00 PM, or two hours (120 minutes – outside of the optimal timeframe) before the sunset that day.

Valley of Fire 1

This photo is in the same area of the Valley of Fire about ten minutes after sunset. I had to use a tripod (which is a MUST to move your landscape photographs from good to great). See the difference?

Valley of Fire 2


Here is another example:

I drove by The Dinosaur Tree for years along the interstate south of Emporia, Kansas just waiting for the right light. This is one overcast, bleary day that I stopped.

Dinosaur Tree 1


Then I captured this image early one morning as the sun rose and the moon was setting.  Quite a difference, isn’t it? (that tree has collapsed- I am so glad I captured this image before it was gone forever!)

The Dinosaur Tree 2


After a while, noticing the quality of light becomes very natural and you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, isn’t that great light!” then grab your camera and run outside.  Great light makes even blah subjects look great.

Think of great light as Mother Nature’s makeup.

Up next for Tip 3 in this five-part series on Landscape Photography is: Controlling the Light

If this stimulates any other questions, please feel free to email me: or call me: 316-734-6845. I love helping people capture better images!