Atmosphere is Vital in Landscape Photography

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was obsessed with the need to prevent highlight clipping when processing my photos. I tried hard not to clip the shadows or highlights when capturing the shot. Then when processing the RAW file, I tried to display a full tonal range, but avoid clipping. The result was what I now consider to be lifeless and dull images.

You see I was missing was a vitally important point. It’s the light in combination with colour that creates atmosphere and drama in the landscape. By avoiding deep shadows or clipped highlights I was losing the drama, and it was damaging my photography.

I’m sure many of you reading this will be nodding and saying to yourselves that’s obvious, so I want to say something in my defence. The cameras I was using only 10 years ago and to some degree, the RAW converts didn’t allow for “graceful” clipping. This was especially true in the highlights where there would be a sharp cut off between clipped and unclipped areas. Often this created ugly transitions between the two which looked horrible in landscape shots.

Fortunately, sensors today and the software we use to process our RAW files are much improved. Now we can capture images with atmosphere and drama, at least if we allow ourselves to. Here are a couple of recent shots from up on Higger Tor in the Peak District.

Higger Tor sunrise. Fuji XT3 with Fuji 10-24 lens at 12mm. Kase 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter.
Higger Tor sunrise. Fuji XT3 with Fuji 10-24 lens at 12mm. Kase 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter.

What I like about these images is that they were shot only three minutes apart, but they convey very different feelings. Both are shot with the same camera and lens at the same 12mm focal length. Had I not managed to capture some of the atmosphere of the day I think they would have appeared flat and lifeless.

I hope you like the shots and have a great weekend.

9 thoughts on “Atmosphere is Vital in Landscape Photography

  1. I have done the very same thing taking the drama out of my photographs! Thanks for this very interesting and instructional message. The posted photographs are gorgeous.

  2. Hello Robin, I’m so pleased to have re-found your website. I agree there is a huge difference difference between the two images but I’m not sure I understand what you did to make such dramatic differences. Obviously one difference is that the framing is slightly different but that can’t have been the only difference. Please can you elaborate for a simple sole? Jim Crabtree

    1. Hi Jim, Good to hear you have “re-found” my site. The difference between the two images wasn’t trying to illustrate the point made in the post. The brighter image on its own was trying to do that. The difference between them was simply the changing light conditions and the time between the two was only 3 minutes. The point I was trying to make in the article and by showing the second image is that I would have lost much of that brilliance of light if I had tried to prevent all highlight clipping in the image.

      1. Thanks for your clarification, I will have another look at the images as I was looking for something different the first time. Yes I saw your post processing of the pier at Blackpool some time ago and lost the details. Very interesting and thank you for that.

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