How To Improve Your Outdoor Photography With Atmosphere and Light

DIY Photography, How To

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Last summer I was camping at Killarney Provincial Park with my family and at the George Lake campground there is a perfect jumping rock.

I knew this would be a great photo opportunity, so I brought my camera to snap a few photos of us jumping off of the rock and into the lake.

What I ended up capturing was a perfect lesson on why you need to look for atmosphere and light to improve your outdoor photography.

The Photos I Planned To Capture

My main focus was to just get a few snapshots of me and the kids cliff jumping into the lake – I thought that it would make an interesting and fun image.

How to take better landscape photography with atmosphere and light

Man diving into still blue waters of George Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

My wife snapped these photos with a Sony a6300 ($900 on Amazon) and the kit lens in full auto.

In order to make the most of this session, it was no accident that we arrived at the lake for a swim just as prime-time golden hour was happening (around an hour before sunset).

In fact, we had put off going for a swim all afternoon and had an early dinner, just to make sure that we were at the lake at exactly the right time for the best light.

Despite this, the lighting in this series of photos is average at best.

The Photos I Captured By Accident

After my son and I were done jumping into the lake, my wife handed back the camera and I turned around to take a few photos of her and my daughter going for a swim behind us (they were not interested in jumping off a cliff).

How to take better landscape photography with atmosphere and light

Woman steps into George Lake with the wilderness of Killarney Provincial Park in the distance

Instead of shooting away from the sun, we were now shooting towards the sun.

You can see that the look and feel of this series of images is drastically different than the first set.

The early evening summer sunshine combined with the haze of a hot summer day adds an amazing dreamy soft glow to the landscape and the long shadows accentuate every texture – in other words – atmosphere and light.

How to take better landscape photography with atmosphere and light

Girl in bathing suit on the rocky shore of George Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

The funny thing is that I took these photos as an afterthought – I was so focused on capturing a few usable cliff diving photos that I totally missed the way more impressive scene behind me.

Lesson learned – I think the stark difference between these two series of images shows how important it is to learn to see light and how drastically different a scene can look – even with the exact same light, only facing a different direction.

In hindsight, it would have been pretty easy for my wife to have walked to the other side of the cliff and photographed us from the opposite direction – into the sunlight. But at the time, I totally did not realize the difference it would have made!

People always wonder what the difference is between “good” photography and what I usually call snapshots. I think these two series illustrate the difference – the first set are snapshots, the second set are much better – and it’s atmosphere and light that are the secret sauce!

The post Atmosphere and Light – How To Improve Your Outdoor Photography appeared first on DIY Photography. is one of the world’s most popular photography blogs with over 2M monthly views.

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JP Danko


JP Danko is an active lifestyle photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.


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