Landscape Photography I: Interpreting Place Through Light | JP Danko | Skillshare

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Landscape Photography I: Interpreting Place Through Light

teacher avatar JP Danko, Commercial Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Blue Hour - Pre Dawn


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Golden Hour - Morning Sunshine


    • 6.

      Mid Day


    • 7.

      Golden Hour - Evening Shadow


    • 8.

      Blue Hour - Evening Shadow


    • 9.

      Final Thoughts and Next Steps


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About This Class

Join photographer JP Danko as he shares his approach to creating stunning landscape photography. Through this 30-minute class, JP will transform your approach to landscape photography by teaching you how to “see” light, along with other behind the scenes tips and tricks to help you visualize the mood and feeling of a place through light. This class is for anyone who has ever wanted to create their own professional quality landscape photography regardless of their current photography skill level or experience. By the end of this class you’ll have a completely new approach to landscape photography and some amazing new photos to prove it!

Meet Your Teacher

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JP Danko

Commercial Photographer


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. His work is distributed by Stocksy United.

JP also publishes a weekly photography column at, one of the worlds most popular online photography resources.

To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, Instagram and 500px.

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1. Introduction: Hello, everyone. My name is J. B. Danko. I'm a commercial in advertising photographer through my work attire for a lot of the work that I do is doors complication. So a lot of times landscapes and over the years there's some kind of tools and techniques that have picked up along the way and one of the biggest, um, aspects that I would like to share in this school chair class is kind of teaching how to visualize. Like, because a lot of people don't realize different light. A different time of day has very different characteristics. You don't need any special gear or equipment to do this class. I'm gonna be using just a really old 10 year old DSLR camera with planes you can use pretty much any DSLR if you have one careless or cell phone mobile with a camera. But it really doesn't matter what camera using crossed. What we're gonna concentrate on the class is the quality of light, and I'm gonna try and teach you how to visualize that light and how to use that to better interpret landscapes. So I really want to show you a different way of visualizing landscape photography and a different approach that hopefully you can incorporate into your own landscape photography and, uh, come away with some really, really amazing results. So hopefully rolling across and join me as we learn to explore landscapes by interpreting late. 2. Assignment: and we do have an assignment for this class, and it's a really simple assignment, and it's, I think, something that's really fun as well. And I really, really encourage you guys to go out and take photos for the assignment and submit them through the platform at skill share because you'll get feedback from me personally and you also get feedback from your classmates, and it really, really helps in building a much, much deeper understanding of the material. That 100 plus, so he's signing for this class is to find your favorite landscape. It doesn't have to be, you know, nothing Grand Canyon or anything like that of Mountain Mr. But just find a you know something nice in your hometown that's accessible. And then to go out on be there at the right time of day to create one blew our photo and one old now and we'll explain more what that means through the class. Now, if you want bonus marks, um, one of the things that we're gonna touch on in the class is how different times a day different lighting conditions bring a completely different emotional content to your landscape forms and really that's the key goal of any landscape photo is to create an emotional attachment image. So whether that's you know you want, somebody sees your image and it's the wow factor. While it's amazing I gotta go there. That's just the coolest photo I've ever seen. Or it could be a sad emotion or happy emotion or uplifting others. There's a whole range of emotional elements that you can use light through landscape for total to evoke from your viewers. So for bonus marks, uh, you know, it's quote take that blew our for Take the Golden Hour photo. And then, if you can as well also think about the the emotion that you're trying to provoke from those images. So good luck with the assignment, and I'm really, really interested to see what you guys do with this class and the landscape photos that you come back. So good luck, and we'll move on to our first video lesson. 3. Blue Hour - Pre Dawn: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Blue. Our so first, just a quick explanation. What is blue are. What do you mean when? When I say I want you guys to get up really early, get out of bed and grab your camera and go take photos during blew our. So what we mean is blue. Are is more or less about an hour before sunrise, up to an hour or so after sunset. So what that means is, during that hour long period between when it's full night, up until when the sun actually comes out of the over the horizon at dawn or at sunset, you've got this really, really special period where the light gives you just a really nice quality or images. If we can look at the quality of light right now, you can see that it's not particularly directional. This light, sort of even it's it's all encompassing, and there's a lot, a lot of colors over in the horizon. There, you can see the reds from the sun as it's coming up. You can also see the blues and the dark purples in the sky and the clouds, and that's one of the really special things about blue our is that every morning or every evening is a little bit different, so you get all kinds of different qualities of light every time you go out. So one of the main key concepts that I'd like you guys take away from the course is that landscape photography is. Yeah, sure, it's standing in front of something that's interesting, and that's nice looking. But most of landscape photography is doing some work. It's getting out there when the light is really at its best to capture a feeling or emotion in your photos that you wouldn't be able to capture at any other time day. That's really the reason why we get up an hour before dawn and get down to our location and hike through the woods in the middle of the night to be at the right spot to take the right photos at the right time. It's because the light at this time of day is just something that's very, very special, and it adds a characteristic cheer photos that you can't get at any other time of day as faras camera settings when you're shooting during blew. Our, um, a lot of times because it's either coming just coming out of night or you're going in tonight, you're gonna be shooting at relatively long exposures. So it's a good idea to have a tripod and use a tripod during blue are because you're gonna want tohave to be able to use some of those longer exposure settings. One other factor that really makes a big difference in your camera setting is to set your white balance. So I'm gonna shoot in raw with my camera, and I'm going to set my white balance to daylight. And what that does is on a daylight. White balance is it'll bring out that kind of blue and purple and colorful tint in the light at this time of day. Now, if you're using a cell phone or a mobile phone camera, you can also set your white balance on your mobile phone. You just have to go into the settings for your camera app and choose daylight as your white balance. So those of you that know me would say, JP, what do you doing? Why are you out here an hour before sunrise in the morning? You taken up in the morning and Yeah, that's absolutely true. I absolutely hate getting up in the morning, but I love getting out to take beautiful photos. And in this particular location, I don't have much choice If I want to shoot this scene with this light, I have to be here before sunrise because the sun rises in the east. So in the evening, when it's convenient when I'm already awake, Um, I can't come down here and get this late. The light will be facing the other direction. So this is the only time a day that I can shoot this scene and it will look like this. So that's why I'm here before dawn. It's because to make this photograph look like how I wanted to look, I have to be here with the right quality of light. 4. Sunrise: all right now, As you can see, we're into full sunrise. It is gorgeous. Sunny, nice, bright morning. There's still a little bit of clouds on the horizon there sunrises. Everyone's just a little bit different. You never know really what you're gonna get, depending on the cloud cover or the weather of that particular day. But this morning, it's just a really gorgeous, sunny day, and I think you can really tell with the same scene that we had before during blew our how different the light is right now as the sun's coming up. So a few characteristics of sunrise, light or sunset light as well is that the light is very, very directional, so you can see on the ground here and on the rocks that, as the light is more or less at the horizon level as it comes along all the rocks and the pebbles on the beach. Here you can just see the like, the little sparkles and lots of nice contrast and shadows in the stones and the texture of the landscape. And that's something that you can't really get any other time of day. So once the sun comes up a little bit higher in the sky All that gorgeous texture that we're seeing right now is gonna be gone So all the shadows are gonna be gone and you won't see the definition in the interest in your subjects that you can get right now at this time of day, one thing about sunrises is they don't last very long. So I know on my, um, my phone app, they told me that the sunrise was at 6:44 a.m. I was here way before that to get lots of blue our shots while I was waiting for the sunrise. And now that the sun is actually coming up, the light level changes really, really quickly. So I gotta work really fast and get lots of shots in in a boat that 10 to 15 minutes while the sun's coming up. A few tips for shooting in a sunrise scenario is that you want to resist the temptation to always put the sun in the photo. So, you know, normally when you see a gorgeous sunrise or gorgeous sunset, the temptation is to put your camera facing the sunrise and shoot that way. But, ah, lot of times it's much more interesting and more effective to shoot about perpendicular to the sunrise. So if I'm shooting, the sun's coming up over here. Um, I can shoot it about a 90 degree angle, and we'll get a lot of really interesting texture in my photos. So, for example, in this scene, I can see lots of great sparkles on the rocks here because they're wet this morning. And as the sun is hitting those rocks at this time of day, I'm getting a lot of really nice sparkle in there. So what I'm going to do is, instead of shooting out towards the sun, I'm gonna shoot kind of perpendicular to it and add a little bit more interest in my photos . Now, I already mentioned this in the blue, our video. But one of the most important things about landscape photography is putting in the work to plan your shots ahead of time. So it wasn't a mistake that I was here at 6 44 in the morning to be ready to catch the sunrise. I plan that in advance and made sure that I was out of bed. I was down here and ready for it. Um because you know this beach faces east. There's no other time a day that I could get this shot. I have to be here when the late is just right and so much a landscape photography is, you know it's it's finding a gorgeous landscape, Yes, but it's being there at the right time of day to get the right light for the type of photo that you want to create some of the characteristics of sunrise. The light at sunrise and sunrise itself is that you tend to get a sense of hope. You can see the mood in the feeling of the scene completely changed to how it was during blew. Our it's much more brighter. It's much more energetic. It's a lot more hopeful, and that's something that you need to keep in mind when you're planning your landscape. Photography is what is the mood in the feeling of the images that you want to create 5. Golden Hour - Morning Sunshine: All right, Welcome back. So now it's about quarter after seven in the morning. The sun's been up for about half an hour. If you remember Sunrise. My my smartphone app told me Sunrises was at 6:44 a.m. So quarter after seven, the sunrise has been about 1/2 an hour ago and we're kind of past the sunrise setting now. And we're into the stage that we call the Golden Light our And as you can see in the scene here, even though we've got the exact same scene that we've been working with all morning, the quality of light in this scene is completely different than it Waas. So just to recap, if you remember during blew our the light was very omni directional. There wasn't a lot of deep textures you can see on the rocks behind me There all the shadow in there. So during blew our that was a lot more, even though we didn't have that deep shadow and texture that we have right now. But we had kind of blue and colorful purples and reds and oranges in the in the color of light. Whereas now golden hour as the name implies, the light has sort of a really nice warm glow to it, and you'll often hear about photographers. Talk about you know, the nice evening light. And that's exactly what the gold now is. So between about an hour or so after sunrise and an hour or so before sunset is when you're into this really nice, warm, glowing evening golden hour light as far as camera settings, go lights not changing quite as drastically as it was during sunrise. So if you're using a DSLR, I'd really encourage you to try manual mode. Um, the light doesn't change very quickly this time of day. So once you get your settings locked into a nice exposure, you can just kind of keep those and work with that through different scenes. Um, a lot of the pointers that were using during sunrise still applied during golden hour. So you know, we can use that fact that the light is really nice and low in the sky to her advantage. And as well as shooting into the light, we can use, um, the texture in the shadow shooting about perpendicular to the sun and also placed objects between the sun and the camera for some added interest into your photos. One other really cool camera technique that you can use this time of day is to set your aperture really, really small. Um, so if you're using a DSLR camera, you can use either aperture priority or manual mode and set your aperture to something small like F 18 or F 22. And what that will do is number one. Your whole scene will be in focus and generally in landscape photography. That's kind of what we want. We want to see you know, the foreground all the way through the background to be in focus. Unless there's a specific reason that we're We don't want to do that, in which case will use a lower aperture but using a really high aperture. Well, we'll keep our scene and focus, but the added benefit to that is that any points of light that are in your photos. So right now I could see lots of really cool sparkles off the water here. If I set my aperture really high F 18 F 22 it will turn those little points of light into Little Star sparkles. So that's kind of, ah, really cool effect that you can do right in camera and you'll see landscape photographers use that quite often, and you can even use it at night or when it's darker. So if you're doing a city scape or something else just during sunrise and you have your camera on a tripod, you can use that really high aperture to Teoh ADSs. Um um, some extra sparkle to your photos. 6. Mid Day: all right. It's about quarter day in the morning. Right now, it's about an hour after sunrise. So if you remember, my mobile phone app told me Sunrise was at 6:44 a.m. So I've been out here since 5 30 in the morning, which means that I got up a whole lot earlier than that to get my gear together, to get everything packed up to get on the trail, hiking through the woods in the dark just so that I could get on location and be in the right place a to right time of day to take the type of landscape photos that I wanted to create. And I think that's really important because even though we've been working with the same scene all morning, you can see that the quality of light right now is a lot lot different than it was earlier in the earlier in the morning. So we're starting to lose all of the really interesting texture in the stones and pebbles. The color of the light is a lot different than it was just 1/2 an hour ago, so whereas during the golden hour, you know we're working with that nice, warm contrast delight. Now, this light is a way, way more harsh. It's Ah, it's a lot more just regular day light colored so it doesn't have that interest that it did earlier. So at this point, I'm gonna pretty much pack my camera up and go home. Because no matter what I do with this scene, no matter how amazing your epic this landscape is, um no matter how artistic I try to be with my photos between now and the start of golden hour in the evening, no matter what I do during midday, these photos are gonna have the pop and the interest that they would have had if I shot them during a better period with better light. And I think for landscape photography, that's kind of one of the biggest things that will improve your landscape. Photography is being there in the right lighting conditions. Um, so like I said, I'm gonna pack my camera. I'm gonna go home, Um, this time a day. If you're in a national park or you're shooting some sort of famous landscape, this is kind of when everybody else is going to be getting up in hitting the trail, and you're going to start seeing other photographers show up at your amazing location. And you know, everybody that takes photos during the day between now and gold. Now it's sunset. I mean, that's kind of the easy, easy thing to do, right? You've got up. You kind of wandered down there. No, that's a nice scene. I'm gonna take a photo, but because they're not working with that amazing quality of light that we had earlier through golden hour, through sunrise and through blue hour before sunrise, their photos, they're just going to be kind of plain and ordinary. So for landscape photography, really a big, big part of creating a really amazing landscape. Photos is doing the work, putting the work in to get there at the right time. So I'm gonna pack my camera up, and we're gonna check back in in the evening during evening golden hour 7. Golden Hour - Evening Shadow: Hey, guys, Welcome back. I hope you had a good day doing something productive besides taking photos in that ugly midday light. So we're back and it's evening. Now, Um, we're at the same location that we left off with this morning, except right now it's about 45 minutes before sunset. So using my my smartphone app, son droid, it tells me that sunset is at 808 p. M. And it's just past 7 30 Right now, Um, the APP also tells me that sunset is about that direction there in the west. And if you remember this morning, the sun rises in the east in that direction. So the lights going to be different, no matter what, because of the time of day in the direction that the sun is setting in. But since this morning, there's a couple things that have gone on here that have really changed the light in this scene. So I think first of all, you can see that even though this is golden hour right now, technically it doesn't really look like that nice, warm golden light that we had this morning. And there's a couple of reasons for that First of all, we're in the shade here. So because the sun is setting off in the west, it puts this whole beach area and shade. Now, I know from shooting here in the past that sometimes we can get some really nice rays of sun as they filter through the trees. But, you know, this afternoon, I'm not saying that we're just in open shade, and the other thing that's happened is I think you can see in the sky is that we've got some light cloud that came in this afternoon. So besides, they're not being a lot of bright sunshine from our sunset. It's also being blocked by the clouds in the sky. Now I'm still pretty hopeful that I might be able to get some nice evening colors with the clouds in the sky. You can kind of see the color starting to form there. There's some blues and purples in the sky, and I think that will intensify as it gets a little bit darker. Um, and it was a couple other things in this scene that you might notice that are different than they were this morning. So this morning, when we're here, Brighton early, the water was much calmer, so the winds picked up a little bit over the day. So again, the weather is a bit different. Another thing that you'll notice is the stones that I'm standing on. This'll morning first thing in the morning. They're all nice and wet. And that's just kind of a little ambient extra to the photos that the Stones, they just don't have that right now. So, you know, being here in the morning. And if I was taking pictures of these pebbles, they would just have that little bit of extra pop that they don't necessarily have right now. Um, so that's something that you need to except in your landscape photography that when you're out taking photos, sometimes you're really at the mercy of the weather and the time of day. But, you know, I'm still going to take some photos and we'll see what we can get here in golden hour. So it's starting to get a little bit darker now is we get a little bit closer to sunset, and like I said earlier, you can kind of see a little bit of more color developing in the sky behind me. Um, a lot of times it's the clouds and the environmental aspects of a landscape that really make a difference between a mediocre landscape shot in an amazing landscape shot. So, you know, even though you might have come out here wanting that really bright, shiny, sunshiny, golden hour light and you didn't get it because of the weather, that doesn't necessarily mean that the shoot is a total bust, because some of my favorite shots were really awful. Stormy weather and the clouds and the weather formations really made for some spectacular landscape photos. So even though you know this scene is not looking great to me right now, I'm going to stick with it. And I'm gonna keep shooting through sunset and into blue our now, a couple of tips. Where in your out on location. Um, shooting landscape photos. A lot of times, you're going to be out until after dark, so you want to make sure that you go prepared so bring, you know, ball of water. A flashlight. Ah, way of finding your way back. If you had to go through a long trail to get here to this location, make sure you have compass or GPS or, you know, some way of finding your way back because, you know, I've been hurt a few times after dark and got a little bit lost. And, uh, it's not a not a great way to end your photography session, so I'm gonna stick around. I'm gonna take a few shots of this like it is, and we'll see what we get. 8. Blue Hour - Evening Shadow: It's about 15 20 minutes after sunset now. And, uh, sunset wasn't really spectacular. Nothing really changed. The light just got a little progressively, a little bit dimmer. Um, there's no big fireworks or anything. Ah, a lot of times you get a little bit of read and sun rays of sunshine peeking through the clouds. But you know, that didn't happen today, and that's fine. But right now, as we dip into blue, our, um you can see the sky behind me. There is just chain turned ah, really nice shade of red and purple and magenta, and that's what's really, really great about blue. Our is that you never really know how it's going to turn out. And, ah, lot of times you can't even see the colors until you take the photos on your camera and process them in light room or whatever your post processing workflow is. So I'm gonna keep photographing this scene now. This is actually facing north, and there's not a lot I could do composition wise with this scene. You know, I kind of really want to shoot out towards the lake, but that's just kind of ah, block gray right now, really all the color in the skies off to the north. One technique that you can use during blew our after the sun goes down and it starts to get a little bit darker out is to use some long exposures. So as the light dips down, um, you can start using exposures that air 2nd 2 seconds, 10 seconds and so on. Um And to do that, all you need is a tripod, and you can do it in a program, auto or aperture priority. But firstly, I like to use manual. So I just locked down my shutter or my aperture to something like F eight or so And then as it gets darker, I just look at the screen on the back of the camera and lengthen out that shutter speed to get some long exposure photography during blew our. And what that does is it sort of draws in all the color than the sky, and you'll start to see colors that you can't even see with with your own I. But there there they'll be in your photo. Um, and it also has the advantage of it. Kind of makes the clouds look really wispy. and interesting. And if you have water in your shot like we do here, um, it gives that water that perfectly smooth Look, as your shutter exposure gets longer. So let's one technique that you should definitely try it for the assignments for the class . 9. Final Thoughts and Next Steps: to give you look just a little bit of, ah, wrap up for the class. Um, I hope that I've inspired you to think about landscape photography a little bit differently . Um, you know, a lot of times when you're looking at really great landscape photos, you'll see just this grand epic vista. And I hope through the class that I've shown you that a lot of times it's not necessarily the landscape that you're photographing that's as important. It's light and how you use that light to your advantage in the atmosphere that they like, creates and how you use that to your advantage. That really makes the difference between, you know, a mediocre landscape photo and a great landscape photo. And then once you sort of figure out that you know how to use that lighting to your advantage in your photography, that's when you know when you do find yourself in front of amazing grand epic landscape, you'll be able to take full advantage of that now along those lines, I really encourage you guys to submit the assignment for the class, so that is one blew our photo in the evening or morning and one golden hour photo, which again can be dawn or sunset. Um, like I said, submitting the assignment for the class just really gives you a much better understanding of the concept that we tried to cover. Um, and then along those lines are just gonna leave you with one kind of a short story. That, to me really sums up what landscape photography is all about. So a few years back, my wife and I visited the Grand Canyon and we're staying at the base lodge and we took a bus tour to go see the sunset. It there's a specific point that you go to and everybody goes there to watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon. So we get on this bus with, you know that 50 other tourists and there's 10 buses and all these tourists go to the same place and everybody gets out there tripods, and they're all like fighting each other for space. And everybody's taken photos of the sunset over the Grand Canyon. And I'm having a great time because, you know, how can you mess up the sun set over the Grand Canyon? It's amazing. No matter what you do, you cannot screw up this photo. So I'm taking these great sunset shots. I'm having a lot of fun and then, you know, the sun's getting a little bit lower. All of a sudden, the sun dips down below the horizon, and the second the sun was blow the horizon. All the buses start up their engine, everybody packs up and they all leave. So the next thing you know, my wife hair like the only people left here, all the buses air gone. All the other tourists are gone. And I'm standing here thinking, Hey, this is fantastic. I can shoot wherever I want. There's no people in my shots. That's just amazing. Um, so I take full advantage that I start shooting through the blue hour and literally five, maybe 10 minutes after everybody else left at that scene, the light just completely changed. So the sky I just turned purple and magenta and was really vivid blue and those colors just washed over the desert landscape. You know, if you do have the chance, there's nothing like photographing desert landscapes in blue our But anyways, I came back with, you know, a lot of my absolute favorite photos of the entire trip are from that session after all the other photographers and all the other tourists left. And to me, that's really what explains what the essence of landscape photography is about. It's about being in places and being in situations and understanding the light after everybody else is gone and getting something different. So kind of the end of that story is, you know, as I'm shooting, the stars are coming out. It's getting darker. Eventually my wife kind of tugs on my sleeve and she's like, We're gonna go back And it's kind of that point that we realized that the buses weren't coming back for us. We're completely on our own at this point. We didn't have a flashlight. We didn't have compass. We didn't have any water. I need enough good shoes. I was wearing flip flops and we ended up with a hour or so walk back in the general direction of where we thought the camp was, um, through the pitch Black Desert in Arizona. So you know, last game photography is a lot of fun, and, you know, it's it's stories like that in a little bit of adventure thrown in that really make landscape photography funds. So I hope you guys enjoyed the class and I am really, really looking forward to seeing the assignments that you guys turn in. So good luck and we'll talk to you again soon.