How to Control Tricky Lighting in Landscape Photography

In Landscape/Nature by Jim Harmer6 Comments

How to control lighting for landscape when there are varying brightness levels in the scene.

A simple tip for shooting in tough lighting conditions.

While shooting in Nauvoo, I found a beautiful stone bridge built by Mormon pioneers over 150 years ago.  The small rock bridge included a small waterfall underneath it, so I knew it was time to take out the camera and start shooting.

Unfortunately, as soon as I got underneath the bridge and waded into the water, I could see that this was going to be a very tough photo to take.  The dark bridge in the early morning meant a shutter speed of 30 seconds was needed to expose the dark rock on the bridge.  However, the long exposure made the outside area completely white.  I usually use a graduated neutral density filter in situations like this, but that would have darkened the top of the bridge as well. 

The best option here was HDR, but not the type of HDR that requires Photomatix.  I simply took five exposures that correctly illuminated the different areas of the photo, and then masked them together in Photoshop.  This technique drastically improved the photo and helped me to control the brightness, but unfortunately I still couldn't quite even things out.

I was only in the area for one morning, so this was my only opportunity to shoot.  The resulting photo (below) is the compilation of the 5 exposures manually masked together in Photoshop.  This was certainly an improvement on the first photo (featured at the top left), but I still didn't quite get the masterpiece I was hoping for.  The real answer to this problem would be to come back EARLY in the morning when the outside area would not be so bright.

Landscape photo of a waterfall underneath a bridge in Nauvoo.

A VERY tough lighting situation underneath a bridge shooting into the sun. I'm convinced that it simply isn't possible to shoot this one correctly. I shot 7 exposures for this shot and still couldn't hold back the bright sunlight and match it with the dark bridge.

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Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on


  1. Hi,

    What if you use CPL for this purpose? Or shot one shot with ND filter and then mask this shot with rest of 7 shots.


  2. I actually like the darker exposure that didn’t require all the post-processing more. Sometimes an air of mystery is a good thing!

  3. I like the original better, too. The contrast of the white water against the dark rock and the contrast of the well-lit wall versus the dark side of the wall give the photo a lot more depth, IMHO. The combined one gives everything a very even exposure, but that’s not what it would look like in real life.

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