Flat Light: how to bring your dull images back to life

Flat Light: how to bring your dull images back to life

Is flat light killing your landscape photography? These great camera tips from a seasoned professional photographer will show you how to take control of flat light and use it to your advantage.

Flat Light: how to bring your dull images back to life

All images by Mark Hamblin

If you’ve heard a landscape picture described as ‘flat’, you may be wondering what that actually means. Well flat images are those that look rather lifeless and uninteresting, not because of the content, but because they lack contrast, depth, detail and colour. And this is often down to flat light.

Flat light is light that is diffused, such as on an overcast day, or is illuminating the scene from the same angle as the picture is being taken – when the sun is high behind the camera, for example – will produce landscapes that lack interest.

No one wants to take dull landscape pictures, so here’s how to ensure you achieve scenic success.

How to use flat light to your advantage

How to use flat light to your advantage: step 1

Avoid grey skies
For some subjects such as waterfalls, overcast light from a grey sky is exactly what you need, but for big landscape vistas it’s a curse. As a rule, if the sky looks insipid and lacks any interest then so will your landscape images, so shoot something else instead and return on another day.


How to use flat light to your advantage: step 2

Try side-lighting your landscapes
You need shadows to add character to your landscapes and to bring out shape and form. If the sun is behind you, shadows will be minimal and hidden. Instead, orientate the camera so the landscape is lit by sunlight coming in from either side of the frame.


How to use flat light to your advantage: step 3

Shoot when the sun is low
The periods early and late in the day are often referred to as the golden hours for landscape photography, and for good reason. Not only is the light much warmer at these times, but the sun is also at a low indirect angle, which creates long shadows and adds depth, vibrancy and interest.


The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)
10 quick landscape photography tips
Creative Landscape Photography: master the dark art of shadows and shade
Composing pictures with foreground interest: simple ways to draw in the eye

  • Janet Reed

    So basically use flat light to your advantage by avoiding it?

  • digitalcameraworld

    No, don’t avoid it. Just shoot subjects that are better suited for that type of light.

  • Janet Reed

    OK, but the article doesn’t identify those subjects…

  • Janet Reed

    See, what I’m saying in a way is that the title of the article is a bit of a tease. It suggests that the article is going to tell you how to “bring your dull images back to life,” but what it ends up doing is telling you how to find OTHER lighting situations that allow OTHER images to look great.

  • Yeah, that’s a fair point. The headline can be read a couple ways. I can see how it could imply it’s going to be a photo editing tutorial, when really it’s about how to use flat light for the types of pictures it’s best for. I suppose we should have said ‘scenes’ rather than ‘images’.

  • Janet Reed

    Well, the sub heading “How to use flat light to your advantage” makes you think the article is going to describe using flat light to your advantage, but then it goes on to say “avoid grey skies,” “try side-lighting…,” and “shoot when the sun is low.” None of those describe using flat light. Anyway, enough said from point of view.