Sunrise, Sunset: Breathtaking Natural Light Photography

Light is, of course, an essential element of photography. But when photographers get creative with the quality of light in their images, it becomes clear just how big a difference it can make in the overall mood. In fact, in certain conditions the light can almost become a character itself, lending a distinct personality to every photo. With its many personalities and endlessly changing appearance, natural light can turn a ho-hum image into a stunning one. These beautiful nature photographs illustrate just a small sampling of the natural light conditions that occur on our planet every day.

Nature’s Palette

(images via: Hartwig HKD, Jean Goff, popejon2, cobalt123, Christian Guthier, Trey Ratcliff)

Painting with artificial light is an art form most of us know well, but sometimes natural light paints its own pictures. These studies in natural light capture the quiet intensity of the sun’s rays and the warm gentle touch of shadows.

Sunlight Through Clouds

(images via: dubbs, Paulo Brandao, popejon2, l1mey)

When the sun casts long fingers of light down through the clouds, it is special enough to make even the most experienced nature lover stop and take notice. Called Jacob’s Ladders or God’s Fingers by many, the technical term is Crepuscular rays. No matter what you call them, they are beautiful examples of nature’s own art.

Northern Lights

(images via: localsurfer, Nick Russill, Beverly, Petur Valgeirsson)

The Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) is a seemingly magical light display that turns a normal Northern sky into a light show like no other. The amazing colored lights are caused by natural reactions in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, but they were once believed to be caused by reflections from the armor of charging Valkyries.

The Interplay of Light and Water

(images via: Prabhu, Brian Auer, popejon2, Raymond Bosma, Forest Gilbakian, Vestman, Robert Wallace)

Light and water complement each other so well: reflections become whole other worlds and the horizon melts into the sea. Soft light touches the water to paint in a wholly soothing palette, while bright light bounces energetically off of every surface in sight.

Light Shining Through Trees

(images via: Mike, Ginny, Frank Wuestefeld, ViaMoi)

Light is one of the most ever-changing parts of nature, while trees are much more stable and semi-permanent. The combination of strong, rigid trees and ephemeral beams of light makes for unforgettable photographs. These are fine examples of a breathtaking moment captured by a photographer with perfect timing.

Sunrise and Sunset

(images via: dj@oxherder arts, Andre Theriault, Kipp Baker, ericdege)

Sunrise and sunset are two of the most perfect times of day to catch a breathtaking nature photograph. For a few short minutes at the beginning and end of every day, the world is bathed in splendid transitional sunlight unlike the light at any other time of day. The warm light transforms nearly any scene into one of serenity or energy, depending on which daily transition is being caught on camera.

Rainbows

(images via: Harald Hoyer, Tym, Marc Crumpler, Sarah Macmillan)

The elusive rainbow is one of nature’s loveliest little surprises. Atmospheric conditions and the viewer’s position have to be just right for the optical phenomenon to form…and when rainbows do appear, it’s like natural fireworks. These mystical colors in the sky have long been part of the mythology of nearly every culture on the planet.

Light Pollution

(images via: Jose Angel, Brian, Robert Snache)

As stunning as natural light is in photography, unnatural light can be impressive as well. These images all refer to light from nearby towns and cities as light pollution, which is a term used to describe artificial light that obscures the view of the natural world. Light pollution is a big problem for those who live in or near cities and long to look at the stars. But for all of its negative connotations, even light pollution can be beautiful in its own way.

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