Factory Butte UT with gold light on top of the butte and dramatic clouds with gold light as well

The golden light in the sky and on the butte really help make this photo of Factory Butte special.

The sky in the landscape determines whether or not you’ve captured the great shot.  The light, the clouds–they matter.   You could say that every landscape photo is essentially a picture of the sky with some other thing added.   And if the sky is drab, so is the photo.

Factory Butte taken with average light.

Factory Butte UT taken with average light yields a photo that is not very worthwhile.

To illustrate the importance of the sky in the landscape, I will show you photos of two potentially compelling objects:  Factory Butte and Mexican Hat.   In dull light they do not make a photo worthy of any mention despite having great potential as landscape subjects.  Factory Butte is a gigantic feature located very near Hanksville, UT.  Mexican Hat is a feature that has the same name as the nearby town in Utah.  Both are interesting places that have the potential to yield great photographs.

The lesson is that to take a great landscape photo one must attend to a few key questions:   Where should I be today at sunrise, sunset, or for the dramatic light?  Am I willing to return to the site on a day when dramatic light is possible?  From which angle will the light show best?

I just picked a couple of comparison shots to make the point, but look at all your landscape photos and ask yourself, would this be better another day, another sky, another light?   The sky in the landscape really makes it happen, and patience is required.   I often wait for hours for the right light or drive considerable distances to get to the right place at the right time for a shot worth keeping.

Mexican Hat UT with sunset light and a peach colored cloud at an angle.

Mexican Hat captured in dramatic light with a colorful cloud as well. This photo is more of a “keeper”.

Mexican Hat in UT. Photo with plain blue sky, poor lighting.

Mexican Hat in drab light. You can prove you were there and saw it, but the photo is terrible.