What is Capturing the Glow?

Before you can successfully “capture the glow”, you must first understand what it means. It’s not the same as photographing a reflection. “Capturing the glow” actually means using reflected light when photographing a subject.

Take a look at the two images below:

Maroon Bells, Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado (CO), USA

Antelope Canyon, Arizona (AZ), USA

In the first photo (Snowmass Wilderness), I managed to capture the reflection on the pond. In this case, the subject is a direct representation of the scene. This is an example of photographing the reflection because the subject itself is the reflection. The following sections describe some techniques to effectively capture the glow.

In the second image (Antelope Canyon), the subject is lit by the light that is reflected from the surrounding area. This is an example of capturing the glow.

A long exposure is required for this type of photography

Canyon Glow

The second image above from Antelope Canyon shows our first type of glow: where the light, reflected from the surrounding area, gives the canyon walls their colors. While it is possible to photograph this glow during overcast conditions, you need bright sunny days to capture the intense reflected colors.

The following image titled House on Fire is another shot captured by using the reflected sunlight from the surrounding areas…

House on Fire, Utah, USA

The reflected light in this one is more even; there are no blinding, blown highlights. You can even see some subtle detail in the dark shadows deep in the canyon and in the cracks in the foreground. A long exposure is required for this type of photography; we typically use our Induro carbon fiber tripods to take these types of images.

Glow on Water

The reflective nature of water can create some of the most intense and breathtaking colors.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania, USA

Because water is a moving subject, shutter speed plays an important role in capturing these images. If your shutter speed is too short, it does not capture the colors as you envision them. On the other hand, too long of a shutter speed (or the wrong composition) makes the glow dull or non-existent, as shown in the following three images.

(By the way, to get the desired results, we use our stable Induro carbon fiber tripod when we experiment with shutter speeds.)

Shutter Speed: 0.5s – Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

Shutter Speed: 2.5s Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

Incorrect angle negates the glow – Big Island, Hawaii

Dealing with an extreme dynamic range is necessary when capturing the glow during sunsets or sunrises

Glow on Land

Canyons and water are not the only places where you can capture the glow. While all solid surfaces reflect light, smooth and light-colored surfaces reflect more light than uneven dark ones. Here are some examples of glowing light captured on solid surfaces in Death Valley, California.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, California, USA

Badwater, Death Valley, California, USA

In both of the images above, the foreground is lit by light from the clouds and the surfaces take on the color of reflected light. Due to the smooth nature of the surface, the glow is readily seen and captured. Dealing with an extreme dynamic range is necessary when capturing the glow during sunsets or sunrises; our stable Induro tripods become indispensable for bracketing these images.

Compare the images above to the following one also shot in Death Valley. The uneven, darker surfaces below didn’t capture the glow as effectively as the smooth, lighter surfaces on the sand dunes and salt flats in the previous images.

Darker uneven surface, Death Valley, California

The next time you are out and about taking photographs, look for the glow created by reflected sunlight to get stunning landscape photos with soft contrast and vibrant colors. Feel free to share your own images in the comments below.

Varina and Jay’s Go-To Tripod Combo


Induro CLT 103

BHL1S Ball Head