The secret of a sharper landscape photo is something very few of us think about. Honestly, we can’t be blamed. I mean, how many people really shoot a landscape with a flash or artificial light? No one does, and we’re not saying you should, but we’re saying the idea comes from there. This idea is that of specular highlights. Specular highlights are little details that come out when light is shined on a subject. To get that light naturally, there needs to be, well, light! And so the golden hour and other times where there is sufficient light on a subject is when you’ll get the best balance of both details and aesthetics.
If you’re still not understanding the idea, ask yourself a simple question: is it better and easier to see when there is light or when there is no light? And more specifically, does one see more details in a subject with direct lighting or diffused lighting? The answer will always be direct lighting. So, with landscape photography, not only are you stopping your lens down, but you also need to ensure there is enough direct light hitting your subject. When the light is directly above your scene though, you lose the aesthetics. For this reason, the light should be both directly hitting your subject and also aesthetically pleasing. The best time for this is the golden hour.
The images above showcase landscapes where the scene is much sharper and more detailed because of the light hitting them. This is done naturally in-camera. That results in the post-production potential of even sharper photos.
In contrast, this image at night is sharp. But, it could have been even sharper if there was flashlight lighting put onto it. Many more details would have come out with ease.