So what's the good news?
First, photographs heighten the drama by adding more contrast than your eye sees. That's not a bad thing! The image below is a classic black and white example. It's all about the juxtaposition of bright and dark edges. I intentionally used the heightened contrast of the camera to make this landscape seem more dramatic than it actually looked.
Last time I talked about how automatic cameras evaluate everything in the frame and set their exposure so that the average brightness of the scene is halfway between pure black and pure white, a so-called "normal" exposure. The problem is, "normal" exposures can be pretty boring. Image start to get interesting when you push them to be darker ("low-key") or brighter ("high-key") than average. If you look below at the "histogram" for this picture, (a graph of the tones from pure black on the left all the way to pure white on the right, where the vertical axis represents how many pixels there are at each level of brightness) you'll see that there's a big clump of fairly dark tones. Those are the grassy areas.
Tones in Isle of Skye #90, 2006
The trick is this: you have to evaluate by eye whether your image is average, on the dark side or on the bright side. If it's anything other than dead average, you have to override your camera's automatic exposure mechanism and tell it to deliberately under- or over-expose. This feature is called "exposure compensation." Find where it is on your camera and start using it until it's second nature! (It will be a little ± button and a horizontal scale, usually -2 to +2, with normal exposure falling right in the middle. Each whole number makes your exposure twice as bright or dark.)
exposure compensation scale
If you're photographing something bright, like snow, you have to tell the camera not to freak out that the snow is so bright, not to darken it down to middle grey, but to over-expose so the snow is rendered nice and bright. If you're photographing someone wearing a dark jacket at night, you'll have to tell the camera to under-expose so night still looks like night!
Remember: cameras are dumb. They conspire to give you competently exposed pictures, but competent isn't necessarily interesting. If I had let my camera determine the "correct" exposure, I would have ended up with something like this:
Because I knew that by creating a lot of dark areas, the water would appear to be brighter and more dramatic.
Rembrandt understood this trick very well, that everything is about context. If you want to make the water "pop" or appear to glow with light, surround it with something dark. His studio portraits are all about subjects just grazed by the annunciation of a beam of light in a dark, murky room. You feel the light all the more because he's careful to surround it with a whole lot of dark browns and blacks.
Forget about the idea of a camera being able to record reality. It can't anyway. Nor can you, as I'm going to keep trying to convince you. Even photojournalists, who you probably think of as being obligated to photograph things "as they were," understand very well how to juice up the drama in their pictures through creative exposure and composition.
If you want to make pictures as dramatic as this, you have to become a light hunter.
Next, we'll analyze how this "light hunting" played out in a few example images!