What is Landscape Photography?
In the simplest of terms it is the art of making images of the everyday scenes around you, whether they are all encompassing vistas, such as a dramatic mountain scene, or the tiniest of details like the dew drop on a flower petal. Landscape photography is usually one of the first arenas that photographers get into. However, it requires a lot of patience, practice, and perseverance.
Generally there are a few “Rules” or tips to take into account when you are going out to make your images. Gear, Location, and Composition all play a major role in putting together a top quality landscape image. I’m not going to get into various camera settings in this article, but rather I will leave that for the next. I will however remind you to remember the exposure triangle (ISO/Aperture/shutter speed). HDR, Exposure Bracketing, and other composite techniques will all be discussed in my next article.
I’m also going to presume for the sake of this article, that you’re already shooting in RAW format, you are shooting in full manual focus, and your camera settings are in manual.
While many people believe that you need the most expensive stuff to go out and make gallery quality images, that’s not always the case. I have seen images that would be a welcome addition to any gallery taken with a cell phone. Now that said, it does help to have some essential gear to make your images the very best they can be.
1. A good study tripod is essential to having your images come out tack sharp. Make sure all of the parts are tight, and if you have the option of being able to weight it at the center of the column, all the better. The more stable the tripod is, the less shake you’ll get in your images. While that might seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how many people don’t use a tripod and often miss the focus just enough to blur the shot.
2. Use some kind of shutter release. You can get fancy with an Intervalometer release, cable release, IR remotes, or just use the 2 or 10-second delay when you hit your shutter button. The point is to remove your hand from the camera to reduce the possibility of camera shake. Every time you touch your camera, there is a bit of shake introduced that will blur your image just the slightest bit.
3. Invest in quality lenses. That’s not to say the kit lens that comes in your kit is a good lens, but there are higher quality glass that is well worth the investment if you are planning on primarily shooting landscapes. This is the same for portraits, interior, night, and well pretty much all areas of photography.
4. Using filters, while still debatable, can help you get the right shot in camera. Using an ND (Neutral Density) filter will help even the light during the brightest times of day, can give you that silky look of running water, or smooth out small waves on a body of water. Polarizing filters can help bring out colors washed out in harsh sunlight, but you must realize this: there is a strong possibility that you will lose some of your sharpness to your image when you use filters. If you don’t need them, don’t use them, and never stack them.
Scouting your location is one of the most often overlooked steps of creating some stunning high quality images. Carrying your gear around whilst tromping around the bush is both tiring, and increases the risk of damage to your gear, so it is wise to familiarize yourself with your subject areas beforehand. Google maps, Google Earth, researching sites, or just going for a drive are great ways to scout locations.
Is your vantage point one that has been “shot to death” by the masses? Can you move to a different area to get a more unique angle on a scene that has been over done? What does it take to get there? I have been bit on getting to a spot to go shoot only to realize too late that it’s not a quick walk, but rather a 2-hour hike through the woods to get my desired location.
You will also need to be aware of sunset and sunrise times. The Golden Hour (1 hour after sunrise, and 1 hour prior to sunset) are the most desirable times for shooting as it provides a beautiful soft light, and it is one of the most referred to times for shooting. But, don’t forget about The Blue Hour… the hour before sunrise, and the hour after sunset, are also incredible times for shooting. There is a plethora of apps and websites that will let you know when these times are, so I’ll leave to you to decide which one works best. Now that said, don’t be afraid of shooting in the mid-day light! Sometimes the contrasting shadows and blown out highlights can create some stellar images
There are many aspects that go into composing a great image, and you will hear numerous statements regarding these; Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Foreground Subject, etc. I’m just going to talk to these 3 points for now, but I will touch on other compositional tools in the next article.
1. The Rule of Thirds is one the most used (paradoxically, also the most “broken” rule) compositional tool to a photographer. Some cameras show the 3x3 grid in live view, but if yours doesn’t, just imagine a grid overlaid on your image. Try to place the primary subject matter on the intersecting lines of the grid. This will provide a guide for your viewer’s eye.
2. Leading Lines are any line that draws the viewer deeper into your image, or leads the eye to an interesting subject in your image. This can literally be anything from a stream, the edge of a hill, line of trees, anything that guides the eye from one area of an image to another.
3. Foreground Subject, while not crucial to making a top quality image, it sure helps… A LOT! In fact, having a solid foreground can make or break an image. Choose your foreground focus carefully, because if it doesn’t help what you’re trying to convey with the background your image will fall flat or be confusing to the eye and frustrate your viewer. It’s amazing how just a step to the side, or moving your camera up a couple inches will change the relation of foreground to background and take an ok image to a whole new level of awesome. One rule of composition that you really don’t want to break often (although it works sometimes) is having a diagonal relationship to your background. Situate your foreground focus off to the side of your primary background. This will draw your viewer’s eye up and across the image creating a more interesting image.