This week’s lesson is on how to photograph landscapes. We are going to give you some tips and hints to help you to capture that perfect moment and scene. Many budding photographers, as well as those who have been taking pictures for many years have a love affair with landscapes.
There is just something about a beautiful scene and how it looks at different times of the day, as well as different times of the year. You also get to commune with nature and scope out that perfect angle for your best shot. Sometimes waiting just a few hours can make a difference between a good shot and a truly great one, so patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to landscape photography.
Here we go with some best practices for landscape photography:
Locating your dream spot
Before you can start taking all of those beautiful and creative landscape images, you have to decide where you are going to go to do so. Do you want to go somewhere far away like Iceland or Europe? Or do you want to try to find the uniqueness in your own backyard or local countryside?
If you want some inspiration, try looking at the work of some professional photographers that you admire. That’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with using their shots to get some ideas of your own. You can also join local photography clubs, go look at books in the library or look at online forums to get some ideas for your pictures.
If nothing else, just try driving around and seeing what pops up. It’s possible to find great places to take landscape shots that don’t have to cost you a fortune in travel fees.
Maximizing the Depth of Field
Unlike some kinds of photography, when shooting a landscape area you will want as much of your shot in focus as possible. After all, you are shooting the scene of the entire area in your view and you don’t want to miss something. That means when it comes to adjusting your camera’s depth of field that you want to pick a small aperture setting.
This means choosing a large number on the aperture setting of the camera because this lets in the least amount of light and gives you the greatest depth of field. However, one caution is that since you have less light coming in to hit the image sensor, you will need to either bring up your ISO and/or lengthen the shutter speed.
If you want to try different view, practice using aperture priority to give you a way to alter your depth of field to see how it makes the shot different. For instance, you can shoot a wide shot with the view all in focus and set the aperture to a setting somewhere in between f11 and f22 or get creative and use a wider aperture setting for a more shallow depth of field.
In the end, it’s your choice and there is nothing wrong with experimenting and taking lots of shots. If it doesn’t work out, you can always delete the file when you get back and start going through your photos, but if you never take the shot you can’t find out if you are missing that perfect photo.
Always Use a Tripod
In my experience using a tripod for most shots is best so there won’t be any vibration or movement from a shaky handheld camera. When it comes to shooting landscape photography this is even more important. That’s because having to use a longer shutter speed and a small aperture means the camera needs to be as still as possible during the exposure time.
You should also adjust your tripod so that the height will give the optimal perspective. If you get it too close to the ground it can cause your view to appear flat. If it is too high it might look off center or the foreground could look strange. Take the time to get just the right height for the best results in your situation.
It’s also nice if you combine this with using a cable or a wireless shutter release tool so the camera can remain motionless even more so. You should also make sure your camera is secure as you can make it and that there isn’t anything like too much wind that can knock the tripod over. If the tripod has an option for a split level setup, then this can help you make sure the composition is even and looks straight.
Find Your Perfect Focal Point
Anytime you take a picture you need some type of focal point. That rule doesn’t go away when it comes to shooting landscape photos. After all, you don’t want people looking at your masterpiece and not having something there to focus on or they will not be very impressed.
Your shots should instead focus on some great aspect of the landscape like a beautiful sunset, a fallen tree with moss growing on it, a cool looking rock or the way the shadows are falling. Remember your basic photography rules and think of how the rule of thirds can fall into play in how you choose your angle for that perfect shot.
Don’t forget about the foreground
One factor that many may forget about that can give your images a wow factor if used correctly is the foreground of the shot. Take your time and find a way to put the points of interest in the landscape inside your shot. This helps to give you a focus of interest, as well as helping you to create that perfect sense of depth.
Don’t forget about the sky
Another thing that you need to consider is the sky in your landscape images. In most of these types of pictures either the sky or the foreground is the dominant feature. You need to choose one or the other so your image won’t be blah and boring.
Let’s say the sky is rather blah and not that interesting. So it doesn’t become your point of focus, try putting your horizon in the top third (rules of third again!) of the image area. But if the sky contains something like the blues and greens of a gorgeous aurora borealis like some of the images I’ve seen coming out of Iceland lately, then be sure to make that your focus.
You can also use filters such as a polarizing filter to add some contrast and color if the situation lends itself to it.
Leading Lines are important factors
Leading lines are another basic rule of photography that is important when it comes to taking landscape photos. You must always be thinking about where you want the viewer’s eyes to be looking when they look at your image. Of course, you can use the sky or foreground to do this, however, it’s more dramatic at times if you can somehow give your viewer some leading lines to follow. That’s because this provides some depth to the shot, plus it can be part of your focus of attention all by itself if it somehow makes a pattern that the viewer can immediately see and recognize.
Be Sure to Capture Movement
You may think that landscape photography is all about static scenes of the environment around you, but there are ways to incorporate some movement into these views and that will help to give your shots that wow factor because it will help to add some emotion, as well as a point of focus for the viewer.
Some examples that simulate movement are if you take a shot of trees blowing in the wind, a flock of birds moving over the area, the cascading flow of a beautiful waterfall or even a cloud formation. Look for these things when setting up your shots.
Note: In order to capture that movement you may need to set a longer shutter speed, use a smaller aperture; or consider using an appropriate filter. You could even take shots at different times of the day in order to try out different lighting situations.
Let the weather work for you, not against you
Beginners sometimes get stuck in a rut and are only looking for landscape photos during good weather, such as a beautiful sunny morning. However, you can shoot an entirely different and sometimes more dramatic shot if you consider taking your photos in all sorts of weather situations.
If you are looking to add emotion to your images, then sometimes the bad weather with impending storms, dark clouds, misty rain or snow coming down can once again give your shots that wow factor you are always trying to capture. Be sure to look for things like emerging rainbows after a rain, or the sun peeking out from a cloud, or anything else striking that catches your eye.
Find the “golden hour” of landscape photography
Some photographers find that their favorite times of the day to take landscape shots are dawn and dusk. This is due to the availability of the light and the times that certain kinds of lighting angles can really change a blah scene into something more interesting. Decide for yourself by trying out these “golden hours” of opportunities.
Whatever time of the day you decide is your favorite time to shot your images, be sure to get the shot with the light behind you or to your side for the best possible lighting. Try a few angles to see which one comes out the best and don’t be stingy with the amount of shots you take, especially if you are using a digital camera.
Don’t forget about the horizon angle
When taking landscape pictures you never want to forget where the horizon is located in your image angle. You need to first make sure the angle of the horizon is straight and second that you are once again using the rule of thirds. A nice natural place to put the horizon is either at the top or the bottom of the shot unless there is some really striking part of the scene that causes you to want to put it in the middle.
Be sure to set up that perfect point of view
It is always best not to be in a hurry when setting up that perfect landscape shot. You can’t get that fantastic and unique image if all of your shots look like a postcard instead of giving your viewer something unique and special.
Be sure instead to take your time and really study the area so you can choose the best possible point of view. Try walking around a bit, or possibly getting down on your knees or even climb up a nearby hill. You never know when moving just a few feet in one direction or the other could be the difference between ho hum images and exciting shots.
Watch what you are doing at all times
While it is important to know how to set up your landscape shots and get the angle you want, it’s even more important to be aware of your surroundings. For instance, it’s not going to do you any good if you are looking into the viewfinder for that perfect shot and you step off the edge of a cliff trying to set it up!
Another thing to consider is that you need to be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. If you are out in the middle of nowhere taking pictures and it suddenly starts storming or even if the sun is beating down bright and beautiful, you need to be ready to meet the challenges of that weather.
In the case of the bright sunshine you need to have sunscreen and perhaps a hat on your heat to protect you from possible sunburn. Be sure to bring water so you don’t get dehydrated, along with a jacket in case it suddenly gets cold. If you think it may rain, then bring a raincoat for more than just the camera! It doesn’t hurt to have a few granola or energy bars in your pocket either.
The bottom line is to always be prepared for anything by packing an emergency kit when you go out scouting for or taking landscape photography.
You also need to be aware of the terrain and the distances you may be walking around carrying all of your gear. Be sure to wear proper footwear that is both comfortable and practical for hiking and walking long distances. If you are truly serious about getting that perfect wowing shot, you have got to be willing to trek around to get it.
All in all, landscape photography can give you many opportunities to get some beautiful and memorable shots. Just be patient, and be prepared.