Have you ever photographed a beautiful landscape and found that your images come nothing close to capturing what you experienced in person? Do you long to capture the beauty you see in nature as you travel? Would you love to explore landscape photography but feel uncertain where to begin? I have some tips to get you started making the most of your landscape images.
No.01Shoot in Manual mode and RAW format
In order to have full creative control, it is important to carefully choose all of your settings. Shooting in Auto will not yield the results you envision because Auto allows the camera to make all the decisions. Many landscape scenes have such a broad dynamic range of tones that your camera cannot capture it all. It is critical to have a good understanding of the exposure triangle and histogram for successful landscape photography. Set your camera to shoot RAW files in order to keep the maximum amount of data in your images. In changing your files to jpegs, your camera gets rid of some of the data that is found in RAW files. You will want all the data your camera captures as this allows far more flexibility in processing.
No.02Choose your settings carefully.
A solid understanding of the exposure triangle is the first step in choosing your settings. This will allow you to carefully choose the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO that will create the image you envision. If you want to capture an image with the entire frame in focus, it will be necessary to stop down the aperture. An aperture of f/8.0 – f/11.0 is pretty typical for landscapes but sometimes an even higher aperture is needed when foreground objects are very close.
Are you capturing movement in your frame? Do you want to freeze that movement with a fast shutter speed or show motion through a long exposure? Long exposures showing movement of water, clouds, or vehicle lights add creative impact to your image.
No.03Use a tripod
A tripod is a useful and essential tool in landscape photography. A tripod is a necessity when shooting long exposures to keep the camera still. Even using a faster shutter speed, a tripod can help to eliminate the smallest of camera shake. Additionally, there are frequent instances when the dynamic range of tones in a scene requires shooting multiple exposures to capture details from the deep shadows to bright highlights. In order to merge these exposures easily in post processing, a tripod is essential to make sure the frames are aligned.
No.04Watch your horizon
A simple way to strengthen your composition is to place the horizon along one of the horizontal lines of the Rule of Thirds. While there are always exceptions to any rule, we typically want to avoid placing our horizon line in the middle of our frame. Another alternative is to place the horizon very low or high in the frame for a more extreme composition. Consider whether your sky or your foreground has more impact and place the horizon to emphasize the interest in the frame.
No.05Light is key
Effective use of light is important in creating dynamic landscapes. Consider how the light enhances the landscape you are shooting. What kind of mood are you trying to create and what type of light will help you achieve your vision? There is a reason sunrise, sunset, the blue hour, and even after dark, are the most frequent times landscape photographers choose to shoot. The light is colorful, interesting and dynamic. This does not mean that daylight hours do not have potential. Bright, hard light from the sun can emphasize interesting shadows and textures in ways that the softer light of the golden hour does not. Additionally, skies with unique atmosphere lead to dynamic daytime images.
No.06Take advantage of atmosphere
An easy way to create more compelling landscapes is by observing and taking advantage of interesting atmosphere conditions. The gorgeous colors and light of sunrise and sunset certainly qualify here but are not the only examples. A sky filled with puffy or wispy white clouds, or ominous storm clouds will create significantly more interest and emotion in a viewer than an overcast or clear blue sky.
No.07Composition & depth
It can be easy to set up your tripod and stay put in one spot. Avoid this tendency and force yourself to move around. Look for different perspectives, experiment with focal length, and move your tripod up and down to see what best captures the landscape in front of you. Survey the scene and consider how you can frame your image to add depth. Leading lines, framing opportunities and foreground interest all add depth to landscape images. The goal is to create dimension in the frame and draw the viewer in.
No.08Invest in filters
There are several filters that play an instrumental role in elevating landscapes images to the next level. Polarizers will cut through haze and glare and bring out the vibrancy of colors in an image. They are particularly helpful in enhancing a blue sky and defining detail in the clouds. Polarizers work best at a 90 degree angle to the sun and should be used cautiously with super wide angle lenses. With these very wide focal lengths, the polarizing effect can be inconsistent across the frame and produce some odd effects.
A Neutral Density filter is essential for creating long exposures when it is necessary to block out some light in order to slow down the shutter speed. A Graduated Neutral Density filter will block out light in half of the frame, neutralizing the exposure between the highlights and shadows. They are especially helpful during sunrise and sunset when it can be difficult to maintain detail in the shadows without blowing out the highlights of the sky. Place the clear side on the dark area of the frame and the darker size over the brighter sky. This will allow you to expose the shadows brighter without blowing out the highlights.
No.09Learn your processing tools
When I am shooting, I photograph with my final vision in mind, knowing that post processing is essential to this goal. Understanding my post processing capabilities allows me to shoot a RAW file that serves as the perfect base to get me to my final image. Proficiency in your editing software will allow you to take this approach.
No.10Be patient and flexible
As landscape photographers, we are at the mercy of the weather and nature. We have no control over the light or sky. We are simply observers ready to capture the wonder of mother nature, the beauty of the world, and that moment when all things come together to create an awe inspiring scene. This requires flexibility and willingness to run out and shoot when conditions are optimal and patience to wait and watch as nature unfolds its wonder. At times our efforts may fall flat, sending us home frustrated. But then, in another moment, we are witness to an incredible scene, leaving us breathless to capture it just as we saw it. And it is those moments that keep us rising before the sun, reaching for the camera, racing out the door, and waiting patiently for that perfect moment, again and again.