Here are 9 landscape photography tips that could improve your photographs!
1. Take your time
You need a lot of time to adapt yourself to a new location. Before you go there, take a look to a traditional or satellite map and try to figure out possible points of view and interesting spots. It’s very useful to understand the location’s orientation before you are there. When you find yourself on location, look and walk around trying different eye level points. Make test shots and try to find interesting foreground elements.
2. Use a tripod
Usually we use a tripod as a steady base for our camera when slow shutter speeds are required.
Here are other good reasons for using a tripod:
a. It helps for best composition control. We can see the result after a test shot and then correct or improve our frame and composition little by little. Tripod is very useful for setting the horizon at the optimum level.
b. We can shoot various exposure shots from the same point and then edit these pictures in order to produce a high dynamic range image.
3. Look for best light
Every landscape photographer knows about “golden hours” which means early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Indeed, when the sun is low, highlights and shadows become softer, volumes and textures come out better. Keep in mind that during winter the sun appears lower (closer to the horizon) comparing to summer. That means during winter we have plenty of time to work with better (softer) light conditions.
When you wish to include the sun in your composition, be careful about extreme tonal range. In this case it is better to use an ND filter or make multiple exposures and combine the pictures in editing.
You could make experiments after sunset and before getting completely dark. This is also a very interesting time known as “blue hours”. When you shoot on locations with street and building lights, try to find a sweet balance between artificial and natural light as in this photo at right taken in Santorini.
4. Camera settings
Set exposure to manual mode. Close the aperture all the way down if needed, but mind the diffraction effect. Keep in mind that all lenses offer better performance in their medium apertures. Set the desired shutter speed by adding ND filters if needed (see below). For the picture at right, I used 5 stop ND filters for capturing the sea and the walking people movement. Set focus (in auto or manual mode) carefully in order to obtain the depth of field you wish, then switch to manual mode for keeping focus locked. Shoot strictly RAW files, because this is the way to concentrate in your composition and do not care about color temperature, contrast and accurate exposure. Shooting RAW, you can adjust everything concerning the quality of light, sharpness and much more, in editing procedure getting an excellent new “original” file.
5. Mind the weather
Weather forecasts can be very useful for landscape photographers! We can use creatively all weather conditions and phenomena like clouds, fog, storm, wind, etc. Keep in mind that in every place there is a specific direction wind that cleans the atmosphere. When a storm is starting to develop (or after it ends) and the sun is still bright, it’ s time for great pictures. Put on proper clothes to protect yourselves in order to feel comfortable when your are exposed to extreme temperatures for a long time.
6. Composition, frame and center of interest
Try to create an interesting image that directs the human eye to a main subject. Avoid elements that don’t serve the composition and keep inside the frame only useful ones. Usually we avoid to place the main theme in the center of our image because then, our composition becomes boring. The “rule of thirds” generally works well. Try “portrait” frame instead of the obvious “landscape” one and you will find out it can be extremely dynamic! Take good care of the horizon’s position.
7. Mind the foreground and depth of field
Dramatic perspective is very often the key to a successful landscape photography. Using a wide angle lens, we obtain a more dynamic perspective comparing to human eye view, which means close objects become bigger and distant ones become smaller. Interesting elements should exist both in the foreground and the background. As we cannot affect the background, we should take special care of the foreground, because this is what we can control the most by changing our position or our level. If it is needed we could affect the foreground by adding or moving an element to the desired position.
Depth of field should usually be the maximum possible. This is achieved by setting the lens to its hyperfocal distance and the aperture to minimum diameter (max. f-number). Personally I avoid going to maximum f-number, because then, diffraction effect reduces resolution and contrast. Keep in mind that the smaller the sensor size and the focal length of our lens, the bigger the depth of field.
There are not lots of necessary filters, just because digital editing concerning color correction is much more accurate and flexible than them.
There are two categories of filters that cannot be substituted by digital editing:
a. Polarizing filters. They actually reduce reflections, making colors look more saturated. Reducing reflections from sea water (lake or river) transforms it to darker and more transparent. The effect in the sky is again darkened, which makes clouds become more dramatic. The best polarizing effect in the sky is achieved when a right angle (90 degrees) is formed between the sun, ourselves and the particular part of the sky. When this angle is different, the polarizing effect is reduced. In any case we should rotate the polarizing filter after attaching it to the lens and check the result through the lens before shooting.
b. Neutral Density (ND) and Graduated filters. ND filters actually reduce light that enters our lens without affecting color. We use them whenever slow shutter speeds are needed and light is intense. That way, all moving objects including sea or river water, even clouds become blurred in the degree we wish to, creating an artistic effect. ND filters are characterized by the amount of light they reduce, reaching up to ten stops. For the picture at right I used a 10-stop ND filter and a polarizing one.
Tip: first attach camera on tripod, compose your picture and then add ND filter(s).
ND graduated filters reduce the light passing their surface gradually, starting from 1, 2 or 3 stops and ending to transparent for example. They are needed mostly when we wish to balance sky light (brighter) with ground light. They have a rectangle shape and they should be moved slightly inside their holders until we obtain the desired effect. We can find hard graduation (sudden density change) which we can use for example in sunsets or soft graduation (soft density change).We can achieve the same effect with much more accuracy while editing our picture in our software. That means, only normal ND filters are really necessary.
9. Digital editing
This should be considered as part of the job. Knowing about digital editing capabilities can save a lot of time and effort during shooting. Furthermore, digital editing can transform a fine shot to a spectacular piece of art that reflects our taste and esthetics. What we suggest is using adjustment layers in Photoshop, in order to achieve absolute control and flexibility in editing procedure. Softwares have endless capabilities, but keep in mind they are only tools (great tools indeed) that will never displace photographer’s point of view.