My first love in photography when I first got my trusty old Minolta SLR as a teenager was. There’s something about getting out in nature with the challenge of capturing some of the amazing beauty that you see. Perhaps it fits with my personality type – but I loved the quietness and stillness of waiting for the perfect moment for the shot, scoping out an area for the best vantage point and then seeing the way that the light changed a scene over a few hours.
While I don’t get as much time as I’d like for Landscape Photography these days – I thought I’d jot down a few of the lessons that I learned in my early years of doing it. I’d love to hear your own tips in comments below.
1. Maximize your Depth of Field
While there may be times that you want to get a little more creative and experiment with narrow depth of fields in your Landscape Photography – the normal approach is to ensure that as much of your scene is in focus as possible. The simplest way to do this is to choose a small Aperture setting (a large number) as the smaller your aperture the greater the depth of field in your shots.
Do keep in mind that smaller apertures mean less light is hitting your image sensor at any point in time so they will mean you need to compensate either by increasing your ISO or lengthening your shutter speed (or both).
PS: of course there are times when you can get some great results with a very shallow DOF in a landscape setting (see the picture of the double yellow line below).
2. Use a Tripod
As a result of the longer shutter speed that you may need to select to compensate for a small aperture you will need to find a way of ensuring your camera is completely still during the exposure. In fact even if you’re able to shoot at a fast shutter speed the practice of using a tripod can be beneficial to you. Also consider a cable or wireless shutter release mechanism for extra camera stillness.
Related Reading – Introduction to Tripods
3. Look for a Focal Point
All shots need some sort of focal point to them and landscapes are no different – in fact landscape photographs without them end up looking rather empty and will leave your viewers eye wondering through the image with nowhere to rest (and they’ll generally move on quickly).
Focal points can take many forms in landscapes and could range from a building or structure, a striking tree, a boulder or rock formation, a silhouette etc.
Think not only about what the focal point is but where you place it. The rule of thirds might be useful here.
Related Reading – Focal Points in Photography
4. Think Foregrounds
One element that can set apart your landscape shots is to think carefully about the foreground of your shots and by placing points of interest in them. When you do this you give those viewing the shot a way into the image as well as creating a sense of depth in your shot.
Related Reading: Getting Foregrounds right in photography
5. Consider the Sky
Another element to consider is the sky in your landscape.
Most landscapes will either have a dominant foreground or sky – unless you have one or the other your shot can end up being fairly boring.
If you have a bland, boring sky – don’t let it dominate your shot and place the horizon in the upper third of your shot (however you’ll want to make sure your foreground is interesting). However if the sky is filled with drama and interesting cloud formations and colors – let it shine by placing the horizon lower.
Consider enhancing skies either in post production or with the use of filters (for example a polarizing filter can add color and contrast).
One of the questions to ask yourself as you take Landscape shots is ‘how am I leading the eye of those viewing this shot’? There are a number of ways of doing this (foregrounds is one) but one of the best ways into a shot is to provide viewers with lines that lead them into an image.
Lines give an image depth, scale and can be a point of interest in and of themselves by creating patterns in your shot.
Related Reading: Using lines in photography (mini-series)
7. Capture Movement
When most people think about landscapes they think of calm, serene and passive environments – however landscapes are rarely completely still and to convey this movement in an image will add drama, mood and create a point of interest.
Examples – wind in trees, waves on a beach, water flowing over a waterfall, birds flying over head, moving clouds.
Capturing this movement generally means you need to look at a longer shutter speed (sometimes quite a few seconds). Of course this means more light hitting your sensor which will mean you need to either go for a small Aperture, use some sort of a filter or even shoot at the start or end of the day when there is less light.
8. Work with the Weather
A scene can change dramatically depending upon the weather at any given moment. As a result, choosing the right time to shoot is of real importance.