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Landscape photography rough guide

Here are a few thoughts on what landscape photography is, what it tries to be and what landscape photographers attempt to create.

What words come to mind when you hear the word ‘Landscape’?
Scenery, nature, wilderness, vista, horizon, foreground, sky, natural light… if they are anything like my list, then you must be pretty cool! Yes landscape is all about capturing the scenery presented to us in the great outdoors. But is it as simple as going outside and pressing the button? No, but you might be lucky. Landscape photography requires careful planning, plenty of travel, knowledge of weather systems, knowledge of nature and knowledge of photography.

landscape vistas

Having said all that, there are no hard and fast rules and the skilled photographer should be able to cope with most weather systems and most landscape vistas to create a pleasing image. Finding vistas requires both accidents and research, or you might have followed a geotag. If you could be at the right place and the right time every time, your landscape photography could be very easy, even with a camera phone.

Timing & Weather

One of the things that I plan for the most is the time of day, I always know what time the sun will set or rise before a photo shoot. If I am shooting near the sea, I try to find out the times of high and low tide. Sometimes the tide level can dictate the type of shot you get, but it is also useful to know whether it is coming in or going out for your own safety reasons. If I am planning a night photography session, then I would scout the area in daylight. Ultimately, a lot of success depends on the weather.

Depending on what type of photograph you want, the weather can play an important role. Some photographers will wait for hours, days, weeks for the right weather conditions, but nearly all weather conditions offer something for the landscape photographer. if you want to capture fine detail in foreground grass and flowers, it is essential that you shoot on a day with no wind. On the other hand, a very windy day with a slow shutter can create an abstract effect like a Monet painting. It is also wise to protect your digital camera from moisture, so if you are shooting in the rain, be sure to wear some protection… but don’t let it stop you from venturing out. Personally, the only times I don’t shoot pictures are in blizzards at night… I may as well point my camera at a piece of paper for half an hour for the same result!

Sharpness

The landscape photographer traditionally attempts to get everything sharp in a scene, from the nearest pebble to the ship on the horizon… everything should be sharp. This not a hard and fast rule though. In order to get everything sharp, photographers use very small apertures etc f/16 or f/22 with a large depth of field (DOF). Focusing becomes easier because the depth of field is large, but the lens will be far from its sharpest at these apertures. most lenses have their optimal sharpness around their middle aperture. So before you go and close right down to f/22, ask yourself if you could make the shot with f/16 or f/11. If your camera is on a tripod at waist level or you are holding it at head level, then you do not need f/22 as the nearest object (the ground) will be a few feet away. Ask yourself if the distant object really need to be crisp sharp if they are only a few pixels across? By having a shallow depth of field (f/2.8 for example) you can really bring the focus of an object in the scene, some twilight or sunset skies look good out of focus. The key is to try different approaches and see which results YOU prefer. If you plan to use small apertures and get everything in focus, them I would advise you to research into the concept of Hyperfocal Distance.

Landscape Composition

The most widely understood rule of composition is also the most widely used – the rule of thirds. Simply put, you divide your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically and the lines and in particularly the intersections are the points where points of interest in an image should fall. A basic example would be to place the horizon on one of the horizontal divides any objects, such as people or rocks or flowers should fall on one of the vertical divides. Some cameras allow you to display the thirds grid on their screen or eyepieces as this is such a widely used guide. This can not only help with composition but can also help with getting your image perfectly straight.

Óxárafoss Waterfall at Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Óxárafoss Waterfall

at Þingvellir National Park Iceland
To get this composition, I waded up to my waist into the icy water. Sometime you have to go the extra mile to get the more extra-ordinary pictures. Look at the picture above and think about what your eye is doing as it moves around the image…. can you track your eye’s movement? does it stop anywhere?

Thirds grid over the image

Thirds grid over the image

Lets look at the picture again with the thirds grid over the top. With the thirds grid over the image, you can see where certain objects fall in the scene and allow the eye to follow them in a natural way. The image conforms to the rule of thirds, but I didn’t really compose it with a thirds grid. I had the camera in a position where the proportions felt right and the height allowed separation between certain important elements of the scene. The rock is the foreground and the wonderful volcanic textures hold the eye, so I got close enough to be able to touch it when I was taking the shot. Hopefully you feel like you can touch it also. Hopefully you will feel that the waterfall is out of arms reach. The foreground is powerful way to communicate depth. Getting this close to the foreground ensures that it dominates the bottom third without crowding the whole scene.

Dynjandi Falls

This photo follows the same Landscape photography principle as the Óxárafoss Waterfall photo. I wasn’t wading in the river, but I had to work very low to the ground to bring the rock and the waterfall together. There was also a lot of spray from the waterfall, so preparation, other skills and experience come in to play.

Dynjandi Rock

I wasn’t close enough to touch the rock, but close enough to capture some important textures. This is one of the most important reasons for getting intimate with your foregrounds. But the most important thing is that I have produced an original image of Dynjandi waterfall. Every photographer who visits will have that great cascade of water in most of their shots. What makes them original is finding a new perspective or context. Using foregrounds is a great way to personalise your landscapes and create something original.

Scenic Exposure

Getting the balance between the sky and the land is an age old problem in landscape photography. The landscape is important to expose correctly because it contains information such as lines and textures. The problem is that is you expose the landscape correctly, the sky becomes over-exposed or washed out. The sky might have been as beautiful or important at the landscape, so it is useful to learn how to overcome it.

  • Filters – polarisers and red filters can help if the sky is blue
  • Graduated filters these are dark at the top and light at the bottom
  • HDR – take bracketed exposures for computer processing
  • Lightroom and photoshop – sometimes you can fix badly exposed images
  • Magic Cloth Technique – apply a cloth of card during a long exposure
  • Blue Pool Dawn

    Exposure balanced with a Magic Cloth

    Landscape photography gear

    by B&H

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