If you’ve been following our photography series, chances are that you have a new DSLR and young children that you want to photograph. Landscape photography may or may not be on your radar yet. But at some point, you’re bound to take a trip to the mountains or come across a beautiful ocean. You’ll look over at your camera and think, “well as long as we’re here, I might as well take a few photos.”
Before that day comes, there’s a few things that you need to know about landscape photography. For one, it’s very different from portrait photography, but that’s just the start of it. Today’s post uncovers 10 tips to photographing landscapes.
#1. Time of Day
Great landscape photography applies many of the same rules we use with portrait photography. It takes great planning, preparation and patience to get just the right shot. You can spend all the time in the world worrying about the right gear, focal lengths or f-stops, but if you forgot to check the weather forecast or didn’t time your photos appropriately, you may be disappointed in the final outcome.
We recommend shooting an hour after sunrise or before sunset. The sun is much lower in the sky and therefore, offers much longer and softer shadows. The light also provides a warmer color which can make your landscape scene look much more inviting than a scene captured during the midday sun.
What you’ll want to do is arrive on location well before that “golden hour” to set yourself up (tripod, camera, filters, etc). Then wait for the light. We promise, it’s worth it.
#2. Use a Wide Angle Lens
Wide-angle lenses and landscape photography go hand-in-hand since they allow you to get more of a scene into the frame. If you’re shooting with a full frame camera, this means a focal length shorter than 50mm. If you’re shooting with a cropped sensor camera, this means anything shorter than a 35mm. However, the most popular wide angle lenses would be those with a 21 or 24mm focal length. For that matter, you can even bring out your 18-55mm kit lens, but we prefer prime lenses since they tend to produce much sharper images.
When we talk about composition, the first thing that comes to mind is the “Rule of Thirds.” Using the rule of thirds is simple, but effective, whether you’re shooting landscapes, portraits or anything in between. When you’re composing an image, imagine that it’s divided up into three equal horizontal sections and three vertical sections. Then, as you frame your shot, try to arrange key elements along one of the lines or “thirds.” Where possible, position important features where the lines intersect each other.
Using the rule of thirds can turn what could easily be a snapshot into a work of art. Alternatively, you could go for a symmetrical composition. If you go this route, be sure to pay special attention to every little detail so that the image is balanced and free of any distractions.
You could also shift the balance of the image to an extreme. For example, maybe you shoot a tiny piece of land with the main focus of the image being on the beautiful sky above. These types of shots can create a lot of drama and visual appeal. For added effect, use an individual or couple to add an emotional element to your image.
#4. Include Foreground Interest
One of the most common mistakes people make when photographing landscapes is not including visual interest within the foreground of the image. We get all excited to see a beautiful ocean or mountain view and forget about photographing what’s right in front. In fact the foreground can often be what draws our eye upward to whatever it is that initially grabbed our interest enough to pick up our camera.
Foreground interest can improve your landscape photos in a number of ways beyond just filling an empty space. For one, it can give the viewer a sense of scale. But it also helps train the viewer’s eye to move around the image from near to middle to far, allowing the viewer to feel as though they were there with you.
When you’re photographing a landscape, consider the scene and what might be nearby to include in the foreground of your composition. Details such as gates, signs, flowers, rocks or branches can make for a beautiful foreground.
Also consider how you might use the foreground to create leading lines. Streams, footpaths, fences and walls that extend into your landscape will draw the viewers eyes into the photo. Alternatively, an empty foreground can also create impact. Rather than looking for something to put into an image just to take up space, the use of positive space to direct the viewer’s attention towards the main focus of the image can be quite useful.
#5. Use a Tripod
The easiest way to achieve sharp, shake-free landscape images is by using a tripod. Pair that tripod with a remote shutter release so that you can trigger the shutter without touching the camera. If you don’t have a remote, you can also use your camera’s self timer.
#6. Shoot Vertically
When shooting landscapes, for some reason, we all seem to think that we’re limited to shooting in landscape (horizontal) mode. And while shooting horizontally will most often be the best option for landscapes, don’t forget to turn your camera vertically every once in a while. If you’re not sure whether or not an image will look best in landscape or portrait mode, then shoot both.
#7. Don’t Rush
Landscape photography simply can’t be rushed. Shooting a brilliant landscape photo takes time. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to choose your location, set up, and allow yourself plenty of time to move around and shoot from a variety of angles.
If you must bring the family, consider choosing a location that will allow them to explore and play in their own way. Bring along some simple activities such as sidewalk chalk or bubbles, or scope out a location that has a playground close by. Even better, just leave them at home.
#8. Proper Exposure
One of the trickier things about landscape photography is properly exposing the entire image, especially considering that the land and the sky are normally very different in terms of how they need to be exposed. For example, if you meter for the sky, the land portion of your image will likely be too dark; if you meter for the land, the sky’s highlights will likely be blown out.
There are 2 possible ways to control your exposure in this situation: HDR and graduated filters.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) involves taking multiple exposures (at least 3) and merging them together in post-processing. One exposure for the brightest part of the image (sky), one for the darkest areas (land) and then one somewhere in between. If you’re going to attempt HDR, you definitely need a tripod.
Graduated Neutral Density filters are another way to control your exposure in camera versus post-processing. These filters are kind of like putting a pair of sunglasses on your camera, but only on the brightest part so that your camera sees a compressed range at the same exposure. Graduated filters work best when there is a well-defined horizon between the land and the sky.
#9. Use a Narrow Aperture
In order to get the foreground, background and everything in the middle of a landscape photo sharp and in focus, you must use a narrow aperture (f/22). You may even want to go back to aperture priority mode while you get the hang of using a narrow aperture versus the wide apertures you may have been using to photograph your children. Just be sure to pay attention to your histogram to retain your highlights.
And while you’re at it, use as low an ISO as possible. This combination definitely requires a tripod.
#10. Don’t forget to Edit
The photography world has mixed opinions about whether or not to edit landscape photos. There are those who prefer to capture everything in camera and be true to the reality in which they captured. These photographers see any significant editing as cheating. Others will take their photos to the other extreme.
We’re not suggesting you do one thing or another. Your photos are your photos and you should do with them whatever you want. However, in order to get the most out of your photos, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. RAW images allow much greater control in editing, and can make all the difference in turning a decent shot into a brilliant photograph. We’ll talk more about RAW versus JPEG in a future post.
There’s certainly a lot more to photographing landscapes, so if this area of photography interests you, be sure to practice and keep reading as much as you can on the subject.