Besides passion & patience, to photograph great landscapes photos, it takes a fair amount of preparation and skill in basic photography technique. This article focuses on some important, but not all, aspects of landscape photography that photographers need to master when photographing landscape.
Essential gears for Landscape Photography
Don’t leave home without them. We are referring to gear other than the obvious two, your camera and lenses.
Tripod & Remote
Landscape photography often requires a sturdy tripod. You never know where your passion is going to take you. Today you could be shooting knee deep in the sea water, trying to catch the oncoming tide; tomorrow you could on a glacier trying to compose a shot. Landscape shots demand increased depth of field & sharpness. To achieve that, a sturdy tripod is a must.
Neutral Density Filter
Another thing that you should have is a Neutral Density & Graduated Neutral Density Filter set. It basically stops & balance the amount of light entering your camera through the lens. Use it when you need to block a sky, which is too dark against a foreground that is darker. You can also use it for longer exposures. When used properly, these filters alone, can bring that professional look to your ordinary landscape photo and transform into an extraordinary one.
A Circular Polarizer is another piece of optics that must be in your kit bag. No software can mimic the effect of a polarizer. It helps to reduce reflexion of light & increase contrast. They are perfect for changing the tonal balance of the sky, reducing glare and basically cutting through the haze of diffused light that can spoil a landscape shot. Hoya, Singh-Ray and B+W (not Black+White) are some of the companies that make both Grad ND Filters and Circular Polarizers. Read more details on polarizes here
Important Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
Get those the long exposures right
Mastering the art and science of long exposure is critical for you to be a successful landscape photographer. Latest cameras can handle exposures quite efficiently, it need not be too complicated though. For complicated situations, there are some tried, tested and proven methods of getting the long exposures correct. Mastering the basic three fundamentals of exposure triangle covering ISO, aperture and shutter speed is critical in this case. But with that you need to also be able to control the amount of light that enters the camera; both through the lens and through the viewfinder. Yes! The viewfinder can also let in some ambient light in and to control that you can either use a black cloth or can use a viewfinder cover that comes with some cameras.
Now most cameras have EV or Exposure Compensation feature. This allows you to take multiple photos each at a different exposure. A good practice is to take two extra shots in addition your normal shot of the same scene. One of them 1 stop above (+1) and another one 1 stop below (-1) the normal exposure (0). Its like an insurance for your photograph and most useful in a high contrast lighting condition. This process guarantees to get a correctly exposed image and then you can delete the ones you don’t use or blend them all for creating HDR images. However, remember to set it back to 0 when you are done.
Master the Depth of field
The wider the perspective the better it is for landscape photography. Along with that you will need to set your lens aperture to something smaller such as f/11. Start with f/11 and then adjust it so that you can also counter the issues of lens diffraction. The narrower aperture will help bring more things into focus, something that is ideal for landscape photography. But, beyond certain aperture setting you will start loosing sharpness due to lens diffraction factor. That’s why balance between Depth of field & Diffraction is necessary.
Where to focus in landscape photography?
Most of the time your own instinct will guide you where to focus, specially when you have a specific interest in the scene. Rarely you run into a situation where you have to consider the mathematical route. Many use a rule of thumb that states you should focus roughly one-third up from the bottom of the frame in order to achieve maximum sharpness & depth of field throughout. This is for reference only; the actual calculation (hyperfocal distance) may depend on various factors, including lens type, aperture, focal length and subject distance.
Shoot Raw & Use low ISO
Keep your ISO settings low (100 – 200) to retain detailed and noise free image. RAW preserves all the shooting data, including data that is not possible to record in JPG format. When needed, in post processing, all the stored data can be used to get the best possible output.
Best Time To Shoot Landscapes Photos
The Magic or Golden hours
Good Lighting is the key to successful landscape photography. That is why the best time to shoot landscape photography is the few minutes time window before and after either sunrise or sunset. Depending on weather the window could be around 30 minuets to an hour long. You will get the most favorable lighting condition in that widow period when the sun is lower, light is softer and often displays a subtle color warmth. This is why, the hours after dawn and before dusk are known as the ‘magic hours’.
Early bird catches the morning light
Morning light has its own mystical ambience that is hard to replicate using any tools be it hardware or software. It is the perfect time to capture the pink hues that we can see on the mountain tops. The first hour is also the perfect time to capture flower photography. The soft light really brings out the details of the flowers which are impossible to capture at any other time of the day. Probably you could but you will need a lot more gear than if you simply shoot during the first hour of day.
First light by third i blind [Canon 350D, 1/8 s, ƒ/16, ISO 200 @17 mm]
The 15 minutes window after the Sun has set
Most amateur photographers shooting a sunset tends to pack up for the day when the Sun has set. But there are some who finds this the best time to shoot. Lost you? Well, after the Sun has set, there is a window of 10-15 minutes, depending on the time of the year, when the sky really pops up with colors. If there are scattered clouds in the horizon, all the better. Use a grad ND filter and use long exposures of 1 or 2 seconds do whatever you need to, this is the best time to shoot the effects of a sunset.
Sunset at peggy’s cove by paul bica [Olympus E-3,15 s, ƒ/4, ISO 100 @ 7 mm]
A Lavender Sunset by Vincent [Nikon D40X, 1/800, ƒ/2.8, ISO 200 @ 55 mm]
Composition in Lanscape Photography
Shoot in the clear, if possible
You don’t want a stray telephone or power line in the frame, when reviewing the images on your laptop, do you? Stay clear of traffic, heads of people and of course anything that would ruin your landscape photographs. Yes it is possible to do a bit of post-production, but unless you’re too keen of shooting in RAW all the time, this may be a bit of a hassle.
Foreground, middleground, and background
If possible, break your landscape framing into three segments: foreground, middleground and background to make it more aesthetically a well-balanced image with multiple focal points.
Still Motion by rachel_thecat [Fuji Velvia 50, 25s, f32, Lee 0.9 GND Soft]
Add foreground interest
Try to keep something interesting in the foreground. An experienced would look for a strong focal point, for example rock, trees, textures, interesting landmarks etc. A strong foreground interest gives a sense of scale and completely turn a picture into a breathtaking photo.
Rule of thirds
Remember, the rule of thirds is not actually a “rule” but more like a guideline, so don’t stick to it too seriously. If a composition works in other ways, go for it!
In rule of thirds a picture frame is divided by four imaginary lines, two vertically and two horizontally, creating four intersecting power point.
Visually, these four points would be the main focus points for human eye. Putting your main subject or interest on any of the points make an image visually more appealing and interesting.
Watch your horizon
This is part of rule of thirds. Placement your horizon is very important in composing landscapes. Its important the get the horizon straight. Well, you can correct it in post processing but it is a good practice to keep it straight. Avoid placing the horizon in the middle.
When you place your horizon around lower one third, emphasizes your background subject, such as sky. Same way, placing the horizon close to upper horizontal line emphasizes the foreground.
Relics by Chris Gin [Canon 40D, 2.5 sec, ƒ/11, ISO 100 @ 11 mm]
The wide angle
In landscape photography a wide angle give a sense of wide open space. That sense virtually takes you to the place the frame being shot. In order to capture wide-angle shots you will need a wide angle lens, something that offers a field of view of more than 100˚ if possible, without necessarily stepping into the realms of fish-eye lenses. Usually, wide angles delivers better during golden hour landscape photography.
The Bamboo Forest.. by Trey Ratcliff [Nikon D3X, 4 s, ƒ/11, ISO 200 @14 mm]
Go low & discover a new prospective
The majority of photos we take are at eye-level. Bring new style in your landscape photos by getting down on the ground level. It also helps to express the vastness of the scene. Thats why it is important to choose a tripod that can go down close to ground level.
Use tele lenses to compress & crop
When we think about landscape photography, we think of wide angle lenses first. Think outside the bun and stand out from the crowd, a telephoto zoom lens can also be a great tool for landscapes photography. Long tele (135mm and above) lenses help to isolate distant interesting part of a scene and doing so compress the perspective. As a result, tele lenses produce unique refreshing perspective in landscape photography. Though, there are no absolute rules for when to use long focal & wide angle lenses. Rather we often end up using both together. Because tele lenses give you ability to compose & crop tighter, you can excludes uninteresting sky or part from the scene. That capability make them better choice for dull & low contrast part of the day, where wide angles in the golden hours of dawn and dusk.
Photo by みゆき
Panorama is another great way to capture a vast vast landscape scene. There are few dedicated film panoramic cameras. In digital photography,specially when you don’t have an ultra wide lens, you can create panoramas by taking multiple sequenced photos of a setting and then stitching them together in photoshop or similar software to create a single expansive photograph.
If you’re planning an exhibition, plan on printing big, the way you have seen the scene in the first place. It is never easy to express the scene in a small 4×6” print. Any DSLR with 8 megapixels & above is good enough for producing exhibition quality prints. However, if you want to “wow” your audiences with jumbo size prints, you need a higher resolution cameras to capture the scene with mighty megapixels ensuring maximum details. Read more on megapixels vs print size here
Keep going back to your favorite places
Some photographers like to have a place where they can feel comfortable and get stunning shots at the same time. Everyone knows about the American photographer Ansel Adams and his love for the Yosemite National Park. His black and white photographs captured on film are some of the most sought after even after 28 years of his death. Choose a few places, which can be close to where you stay and you have an option to go back to at different times of the year or day. It may be the same place, again and again, but the lighting will be different and it changes the whole landscape.
Landscape photography is so vast, it is impossible to cover everything in just one article. This article is intended to help beginners get off to a good start in exploring this amazing branch of photography.