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Essential Landscape Photography Tips

Shoot better landscapes with these top tips

By , Written on in Tutorials

Essential Landscape Photography Tips

Being a landscape photographer may seem like one of the simplest ways to make a living, experiencing the peace and solitude of a new dawn for example, yet they are often fraught with logistical issues, technical challenges and the creative thought process can be overwhelming.

Preparation

Preparation is the key to getting the best shots.

Old map of Bristol
Old map of Bristol

Familiarise yourself well in advance with the location you are planning to shoot. Visiting a location and finding the best spots beforehand will prepare you for when time is of the essence, and may well save you getting lost when it's dark! Consulting an Ordnance Survey map for your chosen destination will help you to fully appreciate the photographic possibilities that the location has to offer.

Plan your journey in advance so you know exactly where to go, how long it takes and that you have enough fuel. This way you won't waste an early morning trip by missing sunrise. If you need fuel, fill up the day before to prevent any unnecessary delays. You never know if your fuel station will be closed, or have run out of fuel in the morning.

If you are shooting near the coast, familiarise yourself with the tide times. This is not only important for identifying what subjects online the shoreline will be visible to photograph, but also important from a safety perspective.

Stormy weather at Brean Down
Stormy weather at Brean Down

Check internet sites such as TimeAndDate for accurate sunrise and sunset times for the area you are visiting, and remember that the times change marginally each day. It's also worth researching the position of sunrise and sunset as it changes dramatically during the year. in midsummer, the sun rises to the North East, while in mid-winter it rises in the South East.

Knowing the weather forecast will help you to determine which location to photograph, or even venture out at all. For the most accurate forecast, check the weather as close to your departure as possible.

Get up early. It may sound cliche, but dawn is the best time of the day. There a few, if any, people around and the beautiful light and magical sense of freshness help to make this the perfect time for landscape photography.

To really enjoy your landscape photography, you must wear the right clothing to feel comfortable. Take warm clothing, hats and gloves, walking boots or wellies when photographing near water.

Equipment

You must have the right equipment, and know how to use it properly.

A sturdy tripod is almost as essential as a camera for a landscape photographer. Take it everywhere and use it always. It offers stability, slows down your picture taking and leaves two hands free to use your filters. A remote shutter release is also an essential piece of kit as it serves two purposes. Firstly it allows long exposures over 30 seconds, and also it prevents camera shake which will occur when your press the shutter button. It's also a good idea to mirror lockup function to further reduce vibration when pressing the shutter.

The histogram on your camera provides a quick and easy tool for checking over and under exposure, and reviewing images on the cameras LCD provides reassurance in the field while there are still opportunities to retake images which may not have been successful.

If your camera does not have a built in spirit level, you can get spirit levels which attach to the cameras hot shoe. This allows you to make sure that your horizons stay level in every shot.

Telephoto lenses can be used to compress layers in long distance landscapes. They are ideal for shooting from hilltops or when you are deep inside woods.

Witley Court and Gardens
Witley Court and Gardens
St Mary's Church, Kempsey
St Mary's Church, Kempsey

Wide-angle lenses are great for capturing dramatic landscapes with bold foreground elements.

Graduated filters are essential for recording correctly exposed images in difficult lighting conditions, such as when photographing bright skies above darker foregrounds in low light. Neutral density filters are used when you need to take longer exposures in bright light. Polarising filters boost the blue of the sky, saturate colours and cut through reflections.

Graduated Filters Help Exposures
Graduated Filters Help Exposures

Camera Settings

Full manual mode, or at least aperture priority, take exposure control away from the camera and puts control it at your finger tips. Using one of these modes is a fundamental factor in taking good landscape pictures.

Digital SLR Shooting Mode Settings Dial
Digital SLR Shooting Mode Settings Dial

For the majority of landscape photographs, you will want to be using a small aperture, f/16 for example, to maximise depth of field (front to back sharpness) in the picture. Use as low an ISO as you can to cut down on unwanted noise, and shoot with a long exposure. This is often a by product of the small aperture and low light.

Shooting in RAW will give you greater control over post-processing of your photographs without compromising on quality. When shooting in RAW you can also adjust the white balance more accurately in the post processing stage.

Composition

One of the hardest aspects of landscape photography is composing a harmonious and balanced scene, and that's why great photography takes many years of refinement and scrutiny to master. Great landscape photographers can often transform the ordinary into the achingly beautiful, by adhering to simple rules of good conditions and refined composition. There are several rules for composition, but don't be afraid to break them!

Rule of Thirds Example - Beach, Cottage by the Sea
Rule of Thirds Example - Beach, Cottage by the Sea

The rule of thirds gives balance and harmony to photographs, but for many situations, it is beneficial to break this rule and go for symmetry instead. Reflections in lakes are the perfect example of when breaking the rule of thirds is good. Place the water line in the centre of the frame for an equal and balanced shot.

Black Loch in Dumfries National Park
Black Loch in Dumfries National Park

The best pictures usually feature simple, pleasing compositions. Don't overcrowd your composition trying to squeeze everything in. Look for objects that you can exclude without compromising the harmony of the end result.

Look for detail, texture and form. From cracks and geographical faults to a sea of swaying wheat in a summer field, texture and shape is essential in the landscape. A sweeping river, repeating shapes or jagged rock teeth can all enhance a picture, but the complete lack of features can also be just as appealing in the right context.

Chatelherault Managed Forest Tracks
Chatelherault Managed Forest Tracks

Natural light can be extremely fickle at times. The most magical light is usually the most fleeting, lasting only several moments before fading away. Patience and perseverance play an important part in capturing landscapes with magical light, so be set up and ready to wait for these moments.

Look for good foregrounds and don't settle for just anything. Look for something different, yet appealing. This may be through colour, subject, shape or something else. An effective foreground grabs the attention for the right reasons and introduces the viewer to the rest of the picture. You should also look for the lead in lines, such as rivers or roads, which will draw the viewer into your image and lead their eye towards a subject.

Wide-angle lenses create the greatest emotional response when used effectively. Wide focal lengths, like 17mm or 24mm, can sweep the eye through the frame from interesting foreground rocks to distant clouds, giving a sense of huge dynamics and replicating the way we naturally process the world around us. We can almost reach out and touch the ground and it's this landscape magic that holds us like no other.

Post Processing

Computer processing should be no substitute for good photography in the field. Unless your images are from a once in a lifetime moment, it is far better to reshoot then to try and rescue a poor image with extensive processing.

That being said, there are a few times when subtle post-processing can be beneficial.

Digital SLR sensors attract dust, which shows up on images as dark spots. These show up more on smaller apertures used in landscape photography. As part of your workflow, you should be reviewing every inch of the image at 100% and using the clone stamp tool to remove these spots.

Above all, follow your passions and shoot subjects you are passionate about. This will shine through in your images.

Last updated on: Sunday 27th August 2017

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