The unseen beauty of the mother nature, unexplored places, the perfect frame in your mind, clouds in the sky, a bird view from above the hill; nothing beats getting out into the great outdoors to shoot landscapes. With the right light and weather conditions it may seem to be very easy and fun to capture landscapes. But when the time, location or the weather is not in your favor, outing can become a frustrating and stressful experience of being unable to capture the frame you composed in your mind. To avoid this type of situations and to capture great landscapes you need to learn how quickly and methodically you need to shoot on every outing.
The great thing about landscape photography is that it doesn’t matter where or when you are shooting. Perfect your technique and you will be able to deliver beautiful landscapes of any places in the world. In Ansel Adams’ words, “landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.”
Once you completely digest these tips, the only thing you’ll have to worry about is the weather which is beyond our control…
Plan like a pro
Checking the weather before heading out is mandatory but how to be more specific about the exact time of sunrise, sunset or moonrise of the desired location? The good news is you can do that using some of the available applications like the photographer’s ephemeris, stellarium etc.
These websites or apps for iOS and Android uses google maps to show you all the information you need when planning a landscape shoot. The web/browser-based version is free to use, while you need to pay some amount to get the smartphone app.
Set up your camera
The camera settings you need for landscapes are pretty simple. Shoot in aperture priority mode so you can control the depth of field while the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed for you. With the aperture set to f/16 for a large depth of field, set the iso to 100 for the best image quality. With the metering mode set to evaluative/matrix, the camera will read light from all areas of the scene to calculate a correct exposure.
With settings like these plus the possibility of filters being attached to the lens, there’s a high possibility that the shutter speed will be slow. If you find it drops below 1/125 sec, attach your camera to a tripod and use a remote release to fire the shutter without touching the camera. You can opt for self-timer option of your dslr in case you don’t have a remote release. This combination will help to avoid camera shake – a type of blur in your photos created by tiny camera movements when shooting at slow shutter speeds. You can go through the article camera shake to know more about why camera shake happens and how to control it.
Capture sky detail
Landscape photography may not require split second timing that’s necessary for capturing a candid smile or a flying bird, but timing is still very important factor. The sky that’s blue one day, could be gray the other day or even on the same day but at different time.
Every landscape photographer should have a graduated neutral density filter in their camera bag in order to capture more dramatic skies. A regular neutral density filter is like putting sunglasses over your lens–it limits the light coming in for bright scenes or long exposures. But a graduated neutral density filter places that darkening effect only on a portion of the image. By placing the dark portion of the filter over the sky, you can properly expose the entire scene. Without the filter, the sky will either be overexposed and bland, or the land will be underexposed and dark. Graduated neutral density filters come in both circular and square formats, but the square is often preferred because you can then place the horizon anywhere in the frame.
Direct the viewer’s eye
If you want to create dynamic landscape images that draw the viewer into and through your images, lead-in lines are an amazing compositional device to employ.
You’ll need a strong linear element in the scene, such as a wall, a road, rocks or a bridge. By positioning this element so it begins in the bottom third of the frame, ideally right at the bottom, you can compose the shot so the lines aim towards the focal point in the image. In some situations, lead-in lines can also act as foreground interest.
Look for symmetry
Reflections can be a hugely creative addition to all types of photography, but with landscapes they can provide mirror-perfect symmetry. For this type of shot, position the far bank of a lake or the horizon line across the center of the frame to split the scene and the reflection into two equal parts.
Go out and shoot on misty mornings
Waking up to mist may not be the best condition to go out and shoot, but the mysterious look of the landscape is an opportunity not to lose. Mostly you’ll find this type of weather in the early winter mornings. Early morning fog is the best mist for landscape photographers which forms during clear, still nights when the ground loses heat via radiation. This type of mist will often remain close to the ground, forming a thin, white layer.
This is a great technique for waterfalls, rivers, and oceans but not limited to that. You can capture great cityscapes as well with this technique. They create a smoothing effect of the water or the lights of the moving cars on the road. It is vital to remember to use a tripod, cable release or timer mechanism as the slightest movement of the camera will result in a blurred photograph. This is true of all photographs, but particularly long exposures
Composition; Pretend to be a painter
Not only in landscape photography but in every aspects of photography, composition will always be one of the most important elements. A painter gets to create a scene with paint and brush strokes as they see fit. Whether be it from memory, imagination, or from a scene directly in front of them, a painter gets to decide which details will be incorporated into a composition, and which ones don’t make the cut. When deciding on your composition, take a look at different elements of the scene and decide if they would be placed onto a canvas if you had a paintbrush in your hand. I find that asking myself this helps me to decide if an element is important or distracting, and, as a result, if i should try to include it in a composition or try to eliminate it.
Find patterns and try to break them
Repetition of shapes and colors are pleasing to the eye. When we used these patterns in our composition, they provide an opportunity to isolate a focal point in our image. By breaking the pattern, your viewer’s eye will be attracted towards the object in the image that is different, and which therefore stands out. In nature, patterns are less likely to be geometric shapes (although it’s still possible), and more likely to be color or textures. When taking time to survey a scene, try to look past the basics like leading lines and notice which patterns emerge in front of you.
Crop out nonessentials
Now you’re ready for cropping— the best possible placement of the frame’s boundaries. These determine what’s kept in and what’s left out of your picture, so place with surgical precision. You can read my article cropping in photography specially on cropping.
In cropping, whether in the camera or after shooting, you should pay close attention to the borders of the frame. Make sure they do not cut through interesting elements and that no rogue objects (such as branches, shadow lines, and especially your tripod’s feet) peek in.
You might already be using some of these tips. If not, it’s time to start with these. You can simply look into your archive and check, who knows; maybe you’ll find some photographs where you have actually used these tips unknowingly. Please let me know if you like this article by commenting below. Also you can ask or suggest any topic which I should write next. If you want to share some of your beautiful landscapes with me, please feel free to add them in the comment. I’ll be glad to see.