As many of you know, grand landscapes are what I love to photograph. This planet and its moods are exciting and inspiring to me; if you have that same feeling about landscapes, then this article is for you. If not, find what you love to photograph and concentrate on getting better every day by shooting as often as possible. Why shoot landscape if you love sports, journalism, portraits, etc? Occasionally, when the opportunity is there, I will experiment with other genres and doing so can improve your eye for composition.
Ok, now that the introduction is over with, let’s get down to business: Here are some basic tips to help improve your landscape images. Remember that not all your pictures will win competitions, and if that is all you want to do: win, then you are losing yourself. Always shoot what you love, never shoot thinking about what a judge will score: it is meaningless in the whole scheme of things.
Here are some simple tips to improve your landscapes; they work for me.
- Shoot in Aperture Priority at F18-22 to maintain depth of field from foreground to background. Usually focusing about a third into the image works well. A good lens will not give much diffraction at F22…I use that aperture a lot.
- Use a wide angle lens to get the foreground crisp: I use 11-24mm, 17-40mm and 24-108mm for my landscapes..the wider angles like 11mm and 17mm can focus as close to a foot in front of you.
- Shoot at ISO 100 or whatever is your lowest native ISO, it will minimize any noise.
- Get a good foreground subject, not just some junk on the ground, but something interesting.
- Get low! I never shoot at eye level unless absolutely necessary…usually my camera is on the lowest tripod setting or on a flat tripod…don’t complain about getting low, I have arthritis, too.
- Use a good tripod…money well spent instead of on a flimsy tripod that will blow over or shake..never use the center column, it moves!
- Use a self timer, remote or cable release..your finger will shake the camera when you hit the shutter button. Do not fear bracketing, I do it all the time if the light is changing quickly.
- Shoot at the edges of light: sunrise or sunset: the color can be amazing as the sun moves lower and the atmosphere changes the color of light…if you must shoot during the middle of the day, look for dramatic clouds or it is a waste of time..if there is nothing dramatic, think of converting the harsh midday images into black and white; this works well in the mountains.
- Look for atmosphere and excitement in a landscape..if you are seeing things happening that make you feel like a kid again, that’s the time to photograph.
- Use filters: a polarizer, 3 stop graduated ND, a 5 stop solid ND, and a reverse ND are always in my bag. A lot of people use the digital filters in PS and Lightroom, but I don’t like them; nothing beats light hitting the sensor for a long time. I use a filter holder.
- Learn to use the custom settings on your camera if it has them. Mine has three custom settings that I have set up specifically for landscape so I am always ready to go…if they need changing, I will use Exposure Compensation as needed or switch to manual…let me give you an example, I was at Beavertail to shoot, but it was later than usual and sunset was happening fast: I threw the camera on a tripod, put it on one of my custom settings and got the shot; a friend with me was still messing with his camera when the short window of opportunity ended.
- Get to the spot early…I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to scout the area for at least an hour before sunset or sunrise to take some test images in order to find the best composition…keep walking around before you shoot: nothing makes me crazier than seeing people get out of their cars, set up right away and start shooting where they are standing…take the time to look for the best spot, hand hold the camera to take test shots from different areas, look for something unique.
Here are some examples to illustrate basic landscape composition: