Successful landscape photographers know that to find the best shooting locations, you must be prepared to hike into the backcountry. Often, the general rule is true: the farther from civilization, the better the photos. Proper planning with a map and GPS unit will make the trek as short as possible, so you have more time for shooting.
The pros call it magic hour: the hour during early morning and evening when the sun is low, the light is diffused and shadows and textures are pronounced. There are certainly excellent landscapes to shoot in the bright light of midday, but make it the third choice on your shooting schedule, after dawn and dusk.
An excellent position to capture exciting landscape images is a vantage point high above the scene you want to shoot. You’re able to reduce the horizon to just the top 5% of the frame, so you can fill more of it with a spectacular angle/view of a landscape.
What often gives a landscape photo better balance is to frame the image so there is an object or area of interest in the foreground. This creates a counterweight in your photo to the wide and overwhelming background.
Study the better landscape photographers and you’ll discover that many of their images are shot with a wide-angle lens. A zoom lens with a 24–70mm or 25–105mm focal length range should give you plenty of flexibility. You can be more creative with perspective, compose a more compelling scene and have more cropping options.
Plan on using a tripod whenever you are in pursuit of serious landscape photos. In reality, a tripod is more important than helping to steady your camera; it forces you take more time thinking about what kind of image you want to shoot, looking for it and considering the many compositional options. A tripod actually slows the process. You may come home with fewer photos, but more of them are apt to be winners.
Filters are also critical pieces of equipment to achieve high quality landscape images. The most important is definitely a polarizing filter. It darkens the sky and gives the natural colors in the scene greater depth and brilliance. Graduated grey or neutral density filters are particularly useful on a bright, cloudy day. These filters help to balance the brightness of the sky with darker foreground objects. Learning how to use color correction filters when shooting landscapes will add a creative tool to your skills. They are used to control the temperature of the light and emphasis specific portions of an image.
Hyperfocal focusing is a technique that will help you manipulate and extend the depth of field in your landscape photos, so the entire depth of the picture appears to be in focus. To benefit from the hyperfocal focusing technique, you need a DSLR camera or an advanced compact camera that has a manual-focus function and a lens with a distance scale and depth-of-field scale.
Although they will use more space on your camera’s memory card, RAW files are the preferred format when shooting landscapes. RAW images record all the data of each photo. You want access to the entire range of data of every image, so you have more editing flexibility. Great landscape images are often made even greater with some image manipulation.
As with almost any of your photography, create landscape images that tell a story, and not just record the existence of a place. A landscape story could be a series of images of a particular scene under different light conditions, seasons of the year, etc. It could also emulate the great wilderness photographer, Galen Rowell, who added the adventure of the human in his landscape photos (often himself), as an important storytelling element.
- Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams
- Landscape Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots
- Creative Landscapes: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
- The Digital SLR Expert Landscapes
- The Landscape Photography Workshop
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Barry McBeth
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