A Good Walk Made Even Better!
Unless you are lucky enough to become world renowned and manage to sell many prints, landscape photography is more of an interest than a living for most people, although nice stock images can also sell well.
I personally love the subject as it gives me the opportunity to see so much more around me, not only that, when looking through a camera I tend to see things in more detail than before too.
There is a distinct art or knack to shooting good landscapes and it can be quite technical in its approach.
First of all, you need a half-decent camera and a variety of lenses along with a sturdy tripod. I personally still believe (at the time of writing) that medium/large format film is the best for high quality landscape photography as it captures so much detail and is more “forgiving” when it comes to dynamic range.
It is one of the few remaining areas of photography that most digital cameras can’t quite match, unless you are using the 22mp (and higher, up to 80mp) digital backs for medium format cameras.
Nonetheless, don’t get me wrong, a 6MP Digital SLR or a quality, advanced point and shoot is quite capable of producing high quality landscape images worthy of a space on your wall.
So what is the best approach?
Landscape Photography – Interest
A good landscape photograph doesn’t necessarily mean rows of green fields and colourful trees shot with a wide angle lens. A good landscape can be taken with a 500mm telephoto lens concentrating on a small part of any scene, what is important is that the scene must have a point of interest.
Whether it is an old wooden cart in the foreground of a field of wheat, or a steam train in the distance passing through the fields of beautiful countryside scene, an image needs something to hold the viewers attention.
Whenever you are out and about either walking or driving in your car, always remember to take your camera. Many times when out for a drive, I have turned a corner and come across a scene that is just crying out to be photographed.
Keep your eyes peeled for anything different; objects, colours, shapes and buildings. Look for, or concentrate on a theme such as water, winter, summer, fields, skies, sunsets, converging lines, nature, cityscapes and silhouettes.
It is sometimes a good idea to leave the house with a particular theme in mind otherwise you tend to look for something that isn’t there. The flip-side of this is that as I said before, you sometimes just happen across the most beautiful of scenes without trying.
TIP: Always keep your tripod in the car.
Landscape Photography – Angle
Don’t just settle for the first viewpoint you come to, move around the point of interest looking for the angle that makes the most of the light. Alter the background by walking around the main subject. What can you add to the background that will accentuate the scene? Should you add or decrease the depth of field for effect?
Get down low on the ground and look up, does isolating the object against the sky help? Is there a highpoint from which you can approach the shot?
Try to find an angle that isn’t too “complicated” or messy with too much information, sometimes a simplistic or minimalist approach works best.
It may even be worth your while to come back to the scene in the morning or evening to make use of the beautiful “warm” colours that these “golden hours” can give. See the next section for more on this.
TIP: Have a notepad with you to keep tags on what landscapes spring to mind when out and about.
Landscape Photography – Time of Day
As I have just mentioned, the best time of day is early morning or early evening for most landscapes although night scenes can also be quite a challenge.
Landscape Photography – Morning
Get yourself up nice and early having prepared your kit the night before and leave the house with plenty of time to arrive at your predetermined scene before the sun rises. I know it is difficult but to be there before, during and after the light is at its best, gives you a greater chance of getting the shot.
What places near you are prone to a nice early morning mist or frost? Where does the sun rise and do you want to shoot into the rising sun or use its glow to illuminate the scene?
Preparation for a good landscape is important (as well as the occasional good fortune) as the best light only lasts for a short while. If you have an idea of times and viewpoints for the best shot, you are halfway there.
Landscape Photography – Daytime
Generally speaking, the midday sun is not the best time of day for landscapes, especially in the summer as the bright light tends to wash out most of the colours. It is a good time to shoot subjects that aren’t dependant on huge colour rendition or hindered by overhead shadows.
Saying that, shooting during the day on an overcast day can pay dividends as the light is nicely diffused by the cloud cover. A good landscape doesn’t always need the sun, far from it!
Landscape Photography – Evening
As with the morning, the evening is a great time for photography. Your time is limited so again, preparation is the key.
What time of year gives the best sunsets or “glow” as the daylight diminishes where you are? For me in Europe, February to April and September to November tend to be the best times. I have tried to catch them in the summer only to wait for hours to see the sun simply vanish with a quick, colourless “plop” behind the mountains.
Get yourself and your tripod set up well in time to catch the sunset. Work out what exposure and coverage you need as well as any foreground items of interest. As the sun sets, take a bunch of shots and simply pick the best one.
I have been known to take over 100 shots during a 5 minute sunset for a commercial job. It is important not to waste time processing or even keeping the unsuitable ones, just erase them.
Landscape Photography – Night time
The night time can bring a whole new style of images for your portfolio, this is the time to get creative. As the world around you lights up, look around for reflections and details that were not there before.
It is a good time to learn the effects of “painting with light” as you try out long exposures. Try capturing the head and tail-lights of moving cars at night or bright city scenes packed with different colours and details.
Check out the local beach if one is close. The use of very long exposures gives a real dreamy, milky look to the water and reflections and also works well with moving clouds lit by the city lights.