How-To Imaging: Landscapes

11/16/2012 6:19:03 PM

Landscape photography is about the spirit of spaces. The best landscapes don’t just show you what a place looks like; they reveal what a place feels like.

Landscapes are often images of the natural world with minimal people and animals, but they can also encompass urban landscapes, with overlaps between architectural and nature photography.

Wake Up Early, Get Back Late

The difference between a good landscape and a great landscape photograph is often in the quality of light. The ‘golden hours’ – the moments during sunrise and sunset – offer gorgeous golden hues with soft light. Early evenings – the moments after the sun sets – can offer deep contrasts between the fading light and the cool hues of evening.

What this means is that you will often be waking up early and leaving late in order to catch the best light. You will also need to reach the area early in order to catch the best spot, since you may not be the only photographer there looking to capture an arresting image. You also need the time to set up your camera, since you will be shooting on tripods in the dim light.

Have a Point of Interest

There are so many elements present in a landscape that it’s easy to lose focus. What is it you want to communicate with this particular landscape photograph? What is the main subject? What can be removed from the frame so that the focal point is even clearer? What is essential and cannot be taken out? Here’s where the principles of composition help – arrange your main subject according to the rule of thirds and use leading lines to bring the viewer in.

Description: Have a Point of Interest

Have a Point of Interest

Use a Tripod

The smaller your aperture setting, the longer your shutter speed will become. Landscape photographers prefer to shoot at as low an ISO setting as possible, in order to minimize noise and extract maximum detail. This also lengthens your shutter speed, which means that you will need to use a tripod to stabilize your shot. Even when you’re shooting at a relatively fast speed, it can help to use a tripod, as even a little bit of hand-shake can introduce a small amount of blur.

Mastering Focus

One of the biggest challenges in shooting landscape is mastering focus so that everything looks sharp. Photographers shoot landscapes with as small an aperture as possible to maximize the depth of field in an image – usually f/8 and above. But they also have to be careful not to shoot at too small an aperture, as image quality will deteriorate at the smallest apertures due to diffraction range where the results are sharpest, commonly in the middle.

Now where do you focus? You can use the hyper focal distance technique to get everything from half the hyper focal distance to infinity within focus. Today, we have the benefit of mobile apps that help you calculate your hyper focal distance. Another general rule of thumb is to focus about one-third into the depth of the scene. If your camera sports a depth of field preview feature, you can use it to check your focus. Some cameras have magnified Live View to help you further refine focus, while others have a feature called focus peaking which shows you in outlines which parts of your image are in focus and which are not.


“The difference between a good landscape and a great one is in the quality of light”.

Controlling Flare & Reflections

If you’re shooting with the sun to your side or in front of you, you’ll need a lens hood to cut flare from appearing in your photograph. A polarizer, a filter which you attach to the front of your lens can enhance contrast and color, as well as reduce reflection and haze.

Polarizing filters are how photographers shoot clear bodies of water and capture the details of objects beneath the water, as they cut the amount of light reflecting off the water surface.

Vary the Speed

At the same time, shutter speed should be an esthetic as well as technical choice. The longer your shutter speed, the more moving objects will blur. This is sometime done intentionally to create an effect, like turning choppy water into a silky stream.

How long you should shoot for to create the motion blur you want depends on the subject and the amount of available light, but generally speaking, shoot at least at 1/20 of a second on a tripod, and at as low an ISO setting as possible to minimize image noise. When shooting long shutter speeds, it’s best to set your camera on a timer, if it’s a DSLR camera have the mirror lock-up before shooting to minimize camera movement.

Description: Vary the Speed

Vary the Speed

Blurring your subject works best when there are contrasting still elements in your image, otherwise the entire image can look like it was a blurry accident. Watch the wind, as elements which you think are still can move in strong winds and cause unintentional motion blur.

Metering the Scene

To account for the vast amount of lighting differences inherent in landscapes, it helps to set your camera’s metering mode to multi-segment, also known as ‘matrix’ or ‘evaluative’, to get as even an exposure as possible. There times, however, when your camera is fooled by a scene with high contrast lighting, in which case you will have to watch your histogram to make sure that nothing is clipped.

If you’re capturing in RAW, try to ‘expose to the right’ of the histogram, which means that most of the histogram, which means that most of the peaks and valleys in your histogram should be to the right side without clipping. This is because more digital information is saved when the camera ‘exposes to the right’. Your images may look unevenly exposed in preview, but exposing to the right maximizes the amount of detail you have to work with in post-production.



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