Landscapes are an essential part of travel photography. It has been a love of mine since I started travelling. I've always loved capturing the beauty of every location I visit and sharing it with anyone who will listen. A great sunset or a stunning vista can stir emotions and exploring the world to find a destination that is more beautiful than the next is what motivates me to keep traveling.
So how do you capture the beauty of these locations? Well I have picked up a few tips and tricks over the years and would love to share them with you.
Dave's Landscape Photography Tips
1. Scout your location.
When it comes to giving landscape photography tips the first one I always say is to scout your location. Most of the great shots that you see didn't happen by accident. More often than not, they are a result of careful planning and being in the right place at the right time. You can start planning even before you travel. Using Google maps and Google Earth, you can zoom in to the destination and get a feel for a location. Another great resource is the Stuck on Earth App from Trey Ratcliff which amasses images from around the world by users with GPS coordinates. These can give you a general idea of where you should explore when you hit the ground.
When you arrive at your destination, there's nothing better than throwing on those walking shoes and walking around to find the best angle to shoot from. I usually like to take the day before, if I have time, to walk around and look to see what composition will best show off that location. Once I find what I am looking for I use the The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app to see where the sun will be and what time it will be there. There is no use in showing up at noon when the light is harsh and flat. That can make a spectacular location look ordinary.
If you take the time to plan, you can come up with some amazing results. Taking the photo at the right time of day can turn your shot into something extraordinary. So avoid mid-day photography and have a siesta, instead then set your alarm to shoot earlier or later in the day. Your shots will have more contrast and punch.
If you don't like getting up early or staying up late become a writer not a photographer.
The Best Landscape Photography tips:
2. Use a tripod.
I can't stress this enough. Sure a tripod may be a pain in the ass to carry, but your images will be better for it. Most landscape photography takes place when the light is low, apertures are small and shutter speeds are slow so steadiness is essential for a sharp image. A tripod also allows you to frame your shot beforehand and be precise in your composition. If you are into HDR photography a tripod is essential when bracketing exposures in low light.
3. Add Foreground interest
Adding foreground interest can really set apart your landscape shots. Adding something in the foreground like rocks, flowers or water can help balance out the scene. It is also important to help draw the viewer in to the photograph and lead their eye. Having a focal point can help keep the viewers eye from wandering.
4. Maximize your Depth of Field (DOF)
In most situations, you want to make sure that you are shooting with a small aperture in order to ensure that the whole scene is in focus. Now there may be times that you may want to achieve a certain effect with a shallow DOF so, like in every aspect of photography, remember that rules are meant to be broken. Experiment with your DOF preview button and see what works for the scene. Another tip is to use your DOF Preview to guide you on where to place your Graduated ND Filters if you are using them.
5. Check your horizon
If there is one thing that stands out to me in a landscape shot it is a crooked horizon. Sure you can correct this in Lightroom but that will crop the image. My rule of thumb is to never rely on the “I will fix that after” rule. Nine times out of 10 it will take you less time to correct in the field than back at home in from of you computer. If you are using a tripod, which you should be, get one with a bubble level in the head or purchase a small bubble level from your local hardware store. Making sure your tripod is level will help you avoid the dreaded crooked horizon. You can also use the grid function that most cameras are equipped with.
6. Wait for the light
Patience is the landscape photographers friend. I find this the hardest part of landscape photography especially if you are on a tight schedule. You can have the best techniques, the best framing and everything else can align but if the light is not right you will end up with a crappy photo. This is why you have to understand the different types of light and how they effect your scene. Do the long shadows of side light add texture to your shot? Does that front light bring out the clouds more or does backlight make the scene more dynamic? Ask yourself these questions. Then wait for the right light to give you that perfect shot. Remember good light means minimal post processing.
7. Get creative with scale
You know that feeling you get when you stand in front of a vast landscape? That sense of awe? Well you want to convey that to your viewers. How can you do this effectively? By using scale. If you are photographing a desert landscape for instance, it will be far more effective if there is someone or something in the scene to give it scale. Give the viewer something they recognize in the frame and let them explore from there. The photo will have far more impact if you do this
8. Bracket your Exposures
Bracketing your shots (taking the same shot at different exposures) can be beneficial when you are unable to capture the whole range of light in a single exposure. A good example of this is during a sunrise were the foreground will be much darker than the sky. Unlike the human eye, the camera is not designed to balance these two extremes together. By taking different exposures of the same scene and blending them together with software, like Photomatix, you can come away with an image that represents what you actually saw through the lens. This process is called HDR or High Dynamic Range.
9. Turn off your VR or IS (Vibrations Reduction, Image Stabilization)
If you are shooting on a tripod it is good practice is to shut off this feature on your lens. Image Stabilization (and vibration reduction) lenses look for vibrations in your camera in order to reduce it – if they don’t find any they actually can cause it – and as a result actually cause camera shake making for an out of focus image.
10. Use a Remote Shutter Release or 2 Second Timer
When using longer exposure times you want to eliminate touching the camera to press the shutter button as this can cause camera movement and an out of focus image. The way to eliminate this is to use a Remote Shutter Release. This will allow you to take the photo without touching the camera. If you do not have one most DSLR's are equipped with a timer function and you can use that instead.
This is a personal preference. The gear I use has been accumulated over years of photography and finding out what works for me and what doesn't. It is a personal preference, but here is a list of the equipment that I carry to produce my images.
2. Filters: The most valuable filters for me when I shoot landscapes are:
a) My Graduated Neutral Density filters (1 to 4 stops). These allow me to balance out the sky with the darker foreground during sunsets and sunrises.
b) I also use a Variable ND Filter which reduces the amount of light hitting the camera sensor (From 1-8 stops) and allows me slow down shutter speeds in order to capture those silky water shots you see.
c) The other filter I use is a Circular Polarizer. This allows me to reduce glare, mostly water and windows, as well as saturate the colours in the scene. This is one filter that cannot be replicated in post processing. Don't forget that these also reduce the light hitting the sensor by up to 1.5 stops.
You don't have to have the most expensive photography gear. When I started, I had a very basic kit and wast quite happy with my photos. But it's important to know whatever camera you are using, know it inside out. Learn camera your settings, understand aperature and depth of field and be creative.
So get there start shooting and experimenting a lot. The advantage you have over me, is when I started I shot in film and couldn't afford to make a lot of mistakes due to the high cost of processing. With digital cameras, you can keep taking a photo until you get it right.
If you follow these simple landscape photography tips you will see the quality of your photos skyrocket. I guarantee it.