My first love in photography – when I got my Canon EOS 400D as a teenager – was landscape photography. There’s something special about getting out in nature with the challenge of capturing some of the amazing beauty that you see.
While I don’t get as much time as I’d like for Landscape Photography these days – I want to share 5 tips how you can improve your landscape photos! Here are a few of the lessons that I learned in my early years of doing it. I’d love to hear your own tips in comments below.
1. MAGIC HOURS
Beautiful landscape photos are often defined by the quality of light they were taken in. So I really like to shoot early in the morning or during late afternoons when the sun is lower, less contrasty and often displays a filmy colour palette of moody shadows. For this reason, the hours after dawn and before dusk are known as the ‘magic hours’. If rising at dawn doesn’t sit well with your idea of a relaxing weekend, nevermind – there are plenty of great landscape opportunities throughout the day.
I chatted with one photographer recently who told me that he never shoots during the day – his only shooting times are around dawn and dusk – because that’s when the light is best and he find that landscapes come alive.
2. DEPTH OF FIELD
To get the best results you have to ensure that as much as possible is in focus. While there may be times that you want to get a little more creative and experiment with narrow depth of fields in your Landscape Photography – the normal approach is to use a small aperture setting (a large number starting with a f-number value on your Camera) as the smaller your aperture the greater the depth of field in your shots.
Keep in mind that smaller apertures mean less light gets your sensor at any point of time, so it will mean you need to compensate either by increasing your ISO or enlarge your shutter speed (or both).
I use the Manuel mode all the time but for the beginning you can use the AV (for Canon camera’s) or A (for Nikon camera’s). It sets your digital SLR camera to aperture priority.
Your Focus Mode must be on Manual, because the Auto Focus can’t know what do you want to have in focus.
Switch to manual focus, and then carefully focus on a subject which is around three metres from the camera. This will mean that everything from around one metre to infinity will be sharp in your shot.
3. USE A TRIPOD
Because of the longer shutter speed, you have to use a Tripod. You have to be sure the camera is completely still during the exposure. In fact even if you’re able to shoot at a fast shutter speed the practice of using a tripod can be beneficial to you. Also consider a cable or wireless shutter release mechanism for extra camera stillness. If you don’t have a external shutter release, there is an easy way to get rid of this problem. Just use the self-timer. Set it to like 5 seconds, so you can push the shutter and after the 5 sec your camera should be totally still.
I use a Manfrotto Befree Tripod. The Befree is an easy choice for hikers, boaters, bikers, travellers or anyone else who seeks light weight and a small form factor.
4. THE SKY IS YOUR FRIEND
The sky can give you an awesome dramatic touch in your photo. It’s one of the most important element to consider in your landscape.
Most landscapes will either have a dominant foreground or sky – unless you have one or the other your shot can end up being fairly boring.
When you have a boring sky, don’t let it dominate your shot and place the horizon in the upper third of your shot. So the foreground gets the attention in your photo. However if the sky is filled with drama and interesting cloud formations and colors – let it shine by placing the horizon lower.
As well you can use filters (for example a polarizing filter can add color and contrast). If you are familiar with Lightroom or Photoshop you can enhance the sky in the post production. Don’t forget, every photo you see in a gallery is edited. It’s like Portrait Photography, no one will publish a RAW photo.
5. THE HORIZON IS HORIZONTALLY
This tip is so basic and old but for me the most important one. Before you take a landscape shot, always think about the rule of thirds and is your Horizon horizontally? For sure you can always straighten images later in post production but it’s easier if you get it right in camera.
The work of art is to use one of the thirds lines in an image (either the top third or the bottom one) rather than completely in the middle. Of course rules are meant to be broken but for the beginning go with this.