Landscape Photography Tips
Landscape Photography is one of the first subjects many photographers chose because the subject matter is so accessible. When captured and processed well, images of the landscape can be spectacular. This selection of landscape photography tips should help any aspiring landscape photographer improve their results.
Shoot in Bad Weather
This first landscape photography tip is probably the most surprising for the new photographer. The temptation when first starting out in landscape photography is to desire sunny weather and blue sky. Unless you are intending to use infrared photography, these are exactly the conditions you don’t want. Such conditions can create harsh ugly shadows with ugly light that fails to flatter the landscape.
Stormy conditions in contrast can result in much more dramatic weather and light. Light that becomes more interesting and which will create more interesting photographs. Yes it becomes more difficult to shoot under such conditions but you should perceiver and find a way.
Foggy conditions are another example of “bad weather” that can soften the light and create a completely different landscape mood. I recall many years ago being on a photography trip where the leader almost didn’t bother taking the group out because it was foggy. These days I love the fog as it adds mood and can transform the landscape.
Whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, try to remember that blue sky = boring.
Pick the Subject to Match the Light
Out of all the landscape photography tips in this article, this is probably the most important and least discussed. When we think of landscape photography we tend to imagine the classic wide vista featuring a dramatic or rolling landscape. But such landscapes only tend to look their best with flattering or dramatic light. We already touched on the weather conditions in the previous tip, so if the weather is sunny you will probably need to shoot at the beginning or end of the day.
But if you can’t change the light, what do you do? The answer is find subjects that are suited to the light conditions. For example dull overcast conditions might favour close up or macro photography. Similarly damp/wet overcast conditions might favour forest scenes as they can help saturate colours.
Pick the subject matter based on the lighting conditions and avoid going on location with a preconceived, ridged shooting list.
Neutral Density graduated filters are an essential piece of equipment for the landscape photographer. These allow you to darken a bright area of the scene in order to better balance the exposure across the image. This can be used to help make the sky darker and so more colourful whilst at the same time prevent the foreground becoming dark and ugly.
With today’s digital cameras with their large dynamic range, it can be tempting to think you will do without ND Grads. Please don’t fall into this trap of being lazy. If you want to achieve excellent results, try to get it right in camera with filters. The only possible exception to this is where you shoot multiple exposures with the intention on blending the images together later, to produce an extended dynamic range. Although it can be tempting to consider using HDR Photography techniques to extend dynamic range, be careful. Some HDR effects can look very unnatural and tend not to suit landscape scenes.
Where possible I would recommend using traditional photographic filters, some of which can be impossible to reproduce digitally.
Slow the Exposure Down
Landscapes are by their nature static subjects, except that they aren’t really. Landscapes have movement; rivers flow, waves break on the shore, grass and trees move in the wind. Showing such movement in your images can lead to much more interesting photographs. The trick is to get the shutter speed right. If you use too long a shutter speed the movement becomes a complete blur and will lose its impact.
When you need to extend the shutter speed the best tool to use is the filter. A polarising filter can be used to reduce exposure by around 3 stops. Similarly you can use Neutral Density filters (not to be confused with ND Grads) of varying strengths. Which is right will depend on the lighting conditions and the speed of the movement.
If you’re unsure how to take control of the exposure in your camera, see my tutorial on creative camera control.
Go Wide and Low
The most popular lens in landscape photography is the wide angle or super wide angle. Typically this will be a 24mm lens or wider (in full frame terms). Unfortunately many people don’t realise how to use these lenses and consequently their images feature poor composition and can lack impact.
The wide angle lens should be used to compose image foregrounds that have impact. The foreground should loom large in the image and be a key feature. Never use a wide angle lens to simply pull in a wider view, it should be used to capture the main feature of the scene and make this dominate the frame.
The best was to make the foreground loom large when using a wide angle lens is to change your usual position. Get low and close to the foreground. Don’t be afraid to angle the lens down slightly also but this can distort distant subjects towards the top of the frame so take care. Used correctly it’s possible to achieve dramatic compositions without the need for extreme wide angle lenses. The image above for example was captured using a 24mm lens.
Following these simple landscape photography tips can make a substantial difference to the quality of your results. If you would like an in-depth tutorial covering these points and more, read my book Lessons in Landscape Photography.