Whether you are an experienced landscape photographer or just a beginner starting out, the amazing photos you see on social media site such as Instagram have all got a few things in common. The reality of landscape photography is that you are completely dependent on Mother Nature. But regardless of whatever weather and conditions you encounter, there are things you should do all the time in order to maximise your chances of getting some good photos when the light and conditions do present themselves.
Here are 10 landscape photography tips that you can follow if you want to capture stunning photos.
Landscape photography is as much about planning as it is about the actual process of photography. You should always have a clear idea of where you are planning to go, and at what time of the day you will be able to capture the best photograph. Learn how to read maps, and understand how you can utilize them to find the perfect location. Use tools such as Google Maps, and Photopills to help. Always try to scout your chosen location beforehand so that when you arrive for the actual shoot, you know exactly where to go. By planning your exact location, you will be able to maximise your time there.
2. Keep trying
It’s amazing the number of times that the elements conspire to ruin a perfectly-composed photo! Landscape photography requires patience and perseverance, most of the time you will not get the conditions you want and end up with no photos for your efforts. But always wait for the light, you never know when the sun might peek through a tiny gap in the clouds. And if you don’t get anything from your shoot, come back to the same location again and again until you get the right conditions.
3. Don’t (always) take the easy option
We all like to take photos of well-known locations, after all they are iconic for a reason. But don’t limit yourself to the same locations and compositions as other photographers you’ve seen. At popular locations, try some different compositions. Even better, try to go to lesser-known locations.
4. Use a tripod
Simply put, if you want to capture the best photographs, at the best time of the day, at the highest quality possible, then a tripod is often an essential piece of equipment. Photography in low light conditions (e.g. early morning or early evening) without a tripod would require an increase in ISO to be able to avoid camera shake, which in turn means more noise in your images. If you want to capture a scene using a slow shutter speed or long exposure (for example, to capture the movement of clouds or water) then without a tripod you simply won’t be able to hold the camera steady enough to avoid blurred images from camera shake. Note that I’m not saying you always have to use a tripod – some of my photos have been taken hand held – but in general it’s better to use one than not, or at least have the option.
5. Chase the light
To me, light is probably the most important factor in any photograph, but even more so in landscape photography. It really doesn’t matter how great the location, is or how you compose your photo – if the light doesn’t do the scene justice, then the image usually won’t work. The best light for landscape photography is early in the morning or late afternoon (the golden hours), with the midday sun offering the harshest light. Sunrise and sunset are the times when you can get amazing colours in the sky, and coupled with the soft light, that’s often when you get the most eye-catching images.
6. Think about composition
Although light is critical to getting a good landscape photograph, composition is also essential. It doesn’t matter if you have a spectacular sunrise or sunset, a photo that’s just got a colourful sky won’t cut it. Think about your foreground when composing your photo. Use leading lines if possible to guide the viewer’s eye into the scene.
7. Use neutral density and polarising filters
Neutral Density filters and polarisers are a useful piece of equipment for any landscape photographer. Often you will need to manipulate the available light, or even try to enhance the natural elements. For example, if you are taking photos which include water, you may find you get unwanted reflections from the sun, which is where a polarising filter can help by minimising the reflections and also enhancing the colours (greens, blues, and yellows). Neutral density filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera’s lens. This allows you to use a longer exposure than normal. You can even get strong ND filters that reduce the light by more than a thousand times, allowing you to do several-minute exposures in bright daylight! This offers you some more creative options.
8. Use the camera’s histogram
When capturing a photo you want to ensure you have the entire tonal range of the scene in your image, from the darkest tones to the lightest tones. It’s hard to visualise this just by looking at the image on your camera’s LCD. The camera’s histogram is a graphical representation of the tones that would be captured, and this allows you to easily see if there is any ‘clipping’ (i.e. details that would be lost).
For instance, if you find that the majority of the graph is shifted to one side, this is an indication that your photo is too light or dark (overexposed or underexposed). This isn’t always a bad thing, and some images work perfectly well either way. However, if you find that your graph extends beyond the left or right edge, this shows that you have parts of the photo with lost detail (pure black areas if the histogram extends beyond the left edge and pure white if it extends beyond the right edge). This is something you should avoid, so by seeing the evidence in the histogram, you are able to correct it by either recomposing the image or compensating for the exposure.
9. Shoot in RAW format
Simply put, if your camera is capable of capturing photos in RAW format, then I recommend that you always capture RAW files. They contain much more detail and information, and give far greater flexibility in post-production without losing quality. Remember, you can always save RAW files in whatever other formats you require, but you will not be able to save JPEGs as RAW files, so ultimately you are limited to the quality at which the JPEG was shot.
10. Learn post-processing
When you take photos in RAW format, they all have to be processed in some form or another. RAW images are, as the name implies, the raw, unprocessed information that the camera has captured. This is in contrast to shooting in JPEG mode where the camera automatically converts the RAW image into a JPEG file and performs post-processing (such as sharpening, saturation, contrast etc) for you. The amount of post-processing you do is a personal choice. Some people prefer to do minimal processing while others like to use more of an artistic license to give their photos a surreal look. Personally I prefer to let the natural light do the talking rather than overpower it with post-processing but it’s always good to learn various post-processing techniques so you have to option to be more creative if you want to.
Landscape photography is one of the most common genres that amateur and professional photographers get into. With practice, hard work, and patience you can capture stunning landscape photos that will look great in your portfolio.