Great Landscape Photography Tips
Landscapes are a perennially popular subject for photography, as you can shoot them all year round and you don't need to worry about them refusing to be photographed or asking for money! That's not to say it's a simple process to get great scenic imagery.
Many photographers with a bit of skill and a decent camera can take OK landscapes; taking very good or great landscapes requires a whole different level of ability and vision. With this in mind, here are some tips to take more interesting and creative images...
1) Try and think a bit different
With the best will in the world, it's hard to see how anyone can come up with an entirely new take on a very popular landscape spot – Durdle Door in Dorset on the Southwest UK coast for example. Every weekend there will be good photographers out there photographing it and the chances are they will all end up with the same kind of picture.
If you want to try to get something a bit different you need to think laterally – top nature photographer Ben Osborne, for example, turned up at the Door in the middle of a storm, so he caught the spray being forced up the rock by the raging elements. You could try something very radical like infrared, too.
2) Use your local knowledge
Related to the above, don't always assume you have to travel miles to shoot a famous beauty spot – there might be something equally photogenic on your doorstep. If there is a particular hillside, valley or old woodland that you have discovered nearby, I'd urge you to exhaust the photographic possibilities there before following the crowds to a very popular and well-known location.
3) Use the light
Sorry, this is a real old chestnut, but I need to say it again – for the best landscape shots you need the best light, and this is usually just after dawn or around dusk. You need to be set up as the sun rises too, so landscape photography is definitely a genre for larks, rather than owls.
Don't be too rigid about this however; great shots can also be had in the afternoon – just before, or after, or even during, an amazing storm, for example.
5) Choose your spot
Once you have found a great place to photograph, the real work really begins. Don't just plonk your tripod down in the most obvious spot. You need to walk around and investigate every possible vantage point, especially in relation to sunset or sunrise.
Top landscape photographers will often return to a spot several times before actually committing to take the image, checking out different vantage points at different times of day.
5) Whose frame is it anyway?
Great landscape images always display great composition, and often this can be as simple as only allowing important elements into the frame. This sounds obvious, but it's amazing how many otherwise talented photographers allow distracting elements to get in the picture, like cars and vans, lamp posts, rubbish at the side of the road etc.
Rigorously examine all four corners of the scene in the viewfinder (or rear screen) before you take the shot, and only allow in those elements that add to the picture.
6) Try and avoid clichés
Landscape photography is subject to fashions, and while following these can make your pictures look on-trend for a while, there is also the risk that they will look dated in a few years. The current fashion in landscape photography is for the following, especially with seascapes – a big foreground boulder to add foreground interest, seawater and waves slowed down by long exposures, and dramatic looking skies.
Now, these are all cool photographic devices in their own right, but everyone seems to be including them at the moment, so if you do too, you will end up with rather generic looking pictures. Maybe try variations on these theme – seascape photographer David Baker, for example, shoots waves at a slightly faster shutter speed. By retaining some movement in the waves, but never simply freezing them, he creates wonderful, painterly effects.
7) Always use a tripod
Again, a rather obvious tip, but it's really worth taking along a tripod. However firmly you hold the camera, tiny imperceptible movements can soften your shots. A tripod also forces you to slow down and work in a more considered, even meditative, way, and really think about composition.
It all goes back to point 5, about being very strict about what you allow into the frame. Combine a tripod with a cable release, narrow aperture and mirror lock-up (check out your manual if you are unsure what this means), and you will get pin-sharp shots.
8) Don't always banish people
There is a long tradition in landscape photography that you should do your best to keep people out of the scene. Charlie Waite once said it was to give the viewer the impression that they, along with the photographer, had stumbled on some pristine, undiscovered spot. With all respect to Charlie, I find this rather disingenuous.
In most developed countries, there are going to people nearby, even at stupid o clock in the morning – often other photographers!
What's more, the great romantic painters who influenced much of modern landscape photography would often include the odd figure to give a sense of scale. I'm not saying that a picture is improved by lots of ramblers in brightly coloured anoraks or day trippers with messy picnics, but don't delete an otherwise good image as, god forbid, a person has strayed into a scene. Think about how they can add scale or mystery.
9) Use filters selectively
Along with a tripod, most serious photographers take along some filters for landscape photography. ND Grads are great for balancing the exposure of the sky with that of the land, for instance, but don't get carried away with more radical filters like the Lee Big Stopper.
While these do give the sky and sea a very dramatic look, it's a very common look, and one that, I fear, will look quite dated in a few years. If you capture a great spot in great light, you shouldn't need to gild the lily.
10) Don’t Over do HDR
Very few landscape images are improved by HDR effects. They look garish and unnatural and instantly date your image. For a more natural approach to HDR Landscape Photography take a look at Gavin Philips’s work Gavin runs a 4 week online course in HDR Photography on MyPhotoSchool and is well worth checking out.
Present company excluded, having said this most HDR is the photographic equivalent of the synth drum – a good idea at the time, but now pretty naff.
For more information on landscape photography why not consider doing the following 4 week online photography coursesFine Art Landscape Photography with Sue Bishop
Low Light Landscape Photography with Tony Worobiec