Thumb through the pages of any National Geographic or National Parks magazine and you will undoubtedly find striking landscape images. Most of these images are the result of hours, if not days, of planning, hard work and braving the elements. But by following a few simple tips, you can increase your landscapes’ WOW factor
Use scale to give your photographs depth. You can accomplish this by including an object in the foreground. Use subjects that occur naturally in the landscape environment. This could be a colorful flower, unusual rock formation, seashells, or a host of other subjects. The purpose of this technique is to give the photograph more of a 3-dimensional appearance. The object in the foreground essentially creates two planes, causing the eye to follow into the original focus point, the landscape.
2. Wide-angle Perspective
A wide-angle lens brings a true panoramic perspective to an image. A wider viewpoint allows your audience to enjoy the sweeping vastness of the landscape without the limitations of a “normal” lens. However, unless you have a linear lens, a wide-angle lens will cause some distortion at the edge of the focal plane; the shorter the focal length, the greater the distortion. This effect is generally not visually appealing in landscape photography because the result is a curved horizon. In landscape photography, it is a good rule of thumb to use lenses only moderately wider than a normal perspective lens. Of course there will be those photographic moments when an ultra-wide or even fisheye lens is the most appropriate equipment. Go ahead, experiment!
3. The Horizon
In landscape photography, it is important to remember the horizon is not permanently ensconced at eye level. By moving the horizon up or down, you can increase the dramatic effect of your photographs. How do you “move” the horizon? This is basically accomplished by moving the photographer lower or higher. Becoming eyelevel with a field of wildflowers makes a more dramatic photo than shooting down at the same field. The same is true with the sky. Magnificent sunsets or ominous storm clouds need to be dominant in the picture if that is your subject. Tilting the camera up (lowering the horizon) captures more of the drama in the sky. This also causes your camera’s light meter to read more areas of the image that you like.
4. Black and White
Black and white landscape photography masters like Ansel Adams have never gone out of vogue. Black and white landscapes are most effective when there is a strong subject that remains powerful without color. Adams’ “Moonrise Over Hernando” is a good example. Color landscape photographs that are mostly gray are another candidate for conversion to black and white. In these types of photos, the color may actually detract from the overall strength of the image.
There are generally two ways to create a digital black and white image from a color one. First, many digital cameras have a black and white option somewhere in the menu display. Second, photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or www.gimp.com contain tools that convert color landscape images to black and white ones with the click of a mouse.
Finding patterns in landscapes creates an unusual perspective and draws the eye to the photograph. It is a method to create order from nature’s apparent randomness. Nature provides landscape photographers with interesting patterns at every turn. Ansel Adams used tree patterns in many of his prints, including “Pine Forest in Snow” and “Aspens, Northern New Mexico”. Popular subjects that include the compositional elements for landscape pattern photography include beaches, dunes, cliff and canyon faces, streams, rivers, forests, snow and winter landscapes, and forests. You can make your landscape pattern photographs more powerful by including an out-of-place object within the pattern, as Adams did in his “Pine Forest in Snow” photo.
5. The Golden Hours
Two of the most popular subjects for landscape photography are sunrises and sunsets. The low angle of the sun causes light to diffuse into an array of hues that transform the dawn and dusk skies into a majestic display of color. For other landscapes, shooting when the sun is low in the sky adds longer shadows with interesting texture and detail. Landscape photography during the “golden hours” will add a warm, enticing glow to your photographs.
6. Avoid Washed Out Skies
There will be days when blue skies are nowhere to be found and you are left with a gray pall over your landscape. Don’t despair. The soft light of overcast skies often brings out delicate colors that would be lost in the shadows on a sunny day. Try not to include a gray or white sky in the photograph. Large expanses of washed out skies can cause the metering system to overcompensate and make the actual subject of the picture (your landscape) to appear much darker.
8. Shoot the Seasons
Many landscape photographs are successful because of the time of year they are made. This is usually the result of good planning by the photographer. It is a rare successful landscape photo that is taken during a five minutes stop at the side of the road. Landscape photographers are patient people and often shoot the same scene in summer, fall, winter and spring. A blue sky summer meadow can turn into a barren blanket of snow in the winter. Fall foliage is always a winner and the blustery winds and unexpected showers of spring present new opportunities for exciting landscape photography.
9. Use a Tripod
A general rule of thumb for landscape photography is to use a tripod and any serious landscape photographer keeps a tripod stashed in their vehicle somewhere. Subtle landscapes require exposure times that cannot be hand-held. In addition, shooting landscapes during the lower light “golden hours” requires longer exposures. Landscapes require attention to detail and maximum depth of field. A tripod is also a necessity if you are attempting to capture the movement of water, clouds or wind. Be sure to use a remote or cable release for extra stability. In a crunch, a monopod can provide a degree of stability, but sharpness will suffer.
Watch for Manmade Objects
One of the most frustrating experiences for landscape photographers is to come home after a day of shooting magnificent vistas and discover an unwanted manmade object tucked away in a corner of the panorama. Man’s influence is everywhere so it is important to study your composition carefully before triggering the shutter. A few minutes at the landscape site may save hours of time working in Photoshop attempting to remove utility poles, abandoned sheds, hikers, boats or other undesirable subjects that can easily blend into the landscape.