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HOW TO TAKE GREAT LANDSCAPE PHOTOS
Most people recognize the name Ansel Adams, who was a famous North American landscape photographer. He took many images that people today try to mimic. The interesting thing about many of his photographs is that he had his own unique style and did not usually comply with most of the techniques that will follow in this article. It is important to remember that tips and techniques are great to use in some circumstances as they often provide an easy and effective way to capture a scene with an interesting outcome, but they are not the only way to craft a photograph. With that said, there is a reason why so many photographers choose to adopt many of the following principles – they frequently produce picturesque, thought-provoking images.
Before embarking on a mission to take landscape photographs, make sure your gear is all clean and batteries are charged. Your kit bag should have a range of lenses covering the 18mm to 200mm focal length, and further if possible. A tripod is not always essential, but can provide stability, sharper images, better panoramic results, and allow you to capture the exact same area in order to amend something in post-processing (eg. if there is a group of tourists standing in front of an icon, taking the exact same photo from a tripod a minute later when they have moved to a different area within the frame allows you to edit them out in Photoshop using layers).
Many believe that the best time to capture landscape photographs is during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. This is not always the case. Some scenes and environments are best captured when the sun is high in the sky or during wild, afternoon summer storms. To find unique portrayals of a scene a photographer must experiment with the different light produced throughout the day. Shadows can be very striking, especially in black and white photography.
Great landscape photographs usually provide not only a great foreground, but an equally interesting background, so try to balance a scene and provide a pathway for the viewer’s eyes to naturally wander deeper into your image. Leading lines are often an effective means of achieving this. Whether it is straight lines of a railway track or a winding path into the hills, humans tends to naturally follow these guidelines into a scene. Rocks or land-forms can also be creatively used to perform this task.
If there is one particular subject that you want your viewer to focus on then it must be sharply in focus (use a hyperfocal distance calculation chart to achieve this, or focus on the subject itself, depending on its position within the scene). To allow the subject to be further highlighted in a frame, consider the ‘rule of thirds’. Mentally segment your image into 9 equal rectangular blocks. Research shows that humans are more likely to first notice things placed near the four corners of the center block. Therefore, by placing your subject over one of these four corners, you increase the chances of the viewer instantly locating the point where you intended them to notice.
When using small numbers of objects as your subject, such as trees, try to include odd numbers of them. People tend to prefer odd numbers of things over even numbers, aesthetically speaking. So, if given the choice to have three flowers or four flowers in your image, it may be better to opt for three flowers. Obviously not all situations offer these choices, and it is better to have an image with 10 trees than to have no image whatsoever.
Many people believe that landscape photography is about fitting as much into your image as possible; the wider the angle, the better. This is often not the case, since it can be more interesting to focus on one aspect of a scene than presenting it all in an image. There is a great deal of skill involved in deciding on a composition, but if you have enough time it is important to experiment with multiple focal lengths, as well as both portrait and landscape oriented framing. Returning to the same scene at different times of the day also allows you to view it under different lighting conditions.
Remember that flash only illuminates very near objects, so you should usually turn off your in-camera flash. This is especially important when you are around other people; some of who may be professionals, as your bright flash can be destructive to their image. An interesting way to make your shot different from others is to use slower shutter speeds to capture movement (such as grass swaying in the wind or clouds moving overhead). It is often necessary to use filters in order to block the amount of light hitting the sensor to avoid over-exposure, but at times of low light you may only need a tripod to achieve this long-exposure effect without blowing out the highlights. Graduated ND filters can be used to block some light from the horizon while permitting the passage of all other light. These are great tools for gathering the vibrant colors of sunrises and sunsets, and having enough light from the other areas of a scene.
These techniques have all been tried and tested, and can be fantastic ways to make your landscape images ‘pop’, but sometimes you need to break the rules to get the best-looking image. Reflections, for example, often look best when split evenly into two parts. My advice is this - know the rules and know that you can break them; experiment and practice until you find your own style.