Landscape photography is one of the more fascinating and practised photography genre, perhaps second only to portrait photography. There is always something special in wake up early in the morning to get somewhere and catch that special light. Unfortunately, it could be also a big source of frustration, especially when the final result is not fulfilling like being in the place shooting.
Today I want to share some of my personal tips to keep in mind when shooting landscape photography.
Use the right gear
Don’t trust who says you can shoot landscape photography with any camera. Landscape photography is usually better enjoyable on large prints, and this means is preferable to have a decent amount of megapixels. The larger the sensor, the better. A full frame camera is usually more suitable. Or, you can use the forever young medium format film, that ensure an excellent detail rendering and enable you to make large format prints with minimal loss of quality.
A good alternative is to use a medium format film camera and to scan the film for subsequent work on computer. In these video, photographer Nick Carver shows how to shoot medium format film and then to post-process the image in Adobe Lightroom:
Also, you don’t need an exceptionally fast lens, but you would need a resolvent one. This means a lens able to reproduce as many details as possible, and this depends on the quality of the glass. These lenses are generally expensive, some of the best are the Sigma “Art” series or, even better, Zeiss and Leica lenses.
Consider the depth of field
The usual approach in landscape photography is to have as much of your scene in focus as possible, and to do this you need to reduce your aperture. Try to stay in the middle of your lens range, ideally from f11 to f16. Even if your lens can close to f22, this can result in a loose of sharpness, so do not exaggerate.
Also remember the depth of field is inversely proportional to the focal length. If you are using a zoom lens or you have more than one prime lens, this is another parameter you can work on to change your depth of field. In this article you can find a list of useful apps for photographers, including one to easily calculate the depth of field.
Use a tripod
Even if you are not dealing with long exposure photography, to use a tripod when shooting landscapes is always a good idea. Using a tripod will ensure the camera will firmly still during the shoot, even more if, for some reason, your focal length is 50mm or higher.
Also, if your lens provide image stabilization, it is preferable to disable it and use a tripod instead. This is because the stabilizer works moving internal elements in the lens, and this can result once again in a loss of sharpness.
Foreground, middle ground and background
All these elements should be carefully considered, when composing your landscape photography shot. Try to think in which of these layer you’ll place your point of interest and adjust the composition accordingly.
In this video from photographer Craig Roberts shows how these elements should be considered when composing your shot:
Take advantage of bad weather
Many photographers only take the camera with them when the sun is shining high in the sky. But good weather does not always means good pictures. Instead, go out when is threatening to rain and try to include in your pictures the overcasting sky with dramatic clouds. A foggy morning can add mood and character to an otherwise trivial shoot, even if perfectly executed.
Of course, when shooting in adverse weather condition, take the minimum necessary care to avoid accidents. Shooting during a storm can be dangerous, especially if you are on a hill or close to a river. Also remember to adequately protect you gear, unless you are using a tropicalized body and lens.
Filters where a must for shooting landscape photography in the film era, but with digital cameras they are still useful. If you want to capture the movement of clouds or waterways, a neutral density filter can help to reduce the shutter speed. If you are taking a picture with a substantial difference of brightness between land a sky, a neutral density graduated filter can help to get the correct exposure. If you are shooting a landscape and part of the scene is filled with water, a lake for example, a polarized filter can help to avoid reflections.
Most of these effects can be replicated using a software, but if you get a correct shoot from the camera, the final result is likely to be far better. On the other hand, keep in mind that the effect produced by a filter could be difficult to mitigate using the software.
Try different compositions
Eight out of ten landscape have the horizon line on the second (from the top) line of thirds. This make sense is the sky has some interesting pattern we want to highlight. If not, maybe the foreground is more interesting to be shown. Here the suggestion is simple: experiment with different composition before to stick the camera on the tripod. For example try to place the horizon on the first line of third. Or put the horizon at the very bottom of the pictures increase the negative space and drive the viewer attention to your point of interest.
Also, try to shoot your landscape pictures in “portrait” orientation. Even if not natural, this could potentially produce interesting results and make your pictures stand out of the crowd.
Look for a point of interest
Any good landscape picture should include a point of interest. This can be a tree, a rock, a stream, a bridge or any other object, you name it. Without a point of interest, the viewer will wander around your picture, looking for some place to make the look rest. And probably will ask himself what the photographer wanted to actually depict, with that picture.
If a great landscape can be pleasant to the view, when experiencing it in person, it needs a point of interest to make it work once printed, or when viewing it on a computer screen. Once you identified the point of interest in your image, use the composition rules to drive the viewer attention to it. Leading lines works great for this purpose, but also a good use of negative space can grant excellent results.
As stated at the very beginning of the article, this is not a guide on hot to shoot landscape photography but just a set of precautions and suggestions to improve your shots. Now I would like to hear from you what’s yours. Use the comment form below to share your experience when shooting landscape photography.