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Landscape photographers are perhaps amongst the superstars of the photographic world. Their images draw you in, detail the beauty of the natural world and inspire you to take similar shots. However, if you have found it less than simple to get great landscapes, here are some techniques that you need to hone in order to make your shots stand out from the crowd.
1. Understanding Light is Paramount
Although it may seem obvious, understanding light is perhaps the most important element in taking landscape images. Of course, it’s not just the light you need to understand, it's the relationship between light and shade and using that relationship to create depth in your image. Often, as a compositional tool, you can use shadows as a leading line.
Light changes during the day, and understanding the difference between soft light (typically at the beginning and the end of the day), harsh light (found usually in the middle of the day) and diffused light (found on cloudy days) is the key not only to unlocking the potential in a landscape but also the style in which you wish to create that landscape.
You need to understand light and shade. Image by Pedro Szekely
2. Patience is a Virtue
Directly linked to understanding light, patience is an essential skill for the landscape photographer. Don’t expect to turn up at your chosen viewpoint, spend twenty minutes shooting and pop off for a cup of coffee. Landscape photography is about, firstly predicting the position of the light using tools such as the Photographer’s Ephemeris, then predicting the type of light using weather forecasts. Once on location, more often than not, the predictions will be off, so it will be time to sit and wait for that light to become right. Of course this extra time should be used to work on your composition, which leads us neatly to our next section.
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Patience and timing are the key. Image by KENNETH BARKER
3. Compositional Rules are Your Guide
You may have the most amazing scene before you, but shooting it without careful consideration to composition will often lead to a snapshot rather than a masterpiece. Give yourself plenty of time at the location and try to concentrate on one particular scene rather than trying to shoot as many different viewpoints and angles as possible.
Once you have decided on the scene, look for the compositional elements, think where you want the viewers eye to be lead to. What is the main subject of the scene? Look for elements within the scene such as leading lines, symmetry and the way shadows can add depth to the shot. Try to combine all of these elements to get a single perfect view, all the time keeping an eye on the light for the right moment to shoot.
4. Maximize the Dynamic Range
Another essential skill of the landscape photographer is understanding their camera and, in particular, dynamic range. Whilst many people might go for an HDR landscape, there is a sense of satisfaction in getting the shot right with a single image. To do this you need to know and understand the dynamic range of your camera, how well it can cope with the contrast between the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. Shooting RAW will help extend the dynamic range a little and shooting to the right will maximize the quality you are getting from your sensor.
5. Get a Hold of the Depth of Field
Not all landscapes are about huge depth of field, sometimes the shallow focus works well as a compositional tool to draw our eye to a particular element within the scene. Understanding the relationship between depth of field, aperture and focal length, is essential if you wish to control the look of your image. Beyond that, another depth of field related technique you really should know is hyperfocal distance, the point at which to focus to get maximum depth of field.
Sometimes shallow DoF works well in landscapes. Image by Emil Pakarklis
6. Know When and How to Use Filters
Tying in very much with dynamic range, a good knowledge of filters is essential to a landscape photographer. Knowing when and how to use neutral density filters can dramatically improve the look of your image. Polarizing filters are also very useful, particularly how they can remove reflections in water and reduce glare in foliage.
There are many elements that need to come together to take the perfect landscape shot and it’s not an easy task in getting them to work all at the same time. The tips above are probably the most important elements required in getting a great shot and by practicing them you will certainly improve your chances of getting that shot. All of these particular techniques have been well written about, right here on lightstalking so you need look no further to improve your landscape photography.