Tips and tricks to shooting landscape photos.
It is a lovely day. You are outdoors on a hike, breathing the clean, fresh country air. Your camera is nestled safely in your pack and you are climbing a somewhat steep hill. With muscles pleasantly burning, you top the hill and stare down into the valley beyond, where a stream winds its babbling way between rocks. Your breath is taken away by the beauty, and you want to capture that moment so you can have it forever. You pull out your camera and prepare for the shot… only to have it come out blurry. Has this ever happened to you? If so, we can help.
Landscape photography may seem quite daunting, even if the conditions are perfect. So many things can go wrong. However, it does not have to be a nerve-wracking experience or a science experiment. You can get that wonderful shot—you just need a few tips to help you along the way. By the time you have finished reading this article, you will know exactly how to take quick, methodical landscape photographs when time is of the utmost essence—landscape photos guaranteed to turn out perfectly. However, before we discuss ways that you too, can shoot like a professional photographer, we need to discuss some basic things that you might have forgotten.
1. Plan before you start.
A little planning will take you a long way in perfecting your landscape technique. In fact, planning just may be the most important step in the entire process. Most of us know that checking the weather before you head out is a necessity. However, there are many more things that you need to be sure of.
Check the time of sunrise and sunset. These are beautiful times to take shots, but that is not the only reason to check them. If you know when sunset is, for example, you can plan your hike, drive or bike accordingly so that you get there while there is still light. After sunset, the light fades rather rapidly most of the time. You want to be there with plenty of time to catch the shots you need. If you head out before sunrise, you could get there too early and have to wait. While you are checking things, it is a great idea to check the direction of the sun’s movement in relation to your preferred shooting position. Light from different places makes different pictures. If the light is behind you, then the picture will be different than if the light is coming from your left.
At first glance, this may seem like a lot of things to have to check before you can even begin having fun. However, there are websites and apps for your phone that will make the checking process easier by putting everything in one convenient place.
2. The lens is important.
There are many lenses which can be used for landscape photography. These range from the wide-angle lenses most people are used to, all the way up to telephoto lenses. Which lens is the best? That depends on your location, as well as what sort of shot you want.
One thing is for sure, however. You will want an ultra wide-angle lens in your camera bag. These lenses are versatile and good for a lot of various shots, giving you a wide-open field of view.
The type of wide-angle lens to purchase depends on your camera. If you are using an APS-C camera, you will need a lens with a focal range of 10-20 millimeters. For a full-frame camera, consider one that has a focal range of 15-30 millimeters. These specific focal ranges will give you a wide, dramatic-feeling photo which you will be happy to share.
3. Pack light.
Do not pack every camera component you have unless you need them all. There is a possibility you will wind up walking several miles before you reach your shooting location. That full camera bag will get quite heavy hanging on your shoulder for that long. For that reason, pack only the lenses you are sure you will need, your necessary filters and your camera and lens-cleaning accessories.
Also, it is wise to pack clothing for every type of weather that would normally happen in your location at the current time of year. For example, if you are shooting in a temperate climate during spring, it would be a wise idea to pack a fold-able raincoat or poncho to shelter under in case it starts raining suddenly.
Tip 1. Setting up the camera.
As with anything else, the settings for your camera aren’t something which should just be left to chance. You need to learn what settings work best for landscape photography. Thankfully, we can save you a lot of ruined shots by giving you the optimal settings.
First, put your camera in aperture priority mode. This gives you control over the depth of field while allowing the camera to control the shutter speed.
Once you have done that, set the aperture to F/16. This gives you a nice, large depth of field. This depth allows you to get more of the beautiful landscape in the photo.
Now it’s time to set the iso to 100. This will give you the best image quality possible.
Next, set the metering mode to Evaluative/Matrix. This setting allows your camera to read light from all around the scene and use that to calculate a correct exposure. There may be times when you need to lighten or darken the exposure. To do this, use Exposure Compensation.
With these settings and the filters you might have added to your camera, the shutter speed is likely to drop. If it drops to below 1/125 seconds, it may be necessary to attach your camera to a tripod and use a remote-controlled release to engage the shutter. That way you will not have to worry about camera shake. Camera shake is a type of blurring in your photos that happens due to tiny camera movements when you are shooting at slow shutter speeds.
Tip 2. Adjusting the Sharpness
The sharpness of an image depends on two things: the narrowness of the aperture and the proper focusing technique.
Even with a narrow aperture, focusing incorrectly on the wrong part of the scene can leave the foreground or background out of focus.
So, what is the proper focusing technique? Switch the lens and camera to manual. Then identify the point in the scene that is roughly a third of the way toward the horizon. Twist the focus ring to bring that part of the frame into focus. Look through your viewfinder or use the live view on your display while rotating the focus ring slowly. When the image looks sharp, take a shot. Zoom into your LCD screen and check for sharpness throughout the scene.
If the foreground is sharp but the background is not, it is time to adjust the focus back. Do not be afraid to play with your shots till you get it right.
Tip 3. Extending time with neutral density filters.
Neutral density filters, or NDs, are used to reduce the amount of light entering the camera lens. This may, at first seem like a bad idea. However, in landscape photography, it can actually be useful.
If you use an ND filter, it allows you to creatively blur such things like clouds, water, and any other surroundings you might want, giving the photo a surreal, dreamy quality.
Because they reduce the amount of light entering the camera, these filters allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you normally could.
The light not allowed to enter the camera lens is measured in lens stops. Neutral density filters come in one, two, three, four, six, ten or even fifteen stops, so it is important to play around and find out what best meets your needs.
Tip 4. ND Grads
There is another neutral density filter that you need to know about if you want to take beautiful landscape shots. This filter, called a neutral density graduated filter, or an ND Grad for short, allows you to catch a perfectly exposed shot of the sky while leaving the foreground dark.
Perhaps you are wondering how this type of essential landscaping filter works. The design is simpler than it might seem. The filter blocks light entering at the top of the frame, much like a normal neutral density filter. This is what gives you that perfectly exposed sky. As you move down the filter, the effect lessens. When you reach the bottom of the filter, there is no effect at all.
Without this filter, capturing a perfect sky would be very tricky, and you likely could not manage it in just one shot. For this reason, this is another filter that your camera case does not need to be without.
Tip 5. The blue hour and overcast
Let us say that the sun is setting. You sigh, sadly and turn to pack up your kit. After all, there is not much of a photo opportunity after the sun has just set, right? Wrong! It is a great idea to hang around for the blue hour.
The blue hour is not actually an hour. However, it is the time after the well-known golden period where blue and purple wavelengths of light are touching the Earth. The sky will still be light, but the ground will be bathed in the most amazing blue glow. This sort of ambiance makes a wonderful backdrop for your landscape shots, something that is unique enough to impress your friends.
You might also think that an overcast day is a bad one for photos as well. However, it does not have to be! As long as the sky is not a boring expanse of black and gray, you can take excellent, dramatic pictures. Everything looks different when the sky is overcast. All the trees seem moodier and brooding.
An added bonus to this sort of picture is that if you happen to catch one when the sun is peeking through the clouds it looks even more amazing, a small bright spot in a huge, dark world.