The art and practice of photography is vast and ever changing. Some people are comfortable sticking with the tried and true, taking snapshots of family and friends and capturing vacation memories and special occasions. Others, like the photographers at Michael Broyles Photography, enjoy working in a studio. But sometimes it is good to expand outside your comfort zone and try something new. For the amateur photographer, one of the more captivating aspects of our art is landscape photography. If you are interested in dabbling in this medium, read on for some important tips to keep in mind before you dive in. (Note: what follows is only a summary. I advise doing more research and reading before you take your first landscape photos).
Invest in Quality Gear
To get spectacular landscape photos, you need to invest in more than a decent camera. One of the most essential pieces of gear is a sturdy, lightweight tripod. A tripod will help you eliminate the shakiness that is common when you take photos using a handheld camera, resulting in sharper images. Adding a filter or two to your equipment bag enables you to add a more professional touch to your landscape photos. For example, a polarizing filter can help you control the color of the sky, while a graduated neutral density filter will prevent you from overexposing images.
Get Comfortable with Your Camera Settings
One of the first rules of photography, regardless of your medium, is to get to know your camera, its features, and how to use them. This is especially important for landscape photography where the focus is capturing natural scenes on a scale much larger than everyday shots. Three areas of particular interest for landscape photographers are long exposure, depth of field, and wide angles.
Long exposures create a sense of motion and are a great trick to employ for landscape photography. You will be using a long shutter speed for this technique and a tripod is especially handy here. To select a long shutter speed, use shutter priority mode or manual mode. How long depends on the subject; a safe bet is to start with a 30 second exposure.
Depth of Field
To achieve an optional depth of field, you will need to select a smaller aperture setting, such as f/11. A narrower aperture brings more detail into focus, however, smaller apertures mean less light is reaching your camera’s image sensor. To compensate, you will need to increase your ISO or lengthen your shutter speed.
Wide angle shots convey a sense of wide open space, perfect for capturing mountain vistas or expansive meadows. To achieve these shots, you will need to use a wide angle lens with a field of view of more than 100˚, if at all possible. Wide angle lenses typically work best during the “golden hour” (see below).
Read up on Composition
How you compose your shot means everything in landscape photography and can make or break your image. Here are three areas to keep in mind.
All photographs have some focal point whether it is a person or a place. In landscape photography, this can be anything from a majestic mountain, a towering tree, a historic structure, or even an intriguing rock formation. To achieve optimal sharpness and depth of field, many photographers advise using the rule of thirds to frame your shot.
Foreground, Middleground, and Background
A well-balanced image is more pleasing to the eye and less distracting. In landscape photography, this can be achieved by dividing your framing into three segments: foreground, middleground, and background. A professional rule of thumb is to anchor your foreground with a visually striking object to give a sense of depth and invite the viewer to “step into” your image.
Being deliberate in your composition of a landscape shot goes a long way to producing a memorable photo. Consider the horizon. Most people just point and shoot at a scene without giving a second thought as to where to place the horizon, which is usually placed dead center. Try a different tact: using the rule of thirds, place the horizon in the upper third to put emphasis on the landscape. Conversely, if the sky is the subject of your shot, frame your photograph so that the horizon is in the lower third.
As with all photography, good lighting is key to pulling off a successful landscape photograph. Arguably the best time to shoot landscape photography is during the “golden hours,” or the time (approximately 30-60 minutes depending on weather conditions) before and after sunrise or sunset. During this time, the sun is lower in the sky, casting a softer and warmer glow. The angle of the light is desirable as well, creating patterns, dimensions, and textures not found at any other time of the day.
That said, you can take a great picture at any time of the day. Morning light is prized for capturing mountains and flowers, while sunset and the first few minutes afterward are beloved by landscape photographers for capturing images of the sky and the setting sun. The absence of sunlight has benefits as well: cloudy weather can act as a natural filter for sunlight and set the mood for atmospheric shots that play up approaching storms and deep shadows.
Landscape photography can be a fun departure from the everyday and a great way to experiment with your camera and its equipment. If a studio portrait session is more to your liking, give Michael Broyles Photography a call to schedule a consultation and hear about some of the special promotions we are running.