Landscape Photography


The field of photography can be difficult to master because it involves both creativity and technical skills. In addition, a photographer’s development is often non-linear. Some may easily grasp the technical side of photography, while others pick up post-processing more quickly. Some are extremely creative, but have a difficult time with a more technical thought-process. This page provides you with tools to help you improve your photography development in each of these areas.

LEARN TO SHOOT

When you first get started in photography, at the bare minimum, you need three pieces of equipment: a camera, a normal zoom lens (24-70mm), and a tripod. Many other pieces of equipment are nice to have and you will eventually need more to produce great photographs, but these three items are enough to start developing your skillset as a photographer. Besides a mastery of your equipment, you’ll also need to understand the role light, terrain, and weather play in landscape photography. This understanding will dramatically increase your chances of coming away with a stunning image.

UNDERSTANDING FOCUS

Auto Focus | Focus tracking | Hyperfocal distance | Focus stacking | Focusing with Livewview | Mirror-lockup | Timed release

A common struggle that new (and even some experienced) photographers often have is understanding how to get every important aspect of an image sharply in focus. We recommend that you start by learning your camera’s focusing mechanism and what options or modes are available to you. Some of the things you’ll need to know regarding focus include:

  • How to manipulate focus using all focus points, a single focus point, or just the center focus point. It’s very important to understand how each focus point method works, what each accomplishes (or doesn’t accomplish), and how sensitive each is.
  • How to put your camera in tracking mode to capture a moving subject (such as a bird flying across the sky) while maintaining a sharp focus.
  • The principles of hyperfocal distance. Although the concept of hyperfocal distance is easy to understand, implementing it is much more complicated and takes a great deal of practice. We recommend that you read up on this topic and practice applying it.
  • How to use focus stacking for macro photography and wide-angle shots. Focus stacking is the process of taking multiple images at different focal points and then combining those images later. The Live View feature (if your camera has it), is incredibly useful in achieving a good focus stack image.
  • How to use mirror lockup and time release features. Both of these help to prevent camera shake and allow for the sharpest images possible for your camera.

UNDERSTANDING EXPOSURE

Exposure Compensation | Shutter/Aperture Priority | Manual Exposure (Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO) | Bracketing | Metering Modes | Histogram

Exposure refers to whether or not your image is too dark or too bright. An image with a correct exposure has more of an impact to the viewer. Although a camera’s technology can be fairly advanced, it’s impossible for it to capture the correct exposure in every shot. One of the first things you should learn as a photographer is how to go beyond auto-exposure shooting… how to take control of the exposure rather than simply relying on the camera’s auto settings. Exposure compensation is an easy way to adjust an incorrect exposure; you should know how to manipulate it up or down to make images lighter or darker. The following are important to know in regards to exposure.

  • Shutter and aperture priority operations are an absolute must for landscape photography. They allow creativity by controlling one or the other and letting the camera handle the rest according to the ISO. In manual mode, you control everything (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) rather than relying on the camera’s algorithms. If you’re not comfortable using manual mode, this should be a first priority in regards to developing your skill set.
  • Once you’re comfortable with manual mode, learn about your camera’s metering modes: center metering, evaluative metering, and auto metering… what each does and how it impacts the photo you’re shooting for.
  • Become familiar with using the histogram on the back of your camera to determine the correct exposure for your image. The setting changes you make based on the histogram will determine the look of the next image you shoot.
  • Once you’re familiar with basic exposure settings and histogram reading, you should have the skills and confidence needed to try bracketing. Bracketing allows you to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene you’re trying to shoot.

UNDERSTANDING LIGHT

Different Types of Light | GND Filters | ND Filters | Circular Polarizer | Diffusers/Reflectors

As a landscape photographer, you must be able to recognize the variety of light conditions you’ll encounter in the field. These range from a very high dynamic range (where you’re challenged to capture a photo with a properly exposed foreground and a properly exposed sky) to soft light conditions (such as in a fog where the light is so muted it makes every photo look dull). Knowing that your camera alone cannot capture these images properly, you must be familiar with other photography equipment and techniques (bracketing, GND and ND filters, circular polarizers, diffusers, and reflectors) that allow you to manipulate or control the light effectively.

 

MASTER POST PROCESSING

The advent of digital photography and computers has made is possible for everyone to jump on the post-processing band wagon. And why not? Post-processing offers the unlimited potential to make corrections to your photos and also to overcome the limitation of the camera (such as DOF and Dynamic Range). But remember, post-processing is NOT a replacement for learning to shoot. In the long run, having the “fix it later in Photoshop” attitude hurts your creativity and development as a photographer.

Organization | Keywords | File Types | Storage & Backup

Basic post-processing involves how you manage your images once they’re shot. You can apply this to any type of image such as JPG, RAW, and even photos from a smart phone or a point-and-shoot camera. You need to consider the following:

  • How do you intend to organize your photos or keyword your photos, if you chose to do so.
  • What type of files is best to store images long-term? Will you store them in a compressed format (like JPG) or an uncompressed format (such as TIFF).
  • How will you store your growing collection of images to ensure you don’t lose them?
  • How will you back them up? On a CD, flash drive, or hard drive? Or maybe on a cloud service? (We recommend that you use multiple methods to back up your images; such as more than one hard drive as well as storage in a remote location or fireproof fault.)

RAW Processing Software | Basic Adjustments | Advanced Adjustments

Today most cameras, except maybe some smart phones and low-end point-and-shoot types, have RAW file capabilities. A RAW file is like having a digital negative; it’s not yet in a viewable format but it maintains most of the image’s original information. In this format, you can manipulate the image file ‘after the fact’ to create what you think is the best image.

In post-processing, it’s important to understand and know how to use a RAW file converter. You must also know the basic adjustments such as exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation, highlights, and shadows. For example, there may not be just one correct white balance for the entire image; you may have to create multiple white balances to properly adjust different parts of the image. But even before that step, you must be able to proficiently identify which white balance works best based upon the final product you’re trying to create.

RAW converters also have a variety of advanced adjustment tools such as the following:

  • Lens correction and tone curves (which can create a different look and feel for the image)
  • GND filters & Brush tools that allow you to adjust a part of the image
  • …and more

Because working with RAW files allows you to manipulate images in ways you couldn’t otherwise do, ensure that you are proficient in both basic and more advanced RAW adjustment tools.

Mastering Post Processing Software | Local or Targeted Adjustments | Manual Blending | Preparing for Distribution 

Once you’re finished processing your images with a RAW converter, you may still feel that they are not processed exactly as you want them to be. For post- or advanced processing work, we suggest you become familiar with photo processing tools such as Photoshop, GIMP, Photomatix, or any other popular editing tool available on the market. Your processing knowledge base should include, for example, how to make targeted or localized adjustments to specific parts of your images and how to fine-tune settings such as contrast.

In regards to High Dynamic Range or HDR images, there are two ways to achieve them:

  • Use a turnkey software such as Photomatix or Nik HDREfex Pro
  • By manual blending

We recommend that you become proficient in both of these techniques to ensure you’re able to determine which is best (or most optimized) for the look you’re trying to achieve.

Once your image file is processed and saved, you also must know how to prepare the file for a printer, magazine cover, social media sharing, or any other distribution type. There are a number of techniques to do this, but we recommend that you create your own workflow(s). Thoroughly know your workflow so that, when a client calls, you can efficiently prepare the file for the appropriate distribution.

DEVELOP YOUR CREATIVITY

At its core, landscape photography is all about determining and developing your workflow. We define workflow in this context simply as the set of steps you follow in order to actualize whatever image you may envision. Not only does a solid workflow include photography skills (technical know-how, compositional strategies, and post-processing ability), but more often than not, it also requires out-of-the box thinking to help you overcome the challenges you may face because of local elements.

While the technical aspects of your workflow will always be limited by whatever shooting and processing technology is available, creativity is one aspect of photography that has no limitations. By establishing a strong workflow, you can worry more about being creative and less about the limitations of your technology. New gadgets and software will always come and go, but establishing your own creative process is a lifelong learning experience.

Rules of Composition | Using colors effectively | Creating Mood | What not to include in your photos

The basic rules of composition are a common, and important, lesson. But it is equally important to know when to break those rules. Your goal as a photographer should be to come away with a photo that produces an impact on its viewers. The rules of composition alone don’t guarantee your photographic success.

Composition and color go hand-in-hand. Color is a vital part of nature and, for landscape photographers, using color is just as important as following the rules of composition. When we’re at a location, we always pay special attention to the colors (and combination of colors) around us in regards to how they can produce an impactful photo.

It’s also important to know what not to include in your photo. Even when following the rules of composition, your image may contain distracting or unwanted elements. One of the first things we do when we arrive at a location is to decide what not to photograph along with what we want to photograph.

As a photographer out in the field, you must analyze your environment and decide what rules of composition you plan to follow, what colors you’ll include or not include, what mood you want to create, and what not to include in your image.

Knowing how your brain works | Defining your point of interest | Creating Impact

Perception is what tells you, as a photographer, how others see your images. Understanding how images are analyzed or knowing how the brain categorizes things gives you an advantage in creating an impact with your photographs. To learn more about how the brain works, we recommend some reading on Gestalt principles. These principles explain how the brain breaks a scene down into simple parts. By understanding this, you can create a more effective composition.

With perception, you also must be able to clearly define your point of interest. A viewer shouldn’t have to ask, “What is this photographer trying to tell me? Is it about the lady bug, the flowers, or the mountain in the background?” The viewer’s attention should be clearly drawn to the true point of interest.

Once you know how the brain works, you should be able to create a certain mood or feelings by using color, atmosphere, and tonal differences. If you’re able to do this, you’ll be able to create incredibly impactful images.

Thinking outside the box | Difficult light | Unique Perspective | Artistic in Camera Techniques

You may have polished all of your technical photography skills, but sometimes that’s not enough when you’re out in the field. With landscape photography, you can’t always control your environment. When nature isn’t cooperating as you planned, you must be able to think outside the box and come up with some unusual techniques. You must also be prepared for difficult lighting situations. For example, you may expect the golden hours to provide you with brilliant skies and gorgeous colors but when this doesn’t happen, you have to deal with the light you’re given. It may be flat blue skies… it may be stormy weather. Be prepared to use your creativity to still come away with an impactful photograph.

You also must have artistic techniques available in case a new opportunity presents itself. Try panning your camera to create unusual images. Try a different perspective by shooting from an unusual angle… from on top, below, or even through something. Try shooting through raindrops… or even shooting the raindrops themselves rather than the scene around them. Some other techniques we’ve used… shooting reflections… capturing just the light itself… showing how water bounces off of a rock… or simply the splash of waves on a beach. These types of artistic techniques can enormously increase your effectiveness as a photographer.

Artistic Processing Techniques | Black & White | Post Processing to create mood

We’ve all been taught that most photos should be processed exactly as they appeared when we shot them. But…this isn’t always true. Perfect exposure may require you to process a photo one way, but if you want to create a different mood – such as the feeling of dark stormy clouds moving over the horizon – you may want to process it a different way. Sometimes you may want to focus more on texture, form, or the mere shapes in your image. Converting to black and white rather than color is one way to accomplish this. Don’t be afraid to process your photos in a way that authentically expresses your mood or feelings at the time of the shot.

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