My Top Ten Tips for Stunning Landscape Photography
I was recently approached by Nature Friends Magazine owner and editor Kevin Shank and asked to write an article about my photography. The magazine has a monthly study guide section specifically for learning nature photography. I started thinking about what took my photography from good to great and decided to write about the techniques I learned that took my images to the next level. In this article I shared my top ten methods I use to make advanced and technical eye catching landscape scenes.
ONE: SHOOT IN RAW
Shoot in RAW! What is RAW? Images are made up of bits of data. A RAW file contains all of that data in “raw” form. A jpeg is a compressed version of that raw file with the camera manufacturers built in adjustments to make the image more pleasing out of the box. Unfortunately, a jpeg only contains a fraction of the image data compared to a RAW file. By shooting in RAW, you will need to adjust your files manually on a computer. You will be able to achieve the best color and dynamic range, and have much more creative flexibility in turning the image into your masterpiece. Most cameras that have full manual settings have the built in ability to shoot in RAW.
TWO: GET CLOSER
Get closer! Find a foreground element and get close to it to really emphasize your subject matter. When I first started photography you would find me standing straight up, holding the camera at eye level. Now more often, you’ll find me on the ground hunched over in some awkward position when taking photos. Sometimes my lens is so close to an object it forces me to use more advanced techniques in order to keep everything in focus, such as focus stacking.
THREE: GET TECHNICAL
Get technical! Learn to focus stack, bracket your exposures, and take long exposures. These are techniques I use more often than not. Sometimes I’ll use all of these techniques on one single image.
FOUR: FOCUS STACKING
Learn to focus stack! When I’m really close to a patch of wildflowers for example, if I try to focus on the wildflowers then everything else behind the flowers becomes out of focus. Typically in landscape photography you want your entire scene in focus. By focus stacking, you can take images with varying focus points, then combine them in post processing to get a scene entirely in focus from foreground all the way to background.
FIVE: EXPOSURE BRACKETING
Bracket your exposures to maximize dynamic range! When I bracket my exposures, its usually because Im shooting directly into a bright source of light like the sun. To be able to expose the scene correctly, I’ll have to take exposures for each part of the scene to maximize my image data in post processing. I may take one exposure for the sun that’s underexposed, so that my sun isn’t “blown out” Then I’ll take a brighter exposure for my foreground so that my foreground isn’t too dark or “underexposed”.
SIX: LONG EXPOSURES
Slow the shutter speed down! Taking long exposures can give waterfalls a silky smooth look, or clouds that appear to be streaking across the sky. A long exposure will also open up the realm of night photography. You’ll need a tripod and a remote shutter release, or a shutter delay to give the best results when shooting long exposures.
SEVEN: SHOOT AT NIGHT
Shoot at night! Astrophotography is one of my favorite genres of landscape and nature photography. I could talk forever about my adventures photographing the night sky. Unfortunately most of the eastern United States, and many areas around big cities out west have a less than ideal amount of light pollution for quality night sky photography. I use the website “dark sky finder” to view a map of light pollution around me. I usually try to shoot in an area that’s at least in the blue, if not darker. I use a special lens with a low aperture just for photographing the Milky Way.
EIGHT: INCLUDE A SOURCE OF LIGHT
Include a source of light! The human eye naturally goes towards the brightest parts of an image. I’ll often try to include a source of light somewhere near the middle 2/3’s of an image. A source of bright light can often give your images a glowing look. When printed, this glowing look can often make your print seem as if its actually illuminated from behind.
NINE: CREATIVE VISION
Creative Vision! Many of my best images were achieved by having an idea of what I wanted to achieve before I even went out to shoot. It might have been a branch off of an idea I saw in another photograph, or it might have been an idea that popped in my head while daydreaming at work. By having an idea of what you want to achieve before you go out shooting, you can focus on finding that perfect composition in order to make that dream come to life.
TEN: JUST START SHOOTING
Just start shooting! Don’t have a camera? Get started with your smartphone. I learned that I loved taking images by taking snapshots with my smartphone. I slowly started getting better and learning how to read the light and weather. Finally my wife convinced me that we needed a “real” camera, so I bought my first fully functional mirrorless camera. I started out with an A6000 and still often use it to this day. You don’t need the best or most expensive camera out there to take stunning pictures. Quite the opposite is true. Learning careful shooting and post processing techniques is much more important than the latest greatest camera gear.