1. Get up early
Low-angled light can transform the landscape by revealing texture and enhancing colour. Although decent landscape images can be taken throughout the day, the soft warm light just after sunrise undoubtedly offers the best conditions. The greater likelihood of misty conditions can further enhance the atmosphere in your images. Don’t forget that pre-sunrise light can also be very moody.
2. Control contrast
When I was shooting transparency film I found a set of graduated neutral density filters to be essential kit for balancing the contrast in scenes that included both bright sky and dark foreground. However, since switching to digital over ten years ago I prefer to simply take two exposures of the same scene and combine them in Photoshop.
There are many benefits to this:
- I don’t have to buy or carry an expensive filter system.
- I can work more quickly without having to attach a filter holder and position a grad.
- I can achieve a more natural and seamless result, as I’m not restricted to a straight transition line.
- I can maintain better image quality with less chance of flare when shooting into the sun.
Thorough research of a new location is essential if you’re to make the most of it. Before I travel I study websites, books and maps of the area. I also try to contact local photographers or artists to ask their advice. Upon arrival I will scour visitor centres and look at local postcards and calendars - not with the intention of replicating what I find but to spot locations that appear to have potential. It is of course vital to look up sunrise and sunset times, and also tidal conditions in coastal locations.
4. Use a middle aperture
If you’re including both distant landscape and close foreground detail in your composition then you may have no option but to use a small aperture of f/16 or f/22 to achieve the necessary depth of field. However, you’ll get better image quality by using a middle aperture of f/8 or f/11 whenever possible. By focussing carefully using hyperfocal focussing it can be surprising how much depth of field is available, especially with a wide-angle lens.
5. Focus with live view Hyperfocal focussing is all about placing the point of focus in precisely the right place in order to achieve sufficient front to back sharpness at your chosen aperture. Live view enables me to do that very easily, as I can zoom in to 10x magnification on the rear LCD and closely examine all parts of the image. Any necessary adjustment to either focussing or aperture can then be made before releasing the shutter.
6. Use a wide-angle lens
Wide-angle lenses are particularly useful when you wish to include some interesting foreground to add depth to your image. Lenses in the range of 14-20mm are great for enhancing perspective, especially when you are able to include lead-in lines within your composition. Wide-angles are often at their most effective when used at a low angle – sometimes only a few inches above the ground, but beware of distortion caused to trees and buildings.
7. Use a telephoto lens
I have always enjoyed using telephoto lenses for landscape photography, as they can be used to provide a fresh perspective in much-photographed locations. With lenses in the range of 500-1000mm I can pick out distant sections of the landscape that would go unnoticed to the naked eye. They are particularly useful in misty conditions, where they can compress perspective and produce a layered effect of distant hills and mountain ridges. I prefer to support larger telephoto lenses on a heavy beanbag, as it provides a more stable support than a tripod.
8. Use a sturdy tripod
All tripods are not equal! It is essential to invest in a really sturdy tripod if you want to get the best from your expensive camera and lenses. Buy one that will allow you to shoot at both ground level and head height without using a centre column. It needs to be rigid enough not to vibrate in windy conditions, but light enough to carry around all day. The tripod head is equally important and a good one is likely to cost as much as the tripod itself. This should be a one-time purchase, so it’s important to invest wisely.
9. Use artificial light
During periods of poor weather consider using artificial light. Floodlit buildings, monuments and lighthouses can work well when shot at dusk. Try illuminating a ruined church, an isolated tree or some standing stones during a long exposure using a powerful torch. The secret is to balance the brightness of the artificial light with the ambient light in the scene. The ideal time period to try this is roughly thirty minutes after sunset or before sunrise and lasts only fifteen minutes.
10. Capture movement in your image
Landscape images need not appear static. Try to introduce a feeling of movement by using a slow shutter speed to capture flowing water or wind-blown foliage. Don’t go too slow or the effect will be lost as the water or leaves will appear too blurred. Generally somewhere between 1/15th sec and 2 seconds will work, depending on the speed of movement, lens choice and subject distance. Try different shutter speeds to gauge the best effect.