GOOD CHOICE ON LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY!
Greetings landscape photographer ninja. You have come to a not-so-secret guide on essential landscape photography tips and techniques.
First off, you have made a good choice on picking up landscape photography, one of the nicest and oldest photography subjects around.
Landscape photography is the first subject that I picked up, and it has stayed with me ever since. It is very easy to pick up as well – all you need is just a camera.
Plus, landscape is literally everywhere.
There are plenty of free photographic opportunities around, no need to hire expensive models, no need to find friends to act as willing test subjects.
This guide has compressed many techniques that I have used over the years, and sharing some lessons on how to not kick yourself in the foot.
A) THE GEAR YOU MIGHT NEED
Before we start on the proper guide, let’s talk about the tools of the trade. Yes, you can start with just a single camera. Even with a smartphone.
But for those who are serious about landscape photography, you are going to need more than just a camera. So here is a small section on the gear that I use, and some of my recommendations on the toys that you might need.
Warning : Affiliate links below. Read my disclosure message here… if you want.
A1) A decent DSLR or mirrorless camera
I am currently using a Nikon D800E, which has very good dynamic range and colors that I love.
A2) Decent lens
A3) A sturdy tripod
Get one of those ball head tripods, they are much easier to adjust on-the-go. I am using the good old reliable [Manfrotto], but I will recommend [Selens] to those who do not want to spend too much. They are affordable and pretty decent for beginners to intermediate.
A4) Remote shutter release
A5) [Bubble spirit level]
Another cheap and good gadget to get your horizon straight. I know there is “virtual horizon” in most cameras, but a physical level is still more convenient. No need to fumble around the controls.
A6) Neutral Density Filter
A7) Circular Polarizer Filter
It is nice to have good and expensive gear, but this is something that I always say :
|💡 Expensive gear do not make good photographers. Good photographers make great photos.|
So if you are just starting out, take it step-by-step. If you do not have the budget, go with the affordable ones, then upgrade when you think you have outgrown them.
B) DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
Landscape photography starts with homework.
Some people may think that landscape photography is “just go to that location and snap away”. It’s simple as that now, isn’t it?
There is actually a lot more than meets the eye. Photography is a lot more than just “go there and take a photo”, and homework is only the first step.
- How do we get to the location?
- What is the best time to shoot there? Sunrise, sunset, midday or night?
- Anything to note? Restricted areas? Area infested with annoying insects?
- When is sunrise or sunset? High tide or low tide?
- Always good to check the weather forecast.
- What gear do you need? Apart from photography, do we need mountain climbing gear? Wetland boots?
- How long do you expect to stay on location? Do we need to bring food and water?
- Find reference photos of the location, or photos taken by other photographers.
|💡 Homework is to prevent yourself from doing stupid things. Things like planning a sunrise shoot on a location facing west, walking into a restricted property, or staying overnight in a park that is closed after 7pm.|
C) LET THERE BE DEPTH
For most of my landscapes, I will usually use at least f/8. The idea, is to capture as much depth as possible. Give your viewers a nice visual treat of details, give them a sense of depth and vastness in your photo. That is what I think landscapes are all about.
|💡 A thin depth of field will still work for certain compositions. For example, a flower against sunset.|
D) SAY NO TO BLURRY SHAKY PHOTOS
Nobody likes shaky blurry photos that looks like a drunk took it.
Which is why the tripod and remote shutter trigger are your best friends. Takes a little bit of time to setup, but well worth the hassle.
While we are on the topic of tripods, learn to use it like a boss. Learn how to own it. Instead of mount and shoot, take it one step further. Take tack sharp photos, not just sharp.
In the days past, people will probably start talking about “hyper-focal distance”, “depth of field calculation” and all kinds of technical stuff. But today, we have technology and this is my lazy way.
- Mount your camera on the tripod, and attach the remote trigger.
- If you are using a DSLR, set your camera to the “mirror up” mode.
- Use a sufficiently small aperture, like f/8.
- Set your composition, and auto-focus 1/3 into the scene.
- Now set to manual focus, and switch to live view.
- Zoom into the foreground and check the focus. Manually adjust the focus if required.
- Do the same for the background – zoom in, check focus, adjust.
- If you cannot get everything sharp with f/8, use a smaller aperture of f/10 or more.
|💡 Cannot deploy your tripod on a certain location? Use the railing, chair or even rubbish bin as a temporary tripod.|
E) NO TRIPOD? LEARN SOME KUNG FU
It sucks when you cannot deploy the tripod.
But when you are forced to move along fast (or just too lazy to deploy the tripod), it’s time for run-and-gun style. To take sharp and crisp hand held photos, you need some kung fu in camera handling. Keep these general tips in mind.
- Keep the camera close to your body.
- Rest your arm against your body instead of holding it mid-air. This will add to the stability.
- Lean your body against something stable – a wall, chair or railing.
- Open your feet, create a wider and more stable base.
|💡 Holding your breath while shooting hand held will improve the stability as well.|
F) WATCH THE HORIZON AND KEYSTONE EFFECT
When you take photos, don’t just go trigger happy. Keep a keen eye for slanted horizons, and don’t tilt the camera way too much.
- If you tilt the camera up too much, walls and buildings will look like they are falling backwards.
- If you tilt the camera down too much, walls and buildings will look like they are falling forwards.
That is known as the keystone effect, and sometimes, we cannot help it but have to tilt the camera to capture tall buildings. But remember to keep it within limits.
|💡 Keystone can give interesting perspectives, but do it too much, and it becomes disorienting instead.|
G) TELL MORE OF THE STORY
Photos are 2 dimensional and flat, but your composition don’t have to be.
Rethink your composition in terms of 3 planes – front, middle, and background. Keep your eyes peeled for interesting subjects, use them to add depth and points of interest in your photo.
|💡 Rocks, sand, leaves are my usual front subjects. The sky, sea, and structures make my middle and background.|
H) LEAD YOUR VIEWERS
Where do you want your viewers to look? Use lead lines to bring your viewers around.
The above photo uses the pathway as a clever lead line, going up towards the symmetric trees and sun.
I) LET THERE BE COLORS
Grey murky waters, brown muddy earth. Those are boring.
Use more exciting colors in your photos – red, orange, yellow are the usual suspects. They stand out even more when a striking color is placed against a boring background.
|💡 I am not saying that striking colors is the only way to go. Boring colors do work when combined with a strong element. Like a photo of a stormy day.|
J) BALANCE YOUR EXPOSURE
A common newbie mistake is over-exposing the sky, to the point where the skies are just washed out white.
No shame in that, I have done that as well.
This is where GND filters shine, and why landscape photographers love them so much. Darken the sky to bring the clouds back, but leave the ground as it is.
|💡 An alternative way to balance your exposure is to bracket your shots at different exposures, and process it as a HDR photo.|
K) INCLUDE A HERO IN YOUR PHOTO
Should we include human subjects in landscape photos? While some people may not like it, I will say yes.
This father son pair just happened to walk right into my sunset frame, and became my accidental heroes.
Not always bad to have people in your frame, and it’s just how you make use of the situation.
|💡 Your main subject can be other animals, trees, or just about any interesting object.|
L) THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING IN NATURE (AND PHOTOGRAPHY)
L1) Sunrise and Sunset
Sunrise and sunset, these are the two time frames that photographers love. Because these are the perfect times to take beautiful photos – landscape or portrait. Sunrise and sunset are windows of time which we call “golden hour”, which got it’s name from the golden gentle lights from the sun.
L2) Blue Hour
The small window of time after sunset, where it is blue and not entirely dark. I find this the perfect time to take photos of nightscape cities, where you can still catch some nice clouds and details of the buildings.
Many photographers hate midday, because of the harsh sun – casting very harsh shadows. Very warm too. But I think this is also the best time to shoot blue skies and white clouds.
M) EDITING AND STACKING
When I mention “Photoshop”, the purists cringe.
Well, please don’t. It will be sad because you will miss out a whole world of possibilities if you don’t pick up editing.
In particular for landscape, I shall share a common technique called “stacking”. It is very simply taking many photos, and combining them together in Photoshop later. What are the uses? Check out the below moon phase.
This is probably taken on a tripod, with multiple shots as the moon rises. Plus, the moon is not the only thing you can “stack”.
Some insanely patient people with a lot of time on hand takes over 100 photos of the stars, and stack them together. Beautiful.
So yep, take your time to learn stacking. Very awesome skill.
Aye. That’s it for this guide.
Hope what I have shared in this guide is sufficiently good to move your ninja skills up a notch. But know that there are still tons of hidden master scrolls out there. This is just a small start, not the end.
This may be a little too much for the new ninjas to absorb, but that is photography. It is easy to start, and takes a long time to master. Rushing things in photography never seem fun to me, so take your time to learn.
Grab a beer, watch the sunset and photograph at the same time.
Just have fun, keep shooting and stay awesome!