100 Steps tp IYP – Lesson 3 – Magical Landscapes

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Perhaps one of the most common and most beautiful subjects in photography, landscapes are something every photographer shoots at least for some time during his/her photographic journey. And with a lot of photographers, landscapes continue to be a subject of high popularity. And that isn’t really surprising given their mesmerising beauty.

It often so happens that you come across a scene that leaves you spellbound, and you want to capture the beauty as you see it, in your camera. But somehow, what you saw in front of your eyes and what you end up with on your computer screen are two very different scenes.

For this lesson, we’ll be discussing some sure shot tips which will make sure that what you capture is what you saw, or even better. Here we are then, with tips to improve your landscape photography…

TIP 1: Use the right equipment
Use a tripod. Use a remote or cable shutter release. This will mean you take lesser but sharper pictures. Also, although it isn’t a compulsion, general opinion would support that wide angle lenses are more appropriate for landscapes. First, they allow you to capture a wider area, and offer a very nice distortion at the edges that lends a dramatic feel to the landscape. Second, the shorter the focal length, the more is the depth of field at the same aperture, and so, wide angle also means more depth of field, which is important while shooting landscapes.
Next we come to filters. Polarizing filters are like a blessing for landscape photographers. They eliminate lens flare, and glare due to reflections. Plus, they saturate the colours esp. the blue of the sky & sea, and reflections if any, leading to a much nicer tones. And they also enhance cloud formations by the way. Another commonly used filter for landscapes is the neutral density or the ND filter. An ND filter is a grey coloured filter that reduces the amount of light entering your lens. This allows you to take longer exposures without burning out the highlights, the best example being the silky effect on a waterfall/river. You can also use graduated filters that allow to colour/darken a part (or different parts) of the frame.

 

A polarizing filter was used here to saturate the colours
(Photo by Meredith_Farmer

 

 

TIP 2: Wait for the right time to get the right light
Professional photographers often plan their shoots weeks in advance, and when the day comes, they wait for hours for the perfect light. And when they get THAT shot, it’s all worth the wait. The light is often the least considered element… its always the scenery… but we tend to forget that the without the light, the scenery wouldn’t be there.
It is for a fact that the best times to shoot are the ‘golden hours’ of dawn and dusk, because then the light is at its purest. The colours, the angles, and the clean air give the most desirable illumination to the scene, and bring out the textures beautifully. Also, many people often prefer to go out on a well lit day to get good pictures, but overcast days can also lead to extremely striking overtones especially when it comes to landscapes. Cloudy skies with sun rays filtering through the clouds, or a misty day with classic mountain silhouettes… sounds great doesn’t it? And sometimes you come across a scene that you can shoot time and again, the only difference being light, and come back with amazing pictures every time.
So if you find a scene that you think has potential, don’t hesitate from coming back specially to get that shot. Also, another small piece of advice – avoid shooting landscapes during the afternoon. The light is harsh and extra bright and often causes harsh shadows that are in no way desirable.

 

TIP 3: Perspective and depth…
Including a person/animal/object gives an illustration of the size which adds a wow factor to the photograph. Try and include one of the above in your photograph to emphasize the size and expanse of the landscape. But be careful not to clutter your frame. Keep it as clean as possible.

 

 

 

Photo by darkmatter

 

Photo by Tambako_the_Jaguar

 

 

TIP 4: Foreground, Background and the split called the Horizon…
Lets illustrate this one with examples. If you have an interesting foreground and a relatively bland sky, place the horizon towards the upper third of the frame and emphasize the foreground. If you see an interesting cloud formation, and the foreground is nothing special, place the horizon towards the bottom of the frame and capture the clouds. And contrary to popular opinion, the horizon in the centre CAN give some striking results, but not always.
Also, when you spot an interesting scene, don’t just get your camera out, put it to your eye and start clicking. Look for an interesting point of view. Lie down, or look for high vantage point. MAKE AN EFFORT!

 

 

This photo places the horizon really low, capturing the sunrays filtering through the clouds, and the people towards the bottom right give an idea of the massiveness of the whole scene.

 

 

The horizon here has been placed very appropriately to block out the bland sky and enhance the wonderful foreground. A polarizer was used to take this picture
(Photo by matt.hintsa)

 

 

TIP 5: Focus for the Hyperfocal distance
This refers to the focusing distance beyond which everything will be in sharp focus. As a rough measure, if you’re shooting at f/16, focusing at a distance of 16 feet will lead to max depth of field. It varies from lens to lens however, and it is good to carry a chart that tells you the hyperfocal distance at different apertures. This you can make yourself courtesy the internet :)

TIP 6: Go RAW and HDR
RAW gives the best tonal variations and detail among all formats, since there is no loss of information in compression. If you have the option, shoot in RAW.
Also, HDR (High Dynamic Range) has gained immense popularity, and rightly too. HDR allows you to get amazing detail in shadows and highlights both, and is easy to do with today’s software.

 

 

HDR Photo by etrusia_uk

 

 

Landscape photography is an endless discussion. But the above tips will definitely make a difference in your pictures. And of course, practice makes perfect. If I missed anything important, please feel free to add it in the comments!

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