I thought I would share a few general tips that may help you when out photographing landscapes. Since picking up a camera, I don’t think I have stopped learning and I am certain I never will. In every photo I have, I can always find at least something I would have changed. But, as time has gone on, I am finding less things to criticize in my work. So here are few things I have learned along the way that you may find useful.
Shoot during golden hour – For landscapes, the best light to generally shoot in is ‘golden hour’. I define this as the one hour window surrounding a sunrise and sunset. During this time, the light is warmer, shadows are more pronounced and if you are lucky, the clouds in the sky can explode into an array of vibrant colour. In all honesty, after photographing my first sunrise, I was hooked. This being said, I am a realist and I know most of us have many other priorities that come before photography. But if you are serious about improving your landscape photography, shooting golden hour is a must. People often mention ‘being in the right place at the right time’. I agree. But to be at the right place at the right time you have to get yourself there. And perhaps you will go to the right place at the wrong time, several times. But eventually it will be the right, once in a lifetime place to be. Let’s face it, sleeping can be done much later in life.
(The benefit of shooting during golden hour.)
Shoot with purpose – I find for me, my best images are the one’s I shot with meaning and intent. Now this is something I am passionate about and could ramble on all day, but for now I will keep it simple. So what I mean is, you should know what it is you want to photograph and why. Simple really. Here is an example. You see a nice sunrise photo of a beach and feel the urge to try it for yourself. Before you head out, think about what it was that made you want to try capture this image. What is it about the beach that you like? Is it the sand? Or perhaps the waves? Or maybe it is the way the morning light shimmers across the water. Having these thoughts in mind will help you prepare your composition and save you time wandering around shooting aimlessly.
(The ocean is mighty and beautiful. I wanted to convey that here.)
Composition is King – In photography, composition really is EVERYTHING. Composition can really make or break a photo. Now being able to compose a shot will either come naturally or it will be as foreign to you as Vegemite is to an Eskimo. I could write for days on composition, there is really so much to it. But I think one big key is to just keep things simple. Like the point above, you need to know your purpose, the reason for photographing a certain scene. Once you have an idea in mind, figure out what your main focal point is. A general landscape photo will usually consist of a main focal point and then several smaller points of interest that will compliment the main attraction. If something does not compliment the shot then make sure you crop it out. Take the time to review your shot before pressing the shutter. Check to see if anything is going to distract the viewers attention, or perhaps there is not enough in the frame to gain the viewers attention. Lets look at the image below;
(Using foreground objects to draw attention to the main focal point)
This image is of Milford Sound in New Zealand. In regards to composition, my main focal point was Mitre Peak (the pointy mountain) in the background. To draw the eye in to the scene I used this nice old log I found and composed for it to be in the corner of the frame. The eye will natural use this as a leading line and follow it along. Then, we aren’t left wandering across the water into the edge of the shot but instead hit the second log on the right which points our attention back into the frame and lands us straight on to our focal point. I also arrived here early and timed the sun hitting the edge of the mountain to give the sun flare effect which adds another element and does not leave too much empty space to the left of the mountain. The sunlight on the water also creates another leading line which frames the scene.
Now keep in mind, when we view an image we don’t think about how we are going to view it. It all happens in an instant, before we have time to think. All these ‘leading lines’ and ‘points of interest’ are there to subconsciously direct the viewer in that split second. It is in that brief moment that the shot will either grab your attention or it won’t. This is why composition is King.
I know it may sound technical but really it isn’t. It’s just about having a look at your composition and asking yourself ‘is this nice to look at’? To be honest, when I compose a scene, I don’t use the grid on my camera and I very rarely sit back and line things up like a home decorator. To me, thinking too much when out with my camera would not be fun. I shoot to escape, not to think. The main thing I do when shooting is trust my instinct. When composing, I move my frame until something in my head tells me the shot works. This will come easier for some than others. Just use your surroundings, watch for blank spaces and keep the scene well balanced.
Anyway we might leave it there for now. There is just so much to talk about here. Hopefully you may have got something out of this and if so I will get around to writing version two.
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below and I will reply to you. I also run group and individual workshops if you were interested in hands on tuition. Just click the workshop tab above.