1. Anticipate the Light – Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a great photograph. Take the time to become familiar with your subject under different lighting conditions throughout the day, then decide when would be the best time to photograph it. I generally prefer side lighting as it brings out the contours and defines the shape of the subject.
Great sunrise or sunset images rarely happen by chance. Anticipate the light by planning where the sun will be and what time you need to be there. I use apps such as Photo Pills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris to determine exactly where the sun will be at sunrise or sunset. The peak colour of the sky only lasts a few minutes. Arrive about an hour before giving yourself plenty of time to set up and compose your subject then wait for the light show to happen. Even after all the planning, you are still at the mercy of Nature. I photographed this little chapel many times during my workshops in Tuscany, but on this occasion we had the right type of clouds to produce a stunning sunset. If you are looking at a fantastic sunset and don’t have your camera readily at hand, then chances are it’s too late. Just enjoy the moment.
2. Design your Image – A well-balanced composition along with good lighting goes hand-in-hand to create a great photograph. A common mistake is placing the subject directly in the centre of the frame. There are times when this can make a powerful image, but if you divide the frame into six equal segments, such as in noughts and crosses (Tic Tac Toe in America) and place your subject and any of the intersections this will greatly improve the composition. I placed the lighthouse in the upper right third of the frame using the S-shaped lines of the tractor tracks as leading lines to guide the viewer to the lighthouse. Always check the edges of your frame to make sure unwanted elements such as wires, tree branches or any other obstacles might creep into the frame are eliminated. Conversely, it’s a good idea not to have elements such as rocks, trees, clouds etc. drifting out of the frame. Have them in completely or not at all.
3. Expose to the Right – The correct exposure is crucial in capturing the most amount of information so you can extract it in post processing. Expose as far to the right as possible and always check your histogram. Don’t rely on the display to make exposure judgements, checking your histogram will to make sure you don’t blow your highlights or block up your shadows. This scene of Pyramid Lake is very contrasty with bright highlights on the mountain to the dark shadows of the pine trees. I was able to recover even the darkest areas in the trees because I place my exposure to the right in the histogram. I made this image with the Nikon D810 which has a sensor with a great exposure range so I can pull up shadow detail without noise. Every camera is different so I would suggest experimenting with your camera to see how far you can push the exposures.
4. Use a Tripod – Carrying a tripod doesn’t have to be cumbersome and heavy. A small lightweight tripod will suffice with most DSLR cameras, but don’t let it give you a false sense of security, buy an appropriate sized tripod for the size of your camera. I’ve seen photographers use tripods that are too small for a large DSLR and wonder why it keeps falling over. I use a Gitzo Series 3 3542 XLS carbon fiber tripod that only weighs a bit more than a large bag of flour. It’s very sturdy and is more than capable for handling most situations extending to 2 meters high.
Apart from ensuring image sharpness, a tripod will free your hands from the camera and allow you to see exactly what is included in the viewfinder from edge to edge. Then you can adjust accordingly to eliminate any distracting elements that are breaking the edge of the frame. A tripod will allow you to try special techniques such as long exposures, low light and macro photography. I used an exposure of 30 seconds to allow the clouds to move through the frame and turn the waves silky smooth.
5. Point of Interest – It may sound obvious, but having a point of interest that attracts the viewers attention is so important to give your photos more impact. If there isn’t anything for the eye to be attracted to then it will tend to wonder around the frame. Determine what the main subject is and eliminate anything in the frame that doesn’t add to or exploit the subject. I asked my guide to stand at the entrance to the cave for my workshop group to give the image a point of interest and to show scale to give the viewer an idea of how large the cave was. Of course, wearing a red jacket helps even more to direct the viewer to the point of interest.
I’m sure if you follow these 5 tips, you will see a great improvement in your landscape photos.
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