10 tips for landscape photographers
L andscape photography is one of the most practiced areas in photography. Nearly everyone has photographed a landscape at some point. Creating a landscape photo may seem very easy. Many photographers say that they just have to find a beautiful landscape, look through the viewfinder, and push the trigger. This over-simplified approach is what we call “making” a photo.
“Creating” a beautiful landscape photograph, on the other hand, requires a lot of knowledge and patience. In this article, we will share 10 tricks that we use when we are on the field.
The landscape photography is a complex area where the photographer must harmonize points of interests, lights and colors.
Tip 1: know the area
Reconnoitering your location is essential if you want to achieve a great landscape photo. Several days before a photo shoot, we study the topology of the area, the different elements we might incorporate in our compositions, and the effect of light on the scene at different times. This allows us to choose where to set up our tripod and how will we place ourselves in relation to the sunlight or ambient light.
Ephemerides and Google Earth are our best tools in this phase. Using them, we can learn the best time for photographs and get an idea of the topology.
A compass is an indispensable accessory at this stage of research. A GPS is even better, because it can store the coordinates of our selected location.
Knowledge of the area is important because it is helps us create harmonious, well-balanced photographs.
Tip 2: Take photos in the morning and evening
We repeat in every photo workshop we teach that the best landscape photographs are taken at dawn and dusk, when the sun’s rays glance off the scene at an angle. In the bright, direct light of midday, some of the details are lost. Contrasts and shadows disappear.
However, although dawn and dusk are our favorite times of the day, we also frequently get up before dawn to take advantage of the blue hour before sunrise.
Tip 3: choose scenes with layers
A scene composed of multiple layers creates depth and gives a feeling of escape to the viewer. Landscape photographs evoke freedom, open spaces, and life. All of the elements in the composition should work together to create that feeling of escape. The photograph must seem to breathe. The perspective, the lines of force, the strong points, and the curves must all lead the viewer's eyes to the essential points of the photo.
Layers improve the readability of landscape photographs.
Tip 4: add movement
A photograph is by definition a frozen moment of time. The photographer tries to reproduce something from a 3D universe in a 2D picture. Layers of perspective make the photograph seem more three-dimensional and real. Adding motion is one technique we use to make a scene seem alive. It requires the use of filters and a little bit of technique, but the effect allows the viewers to immerse themselves in the composition and feel as if they are really seeing the scene.
Movement and perspective are two creative elements to create pictures of landscapes.
Tip 5: use the sun
When we started as photographers, we always kept the sun behind us. That way, the sun served as a huge light to illuminate our subjects. But the sun is not just a light source. It can also be an important element in a composition. When properly placed, it creates geometric shapes (the top of a triangle, for example). The sun can “fill in” the sky when there are no clouds. It also brings to mind warmth, softness, sunny days, and clear light. It is an important element in conveying happiness. We often put the sun in our compositions to evoke joy, elevation, and purity.
Tip 6: pay attention to the foreground
The foreground is one of the four essential elements in every composition. It guides the viewer to one of the points of interest in the picture. There are three requirements for a good foreground: it must be in good condition, in focus, and properly exposed. The foreground should not distract the viewer from the photo. It is not the subject. However, it reinforces the message of the photo. We try to put it in an inbound perspective whenever we can, so that it serves as an internal guide to the picture.
Tip 7: create minimalist scenes
Landscape photography can be approached in multiple ways. One is to have a lot of different elements and colors in the photo. Another is to bring out the contrast between light and shadow, or to make the photo very bright. It depends on the message and the emotion that the photographer wants to convey. We like to create harmonious, minimalist pictures. Minimalist scenes often evoke very strong emotions and have a great deal of impact. However, they are the most difficult to create. They require a lot of planning and very careful framing.
Before creating a landscape photograph, we always decide what emotion we want this photo to evoke in the viewer.
Minimalist scenes with the sun and movement in the composition allow the viewers to play with their imagination.
Tip 8: vary the alignment
In photography, the horizontal alignment is also called “landscape mode”. It is true that photographing a landscape horizontally is natural. But the vertical “portrait” alignment can also be used. It creates more dynamic images. Also, because the scene is much narrower, the photographer must place the essential elements in the composition very carefully. Landscape photos taken in portrait mode cannot have extraneous or unnecessary elements.
Vertical framing gives a sense of height, and helps the viewer dream of open spaces and flying upward. A minimalist scene in portrait mode has a lot of impact.
Tip 9: use panoramic format
Panoramic format is the best format for landscape photos. We do not mean pictures cropped in a 3:1 or 16:9 ratio. We mean true panoramic format, either created with a dedicated camera, or by stitching photos together.
Panoramic format creates very wide shots with many different elements. These are intense images. We use this format when we want to evoke very large, wide open spaces and dreams of freedom.
This panoramic photo was created by assembling 4 shots.
Tip 10: use optical filters
We use filters for almost all of our landscape photographs, whether in color or black and white. They allow us to make up for the weaknesses of our cameras. Using filters, we can manage our exposures better and dim a sky that is too bright, or create movement, or enhance colors and bring out contrasts.
Filters are essential accessories. Without them we could not create such high-impact photos. However, they require a lot of practice to master. Each situation requires a different filter.
Filters also allow us to highlight the points of interest in our photos better.
The use of different optical filters have allowed us to create the photo as we like: volume, modeled, foreground and perspective.
Landscape photography is a very exciting field where we can fully express our creativity. As we have discussed elsewhere, all photography is a way of artistic expression. It is also a field where empirical experience is necessary. The best advice we can give to an aspiring landscape photographer is to be very patient and humble. Nature is beautiful, but it takes time to grasp all the nuances of that beauty and reproduce them in a photograph.