Photo tip - 35 Landscape photography tips

27th April 2009
Tip 1. Rule of thirds
Avoid placing your subject squarely in the centre of the photo. Instead, imagine your photo is split by two equally split horizontal lines and two equally split vertical lines. Try to place the key parts of your image in any of the four places the lines cross each other.

Tip 2. Foreground interest
This is particularly important for taking good landscape images. Instead of climbing to the top of the nearest mountain and pointing your camera into the great void in front of you, try to put something in the foreground to give perspective and add interest. It can be a humble boulder or tree – anything to add an extra layer to the image and make it look more three dimensional. Here the fence acts as the foreground interest and also leads you into the picture:



Tip 3. Lead in lines
This is a similar rule to rule two. Use any kind of foreground interest that leads your eye in to the picture. It could be the lines formed by a ploughed field, a hedge, a wall, anything that helps to move the eye through the photo. Without a lead in line your eye is more likely to wander round the image aimlessly which tends to mean the viewer is less engaged by the photo.

Tip 4. Use natural borders

In this photo I've used the trees to envelope the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, creating an interesting and unique viewpoint.


This is a similar rule to rule three. Using borders stops your eye wandering off the image and keeps it engaged within the photo. Borders can come in many forms. You can use a doorway a window, a gap in a hedge, overhanging trees or even cloud formations – anything that helps to close in the photo. This is particularly important if you have a lot of detail in your photo. A very simple composition of a tree and a bright blue sky probably wouldn’t need a border.

Tip 5. Take your time
Too many people see something that gets their attention, turn towards it and press the shutter button. Stop! Walk around the subject, move towards it, walk away from it, kneel down and look up at it, just don’t press the shutter button until you’ve had a good look. More of these tips will tell you what else to look out for while you ponder your subject.

Tip 6. Get rid of the clutter
While you’re taking your time (see Tip 5) make sure you look at your composition. Do you really need that dustbin at the bottom corner of your image? Could you walk a few paces left, or zoom in to get rid of the telephone line that sullies the top right of your shot? Before pressing the shutter make sure that everything in your shot is improving the composition.

Tip 7. More is usually less
All too often people try to use the widest possible view on their lens to try and capture everything they can see. Usually you will be far better off picking out one part of the scene by zooming in, or walking towards it. This is because it’s normally only one or two parts of a scene that attracted you in the first place. For example, if you find a wizened tree with the sun setting behind it, that’s probably good enough; so you probably don’t need to include the nearby house, the other four trees and the electricity pylon in the background.

Tip 8. Getting that nice silky water effect
Water goes smooth and silky when you use a slow shutter speed.



To do this depends upon how fast the water is moving and the exact effect you want. For a waterfall you can experiment with shutter speeds between half a second and two seconds. For the sea or lakes you’ll find between 2 and 4 seconds will work well. Keep the ISO setting on your camera on the lowest number possible (usually 100 or 50), as this will:

A). Give you the best image quality.
B). Slow the shutter speed down (just like slow film did / still does).

If you still can’t get shutter speeds as low as the ones I have quoted then it’s because there’s too much light. Therefore you either need to wait until it gets darker or use lens filters to block out some of the light. Polarising filters block out some light and prevent glare coming off the water, but Neutral Density filters will block out even more light if you need to.

Tip 9. Use software to improve your landscape shots
Most of the landscape shots that get the gasps of admiration have been through some ‘post processing’. In English, that means the photo has been fiddled with on software after the shot was taken. Almost every magazine front cover image has been tweaked. So, if you’re finding your shots are a bit flat then consider getting PhotoShop Elements for around £70. HDR (High Dynamic Range) Software is also very useful and capable of giving fairly plain images some extra zip. Go to www.hdrsoft.com/ to find out more.

Tip 10. Have rich blue skies and fluffy clouds



Have you ever taken photos when the sky is a rich blue but found the results are a blueish grey. This is likely to be because you are either photographing towards, or away from the sun. The richest blue skies are at a 90 degree angle from the sun and the clouds are fluffier and less hazy too. It pays to have a passing interest in meteorology if you like taking landscape photos.

Tip 11. Pay attention to the weather forecast and then ignore it
You can take good photos in any weather; you just might need to change the subject. Storm clouds can provide great drama and mist and fog are a great ally, particularly if the early morning sun begins to shine through it. If the forecast for the next morning is for thick cloud cover, that doesn’t mean you get to have a lie in. The forecast is so often wrong, particularly on the BBC website. I’ve even known them have the wrong forecast for the same day, when all they needed to do was look out the window! Regardless, grey clouds can burn or blow away very quickly and even if they do stick around they act as a good light diffuser for those silky water effects (see tip 8) and they provide a nice even light for photographing flowers. Not all landscape shots need to have the sky in them. Oh, and rain saturates all the colours of the land which can create some dazzling richness to a photo.

Tip 12. Avoid burnt out skies and dark, dull landscapes.
I have written a larger article on this elsewhere on my website. Click here to read the full story: www.danwaterscreative.com/news10483.html

Tip 13. Use people in your landscape shots.
I must admit that I don’t often do this myself, but it’s worth doing for several reasons. People can add scale to a photograph. A silhouette of a person above a huge ravine shows just how big the drop really is, for example. People in photos can also help tell a story. Don’t just photograph the farmer’s field; photograph the farmer working in it too. I’ve read that the landscape photos that sell the best in photo libraries are generally the ones that have people in them.

Tip 14. Use filters
There are many types of camera filter but the two most important filters for landscapes are the polarising filter and the neutral density filters.
The polarising filter will prevent haze and glare coming off reflective surfaces like water and waxy leaves. The polariser will also make the colours richer, giving you bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds.
The Neutral density filters come in a range of different types, but they generally get used for two different things:
- Neutral density graduated filters are used to balance the extremes in brightness between the sky and the landscape, particularly for dawn and dusk shots. They work because the top is darker than the bottom so it evens the exposure.
- Standard neautral density filters are effectively just a slightly darkened material that blocks out light. This is useful if you want to get a silky effect on some water but can't get the slower shutter speed you need because it's a bright sunny day.

Tip 15. Don't forget about the sky
The sky is normally just as important as the land, so ensure that if you have sky in the frame that it adds some extra drama. Clouds are normally good news. Brooding storm clouds and fluffy white clouds add character to the shot. If there's a weather front coming in then this can be a good time to get good photos, as the sky is normally more dramatic. It can be a touch windy though.

Tip 16. Use different lenses
Wide angle lenses exagerate the distance between objects and the relative size of objects close to the camera. Therefore they are good for enabling you to see as much of the scene as possible and for emphasising foreground details. Telephoto lenses do the opposite by compacting everything. They are good for showing patterns and shapes in the landscape as they emphasise one small area. They can also make the image appear claustrophobic which is great if you are standing at one end of a long avenue of trees as the effect really encloses the image like this:



Tip 17. Take a look at local postcards.
Studying postcards is a good way of getting your photography up to a professional standard. Try and figure out why yours don't look as good and then rectify the problems. Once you can match the postcards then it's time to be more creative and improve upon them. Postcards tend to be fairly 'safe' shots of a scene. Try different angles and exposures to give a more interesting and alternative viewpoint.

Tip 18. Look for patterns.
Look for fields, trees, sand and anything else that can create patterns in a landscape. Then zoom in on them and leave out any distracting elements, like this:





Tip 19. Catch a rainbow.
You should be out taking photos in weather that creates rainbows anyway. The mix of broken rain clouds and sunlight shining through is great for photography and there's always the chance of capturing a vibrant rainbow too. Even wide angled lenses don't always get the whole rainbow in the frame, but don't worry about that. If you can't get the whole thing just zoom in on one end of the rainbow as that will make it more impactful anyway. Don't forget all the other rules of photography: include foreground interest, incorporate the rule of thirds (detailed above) etc.

Tip 20. Use a tripod.
In landscape photography there aren't many good excuses for not using a tripod. Although some beautifully lit scenes are fleeting, you always have time to use a tripod. They will ensure you have no camera shake unless it's particularly windy, in which case it can be wise to hang a bag under the tripod, if your tripod has a hook.

Tip 22. Dawn and dusk.
These are the two best time for landscape photography. At dawn you have gorgeous pastel colours in the clear, fresh air and at dusk you get the rich orange and yellow glow of sunset. Before sunset and after sunrise you also get an hour or two of rich golden light which enriches almost any scene.

Tip 23. Use reflections.
On a still day lakes and rivers can produce wonderful relections that add depth to a scene. When the water is perfectly still I find it adds a calming atmosphere to the scene. Imagine this scene without any reflections - it would probably look quite bland:



Tip 24. Check the angle of the light.
The direction the light comes from has a dramatic influence on a landscape photo and any other photo for that matter.
A subject lit from the front can be quite flat although with low golden sunlight it can saturate colours nicely. But make sure you don't include your shadow in the photo!
Side lighting is great because it adds texture and depth to a the scene.
A subject lit from the back can be very dramatic as the shadows span out towards the camera, creating their own lead-in lines. The subject is likely to appear as a silhouette so it's important that it has a strong shape that's easy to recognise. When taking a backlit photograph make sure you don't look directly into the sun, particularly with a telephoto lens.
Here's a backlit shot of a tree that's also been framed by the branch of another tree:



Tip 25. Try black and white landscapes.
If a landscape has plenty of contrast and texture, but muted colours then it's ideal for a black and white photo.

Tip 26. Search high and low.
Most photographs taken by a beginner are taken at standing height. For a more interesting perspective try and crouch or lie down to include small flowers or rocks in the foreground. Alternatively try and get up high to open up the landscape and capture a sweeping, panoramic vista.

Tip 27. Merge two exposures in PhotoShop
If a scene has a bright sky and a darker landscape then you will end up with either a well exposed sky with a under-exposed landscape or a well exposed landscape and an over-exposed sky. To combat this you can either use HDR software (mentioned above) or you can use PhotoShop to correct the problem. With photoShop you can correct the problem using only one exposure while in HDR you need three or more. Using three exposures is better until you are photographing something that moves, like the flowers in a meadow. In each exposure the flowers are in a different place as they move in the wind and this can cause a rather fuzzy result.
To use the PhotoShop method simply open the photo you want to correct and then use 'Levels' make the sky look correct. Don't worry if the landscape goes too dark at this stage. Save this file under the name 'sky' and then open the original image again and make the landscape look correct. Again, ignore the fact that the sky will be too light. Now open both the sky and the landscape versions and copy and paste them onto each other. With the correct sky underneath the correct landscape you need to select the eraser and start rubbing out the incorrect sky to reveal the correct sky underneath. Hey presto you have a well exposed shot from one exposure!

Tip 28. Explore more.
Rather obviously, one of the key ingredients of a good landscape photo is an attractive landscape. I don't care where you live I bet there are nice landscapes within walking or cycling distance. "How about around Mile End in east London?" I hear you moan. Well, try Tower Hamlets cemetary, it looks like this: http://danwaterscreative.photium.com/photo2456648.html
So put in the hard yards and wander round your neighbourhood. Amble up that road you drive past everyday but have never been down. You'll be amazed at what you can find on your doorstep and there are dozens of books and websites that can point you in the right direction. However, you'll get more pleasure from finding these places yourself, especially as they are less likely to be known by other people.

Tip 29. Maximise your depth of field.
In normal language this just means you need to keep all parts of the picture in sharp focus. The best way of doing that is to use a small aperture which means using a high numbered F stop. If you focus on a point about one third into the scene this will also help ensure as much of the image is in focus as possible.

Tip 30. Keep the horizon straight.
It sounds obvious but it's so easy to get it at a slight angle if you're not concentrating. Certain compositions can fool you into thinking it's straight when it isn't, so always make a conscious decision to assess how level the horizon is. If you put you horizon at an extreme angle this can work well for more dynamic, action shots; however, the vast majority of landscape shots need a straight horizon.

Tip 31. Shoot in RAW mode.
Shooting your photos in jpeg format makes it easy to process the images, but it also means you're throwing away valuable image quality every time you take a shot. Raw files are like a digital negative. You can work on them without damaging the quality, whereas Jpegs lose quality with each adjustment. Always shoot Raw, then convert to TIFF for photos you want to have printed or Jpeg for uploading onto the web. Keep the RAW file too, because as your skills improve, you'll be able to go back to the Raw file and create much better images from it, and print those images larger than you would a Jpeg, without such quality loss.

Tip 32. Try abstract landscape shots.
Pop the camera on a tripod (it should be on one anyway!) and dial in a slow shutter speed, around half a second - one second (you probably won't be able to get these slow shutter speeds in the sunshine). Find an easily recognisable object like a car or tree and then as soon as you have pressed the shutter button zoom out at a steady speed. I've only tried this twice myself and same up with the following images, so I'm sure with a bit of practise you could get some much better shots.





Another similar technique is to steadily slide the camera down the tripod column, instead of zooming out.

Tip 33. Sharpen your photos in Photoshop.
Click on 'Enhance' then 'Unsharp mask' to open up the sharpening tool in Photoshop Elements. Set the Amount to around 150, the Radius at between 0.8 and 1 and the Threshold at 3 or below. Each photo will need slightly different sharpening but certainly the radius needs to be very low and the Amount needs to be over 100.

Tip 34. Check all your cameras settings.
Before pressing the shutter you need to double check all the important settings that could mess up the photo. These settings are:

- ISO. Generally you should be on the lowest possible ISO as you should be using a tripod and therefore don't need the fast shutter speed that a higher ISO gives you. If you want to freeze some moving elements in the landscape then you may want to bump the ISO a bit higher.

- Is the white balance set to the conditions (daylight, cloudy, etc)?

- Are you in RAW or Jpeg format?

Tip 35. Landscapes don't have to be in landscape.
Sometimes turning your camera round 90 degrees and taking a landscape shot in portrait format can be preferable. There are no hard and fast rules here, but I normally take a peek through the viewfinder in portrait format just to see if it improves composition. Portrait format is excellent for leading the eye into the picture, so if you have strong lead in lines it can work well.

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