Tuesday, April 5, 2011
10 Tips For Brilliant Landscapes
To get your best shots, follow the light
“Chase the light.” For years, landscape photographers have lived by this motto. It’s not really a technique—it’s a philosophy, a way of life, an existential state of being. It’s about chasing those rare magical moments when Nature displays her finest. It fuels our passion for nature photography and becomes our raison d’être.
What follow are concepts, essential philosophies and techniques that guide my photography—a light chaser’s manifesto, if you will. Master these tips, and you won’t just be chasing the light—you’ll be capturing magical moments that inspire and amaze.
1 Use Color For Artistic Effect
Few things elicit an emotional response as much as color. While taking a photo of a brilliant pink sunset sky may impress many viewers, what I’m talking about is a bit more sophisticated—consciously using color as a creative tool. There are several ways to do this. Bold, primary colors can be very effective at triggering simple emotional responses. For example, red and yellow attract attention and create excitement, while at the same time convey warmth, whereas blue can be more soothing and relaxing, but also can convey a sense of bleakness and cold. Color contrasts also can be powerful. Artists have long known that colors seem most vibrant when juxtaposed against opposing, complementary colors. For example, warm colors (red, orange and yellow) look more vibrant when set against cool colors (blue and cyan). Also, color can be used to create powerful compositions. Areas of color contrast draw the eye and form abstract shapes, creating compositional interest, and repeating colors can create a sense of order and visual flow in a scene.
In general, avoid shooting in light that comes from behind you (except when working with overcast or twilight) because it will illuminate the landscape evenly, leaving the scene looking flat and featureless. Instead, look for an angle that has light coming from the side or behind the scene. Sidelighting and backlighting can be dramatic, and provide texture and relief to the landscape. The main technical challenge when working with sidelight is avoiding lens flare, which is caused by sunlight striking the front elements of the lens. To prevent flare, shade your lens using a lens shade, or your hand, if necessary. For the ultimate backlit photograph, incorporate the sun into your composition. Use wide-angle lenses and small apertures (ƒ/16 or ƒ/22), which create an attention-grabbing starburst. In this case, you can’t control flare by blocking the sun with a lens shade because the sun is actually in your photo, so you must partially block the sun with some feature of the landscape or sky, such as a tree limb, a cloud or a distant mountain (don’t block the sun completely; make sure enough light shines through to create a starburst). When incorporating the sun, place it in a compositionally pleasing place since the viewer’s eye will go there instantly.
This is my personal favorite tip for getting better landscape photos. Incredible moments in nature don’t happen when the sun is shining through blue skies—instead, the magic happens when conditions turn nasty. Weather, and bad weather, in particular, is of paramount importance to nature photography. Weather can transform even mundane scenery into something magical. Weather influences light, color and mood. Weather also influences composition, as shapes formed by clouds can be used creatively when composing images. Bad weather can bring a whole host of interesting and photogenic meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, fog, sunrays and dramatic storm clouds that light up at sunset. The best light usually occurs when a weather event, such as a storm, is building or breaking up. This is when you’ll get dramatic clouds, great light and wild atmospheric conditions. Resist the temptation to pack it in when you see menacing clouds moving your way!
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