Intensify Your Landscape

How to give your scenics extra punch when the situation calls for added intensity
This Article Features Photo Zoom

There's a time for subtle, and there's a time to punch things up. Extra intensity is usually associated with punched-up saturation, but that only works when you have a shot that's strong to begin with. In fact, all of the techniques we discuss here are about bringing a photograph that's a nine up to a solid 10. Taking a weak shot, then leaning on the saturation slider, won't suddenly make it into art. But when you do have something special opening up in front of you, try some of these tips to take the shot to the next level.

Think Wide
1) When faced with wild, vivid sunset skies like this, many photographers pull out telephoto zooms and try to capture a small portion of the horizon, sun and sky. Instead of taking that approach, Steve Perry used a wide-angle lens and composed a shot that brings in a huge expanse of sky. He also got low and found a boulder to add interest in the foreground. The wide-angle perspective makes for a much more intense photograph. Also notice how the water has some motion blur in it. By using a tripod, Perry was able to choose a slower shutter speed, which gave the lapping waves just a hint of motion and a perfect blurred splash on the rock. Telephotos are very useful for many landscape situations, but when you have a sky with a lot of detail, color and drama, go for the wide-angle to intensify the shot. Also, look for a foreground element to add some visual interest and balance to the overall image.
Miners Beach, Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Nikon D3X, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED, Gitzo 3-series tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead

Expand The Dynamic Range
2) Rich, colorful fall foliage is always a favorite for nature photographers, but dealing with the vibrant and often contrasty scenes is a challenge. HDR photography has revolutionized the way you can get the most out of a landscape like this one. To get the best results, you need to plan for the HDR capture. Here, Don Biresch made a series of five exposures one stop apart, ranging from two stops under to two stops over normal exposure. In the computer, he applied HDR software to combine the images. The result is an intense image that shows the vibrant autumn hues without looking overdone.
Austinburg Road, Tioga County, Pennsylvania
Nikon D3, Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G ED, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ballhead

Lose The Horizon
3) In this scene of Yosemite's Bridalveil Fall seen from Tunnel View, the play of shadows and light positively makes the shot. Michael Warwick took the dramatic lighting a step further by choosing a 300mm telephoto lens on his Mamiya film camera and eliminating the horizon and sky from the frame. The result is a dynamic, graphic composition that makes it a photo to frame and hang on the wall. Notice, too, the sharpness in the shot. A sturdy tripod is a necessity for this kind of image. The sharpness down into the trees in the lower-left corner invites the viewer to explore the whole photo.
Bridalveil Fall from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California
Mamiya RZ67, Fujichrome Velvia 50, 300mm lens, Bogen 3021 tripod and 3028 head, dual cable release

Experiment With A Polarizer
4) We always advocate getting things right in the field rather than relying on a "fix it in Photoshop" mentality. Using filters while you're shooting and seeing the effect they have becomes part of the creative process. Ya Zhang employed a combination of a polarizer and a split ND filter to make this shot. The polarizer cut the glare, helped darken the sky and intensified the red color in the sand. The split ND helped Zhang to balance the contrast above and below the horizon. Anytime you shoot with filters, it's a good idea to take at least one shot without the filter.
Monument Valley, Arizona
Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L USM, Benro C-328 tripod, Arca-Swiss Monoball Z, Hoya HD PL-CIR and Singh-Ray ND 3G filters

AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED; Nik HDR Efex Pro; HDRsoft Photomatix Pro 4; Hoya HD Circular Polarizer


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Get Too Close

Manfrotto 190MF4

5) Intense, dynamic shots like this don't come from shooting in a parking turnout along the side of the road. Using a wide-angle 12-24mm lens on his DSLR, Joseph Rossbach scrambled along the edge of the Potomac River trying a variety of compositions. He adhered to the mantra "If you think you're close enough, get closer." The strong triangular rock in the foreground creates a dramatic focal point that leads the viewer through the frame to the cloud formations in the sky. Using the wide-angle perspective and getting low and close to the rock gives the whole shot depth. Once he had his ideal composition, Rossbach set up the camera on a tripod, hooked up a cable release and waited for the sky to get just right. He used a slow shutter speed to blur the rushing water.
Great Falls National Park, Virginia
Nikon D300, AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 12-24mm ƒ/4G IF-ED, Singh-Ray 3-stop ND grad filter, Singh-Ray LB polarizer, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ballhead

The Importance Of Stability

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3

You've heard it a million times: Use a tripod. Using a tripod is the single easiest thing you can do to improve your images for several reasons. It forces you to slow down, it anchors the camera to ensure sharpness, and it lets you set up the camera in preparation for conditions to become just right. For making the sort of intense landscapes we talk about in this article, a tripod is particularly important.

Keep ISO Low
When you want some extra punch to your colors, you need to select a low ISO. High ISOs reduce color saturation and increase noise. To maintain that low ISO, you often need to shoot at a slower shutter speed, and if you're trying to handhold, this is a recipe for blurry, soft images. With a tripod, you can use slower shutter speeds with confidence. If you're shooting around 1⁄30 to 1⁄8 sec., take an extra step by using the mirror lockup to prevent the vibration from the flipping mirror from inducing motion blur.

Show Dynamic Moving Water
In three of the photographs in this article, the water has been allowed to blur slightly to convey the sense of its movement. This technique often makes for much more dynamic images than freezing the water with a high shutter speed. Again, the tripod is a necessity for creating this effect. Also, because the tripod gives you a firm platform, you can experiment with different shutter speeds to get exactly the look that you want while maintaining the same composition from frame to frame.

HDR And Your Tripod
To get the best results from HDR software, you need to have multiple images at varying exposures that can be combined to form the HDR image. These bracketed exposures, usually at different shutter speeds, need to register properly, and they all need to be sharp. A tripod is an integral part of HDR work if you want to get the best final photo.

The Importance Of Filters

B+W Redhancer

Even in the age of Photoshop and other powerful software solutions, using filters in the field gives you excellent results. A polarizer is a standard item for any nature shooter. Other specialty filters like the B+W Redhancer shown here can add intensity to an image by boosting the reds in the shot. It's not perfect for every scene, but it's a nice tool to have in your bag for special situations when you want to add a little something extra to the image.


    Overly intensified is more like it. I have a home on Lake Superior and can honestly say the sunsets never look like your photo shown above. The PP is so obviously over-cooked it appears that a newbie went crazy with the Nik software bundle!

    Rick … I’ve recently travelled in Australia attempting to take those “travel brochure’ photos, of notable landscapes. My intention was to capture a holiday photo that would remind me of our personal travel experience, I was not photographing for profitable gain. I purchased a new lens for my camera (I am professionally a portrait photographer), used a circular polarizing filter, and various ND graduated filters…. and with some experimentation managed to capture in camera what I saw with my eye. Enhancing the image later… or during the capture (with coloured filters) was simply from the concept of artistic expression. What you see living in such an awesome part of the world and what the photographer/artist decides is his/her depiction of the scene is and will probably, more than likely, be different. I haven’t visited your part of the world but this image is certainly inspiration enough to want to do that. I wonder has Steve taken that opportunity to use his image!?

    I can’t even think of a compliment good enough to throw Joseph Rossbach’s way after seeing his image of Great Falls National Park in Virginia. I am without words. I immediately sent the link to my son in college so he could get an eyeful of what I’m seeing. Thanks for sharing that, Joseph. Wow.

    I agree with Rick – the first image by Steve Perry looks more like CGI than photography. Disgusting use of saturation. What’s worse is passing this kitsch off as real to the lesser-trained eyes of the public does nothing but undermine the legitimacy and reputation of photographers who work extremely hard to capture REAL events of light and nature without relying on the lazy habits of “fixing it later” on the computer. Besides, I think this coastal scene would look better with more balanced and true color anyway. This looks like you’re seeing it through those As-Seen-on-TV-HD Sunglasses”.

    I think the real problem with the Perry is that it is really two horizontal images – the sky and the beach portion. Mask off either and see if you don’t agree. The sky may be enhanced but I’ve seen and captured skies like that – his has enough going on in it to not have to compete with the beach (and boulder) just to fill the frame – and which would be perfectly fine with less saturated color.

    I’d say the same thing about the Mossbach but for a different reason – the rapids offers a powerful statement with the water almost seeming to have burst FROM as well as flowing around the boulder, much like it might if hazardous wastes had been injected into the ground nearby, and had found an escape route. The sky simply makes this potentially powerful image just another pretty picture.

    I find that most of the photos Outdoor Photography now publishes are over intensified and overcooked. Enough so that I really don’t care about reading or viewing their magazine any longer.

    The direction of the cloud on the sky have added a great impact on the scene especially where the trees and shore line is heading. This has given the punch into the photo. Also the changing color of the sky from red to blue beyond the trees, seems like the cloud is moving fast.

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