As human beings, we’re all surrounded by the same visual information. So what is it that makes a great photograph stand out from the crowd? Visionary photographers have the unique ability to decode the visual information that surrounds us. They identify graphics, colors, patterns and textures that they translate into the two-dimensional world of photography. Somehow, they can build compositions that communicate with us in a nonverbal manner. So how can you decode that random landscape to make better photographs of your own?
Tune into the frequency of the natural world without simply rushing in and starting to photograph. Absorb whatever you can by simply being there; observe and examine, then get the tripod and camera out. Look beyond the literal for special images—it’s a process of absorb, distill and create.
2 What does the landscape say to you?
If you’re inspired by a particular location, try to tune into what it is about the place that’s speaking to you. It’s a bit like trying to get a fix on a frequency—is it color, light, texture? Or perhaps it’s the contrast or interplay of adjacent colors. Establish what elements are responsible, and then begin the process of composing the image.
3 Find the graphics within the camera frame.
Pay particular attention to the interplay of colors, textures and shapes. Separate the elements that can add value to the photograph, or find ways to juxtapose colors, textures or shapes to build impact or contrast.
4 Less is more.
In language, there’s not much sense taking 10 words to make a point if you can articulately say the same with four. The same is true of photography. Try to identify the elements that capture the essence of the location and mentally subtract areas of the composition that simply don’t add value. Ask yourself repeatedly, is everything in your frame adding value, or would the composition be stronger without its inclusion.
5 Create the eye path.
This is, to me, the most important aspect of any successful image. Our eyes read from left to right, and by the use of creative composition, we need to lead the eye on an uninhibited path through the image. This often separates a great photograph from a mediocre one. Visionary photographers are able to go into areas of visual complexity and create images that lead the eye through the image from start to finish.
6 Look for images within the overall landscape.
If you’re on location and there’s no light, there’s little point in trying to shoot "big" pictures. A high, diffused, overcast sun is usually perfect for shooting intimate renditions of the natural world—the absence of shadows and the soft luminance is ideal for this type of photography, but it’s not good for the
7 Remember the rules of composition when you’re shooting intimate landscapes.
I often see examples of work where photographers have played with patterns, textures or colors in a landscape and seem to feel that because they have recorded a group of natural elements, they can abandon the basic rules of composition. Whether you shoot tight or wide, you must ensure the eye path has been created and that the basic principles of composition are respected.
Digital photography has empowered photographers to take better images. Digital has helped overcome one of the basic problems experienced by novice photographers: understanding the difference between what our eyes see and what the sensor sees. With experimentation, photographers work out how to improve their images because they have nearly instantaneous access to their photos.
It’s equally important to experiment with tried-and-true methodology by perhaps working with a higher ISO setting to offer a faster range of shutter speeds that would potentially change the end result. This can obviously be done at no cost. There’s still nothing more satisfying than creating new images by breaking the rules. It’s quite refreshing and personally challenging to deliberately shoot images that make a mental leap, and in so doing, make images that seemingly come from nowhere.
9 Develop your own unique way of seeing.
Try to avoid the many clichés that surround us. The key is in developing a personal style. While we’re all inspired by the work of other photographers, that should act solely as a guide in developing our own unique thumbprint. It’s counterproductive to attempt to mimic the work of established photographers; photography, after all, is about self-expression and the recognition of one's own work. At the end of the day, it’s all an artist can ask for—to be recognized for his or her work.
10 Study the results of a shoot closely.
Identify those images that failed to fulfill your own visualization and understand why they failed. Then when you’re confronted with similar circumstances in the future, you’ll be less likely to make the same mistakes again.
| Sharpness Tips
Here are three technical things to remember to achieve sharpness in depth:
1 Use a tripod. There's simply no substitute for a tripod to keep your images sharp. It also forces you to slow down and study a scene more as you set up the camera.
2 Stop the lens down. Most landscapes lend themselves to getting maximum depth of field. Use the smallest aperture you can without compromising image quality.
3 Make use of the depth-of-field preview button. This effectively stops the lens down to the working aperture (which makes the viewfinder dark) and lets you see the graphics at work within the composition.
Tilt-and-shift lenses are particularly useful for this type of work. They allow the plane of focus, and therefore the depth-of-field plane, to be tilted to give superior sharpness from the front to the back of the image.