Landscape photography is extremely popular. Scenic photographers head out to capture the perfect moment when all comes together - the clearing or impending storm, the rainbow, the perfect wildflower season, the quintessential autumn, the classic country road S curve in perfect light, in addition to many other classic situations. So if you're blessed with one of the above perfect conditions, how do you take advantage of it to produce the best possible image? There are many pieces of the puzzle that need to fit together to accomplish this. In part one of this two part series I want to address color / exposure / and depth.
Color: The best color occurs at sunrise and sunset. The light is warm in tone and bathes all it illuminates with a yellow, orange hue. Not only is the color optimum, so is the angle at which the light strikes the subject as the sun is low on the horizon. Keep the light at a ninety degree angle to maximize texture. Use a polarizer to bring out as much color as possible. The ninety degree angle at which you're shooting enhances what the polarizer can do. I strongly encourage you to shoot in RAW format to bring out every nuance of color when you process the image using your RAW converter. Depending how accurate your exposure is, tweaking the Black Slider really pops the colors and contrast. Tweak the Vibrance Slider to the right to punch up colors that need to be saturated a bit more. The Saturation Slider should be used conservatively as it has a big impact with regards to how intense the colors look. Refrain from making the image look garish.
Exposure: Get the proper exposure at capture as it's important to be able to bring out the most color in your file. If the image is overexposed, the colors look washed out and if it's underexposed, they look muddy. Check the histogram at the time of capture to verify the pixels don't bunch up at either end it. If there's a "mountain" of pixels butted up to the right side of the histogram, dial in minus compensation and if they're butted up to the left, dial in plus. While a "Good" exposure is what you want, there will be times when you're photographing a landscape and the contrast range is too wide to capture all the detail in a bright sky in conjunction with a foreground that's in shadow. This is why I never leave home without a diverse set of Graduated Neutral Density filters. I have both soft and hard edge versions that range from one to three stops of density. I place the dark part of the filter over the bright portion of the sky. The result is a capture where the sky and land are rendered close to even in exposure. The determining factor as to which density filter is the correct one is governed by the actual difference in exposure between the bright sky and dark foreground. The greater the difference, the higher the density of the filter. Use a density that keeps the shadow area a bit darker than the bright sky to make the effect natural. The idea is to tame the highlights and open the shadows so the colors in both parts can be tweaked to their fullest extent. A bracketed HDR series can also prove beneficial.
Depth: There are two key ways to create the illusion of depth in two-dimensional images: the strategic use of a wide angle lens and with the strategic use of light. The wide angle lens is tied in with the concept of incorporating a strong foreground along with a mid and background. The strong foreground element should be close to the camera. This gives it emphasis and provides depth in your two-dimensional image in that the viewer knows the relationship of distance between foreground and background subjects. For example, placing a prominent rock close to the lens with a mountain off in the distance informs the viewer there's a great distance between the two subjects which in turn translates to depth. Light can be used to imply depth by finding situations where a brightly lit subject is juxtaposed against a detail that's in shadow. The foreground should pop out from the mid and background in that a strong shadow lives in those areas. Look for these subtle lighting differences to add depth to your photos.
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