I learned a lot about landscape photography the hard way. It all began with a three week trip to western US from my apartment in Queens, NY. With each new state’s border behind me, I envisioned magnificent mountain and seascapes filling my portfolio. How could I miss with where I was headed? I spent three weeks shooting slide after slide and another anxious week waiting for the images to be returned from Kodak. My anxious anticipation turned to dismay as I continued to pour through every box. Not one image made me say WOW. Given the locations I photographed, how come my photos didn’t have the “look” of the pictures that made me head there in the first place? There was a silver lining to my predicament. It stemmed from the fact I was now motivated to discover my short comings. Below are three tips so you don’t perform my same atrocities.
Less is More. In my early attempts, I included way too much. Vast amounts of image real estate was wasted with way too much sky. If the sky is not dynamic, minimize or totally eliminate it from the composition. The same holds true for boring foregrounds. Not every landscape has to be shot with a wide angle. Sometimes the scene within the scene nets a better image. Be sure the smaller slice provides a sense of place.
Avoid clutter and rubble. Include a strong foreground to help make a good landscape great. If the foreground is not clean, look for a different one. Look for flowers that are in peak bloom, a rock that mimics the background, some pristine snow, or other subject that complements the rest of the image.
Backgrounds: What’s behind your subject is equally as important as the subject itself. A great subject offset against a distracting background nets an image with too many distractions. Find a great subject and move around until the background works.
Create Depth: Include a foreground to give the image a three dimensional quality. With the use of a wide angle lens, the closer the foreground is to the front element, the greater its apparent size. Depth of field is more critical when a foreground object is included so stop the lens down to achieve foreground to background focus. If necessary, focus at the hyper-focal distance. Loosely translated, place the focus point one third into the frame. Another way to create depth is to play shadows and highlights off each other. A brightly lit main subject offset against a dark background gives a three dimensional impression. Strong sidelight conveys this quality. At sunrise and sunset, this effect can be more easily applied. With midday sun directly overhead, shadows fall underneath the subject rather than to the side whereas early and late in the day, the sun is lower on the horizon which creates sidelight. Lastly, take advantage of how fog creates implied depth. Foreground objects stand out while background ones recede into the fog.
Panorama/Combine: Panoramas have become very popular. Some newer cameras offer a feature called Sweep Panning. This allows the photographer to hold his or her finger on the shutter while panning across the scene. The camera automatically stitches the pics into a pano. Many image processing programs offer stitching capability. When you create a pano, it’s best to use manual metering, a fixed white balance, no filters, a cable release, and manual focus. The reason is variations among the frames can confuse the software which results in a panorama with panels that vary in exposure, tone, color or focus.
Incorporating any of these tips into your repertoire will help you create better images, but don’t overlook combining all into the same photo. For instance, make a panorama that has great depth, a simple composition, and no clutter in the fore or background.
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