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9 Tips for Making Lovely Landscapes

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Today, we are going to look at 9 tips for improving your landscape photography. Nature can be an incredibly difficult thing to shoot. We'll cover what equipment to bring, focus and composition issues and more. With the help of these tips, we hope to make shooting landscapes a bit easier.

Pack the right gear

Wide angle lens - A wide angle is a must with landscape photography, often you will want to capture as much of the scene as possible. If you are serious about landscape photography, think about upgrading from your kit lens to a dedicated wide angle prime such as 14mm or 20mm F2.8.

If you have room for a telephoto, you may as well pack it. Often you cannot get close to that perfect location and you occasionally have to shoot a scene from a great distance away.

Tripod - Come evening time, you are going to need a tripod to keep your camera nice and still. If a tripod is too large to carry around, why not try a tripod alternative such as a gorrillapod?

Cable release - A cable release or camera remote (or just using the self-timer) will always be helpful so you don't shake your camera by pushing the shutter release at the beginning of a long exposure shot.

Spare battery - When shooting long exposures on a cold night, you will find that having a fully charged spare battery is very handy.

Filters

Filters are an important part of landscape photography. You'll find them useful when you're out on a shoot. Just remember that placing any glass over your lens can lower the quality of the image, so if possible try to buy the best filter you can afford rather than using cheap unbranded filters. I would recommend shooting with Hoya, Lee or Cokin.

So what filters should you take?

If you can only take one filter out with you it has to be a polarizer. Polarizing filters remove reflections from non-metallic surfaces. As landscape photographers, this helps us as it takes out the reflection of water drops in the air, effectively darkening our skies. This gives the sky that deep blue colour, polarizers can also enhance the other colours in the shot.

Don't use too wide of a lens with a polarizing filter ( 28mm max) because the image becomes unevenly polarized.

It is nearly impossible to recreate the effects of a polarizing filter in Photoshop or other post production software. For more information and some advice on choosing a polarizer, look at this article here.

I would also recommend purchasing a set of neutral density filters. These help block out light and can allow you to shoot longer exposures. ND10 filters are currently very popular as they drop your exposure by a entire 10 stops. Graduated neutral density filters are even more helpful as they can be positioned to darken half the image, like a the bright sky, leaving the landforms intact. This also helps achieve deep blue skies on bright days.

Credits to Alan Hern for the image. - Link

Get up early

Sunrise and sunset are the perfect hours for landscape photography. Photographers often calling them the 'golden hours' or the 'magic hours.' When the sun peaks over the edge of the horizon, your sky will slowly be transformed into that lovely orange colour. The sun also provides another point of interest in your photos. REMEMBER, don't stare at the sun, even through your camera!

When the sun is rising or setting the white balance will change due to the amount of atmosphere the sun's rays must pass through. I would advice you to shoot RAW as it allows you to play around with the white balance afterwards.

Getting the right exposure can also be tricky. The tip I was taught a few years back was to use bracketing on your camera. So instead of just one photo you shoot a series of images (normally 3): one underexposed, one normal and one overexposed. This is often used for HDR photography, but was originally used to make sure the right exposure was achieved. By shooting at few different exposures, you're just making sure our photos are perfect.

Have a look at Airlight: Photographing the Edge of Darkness, a video tutorial on shooting with limited light.

Credits to Garry for the image - Link

The Horizon

My top tip is too keep your horizons straight. It takes seconds to lower your tripod leg or move your tripod head, and it will save you time in post when you have to straighten everything. Rotating in post also means losing some of the edges of your image.

If you want to make sure your camera is perfectly straight, then I would suggest buying one of Photojoto's awesome level camera cubes, which sits in the flash hot shoe. The newest range of Canon and Nikon cameras do also contain a built-in leveling tool which is pretty actuate.

Credits to Pepijn Hof for the image - Link

Panoramics

Modern software allows you to stitch photos together much more effectively than ever before. Photoshop has moved a long way since CS2 with the newest version, taking advantage of the new 3D features to allow you merge 360 degree panos and wrap them perfectly.

With a standard kit lens at the widest setting you could snap a whole 360 degree panoramic in 5-8 shots.

Lots of new cameras are also including software to merge panoramic images in camera as well, which is always worth trying out.

Check out 40 Inspiring Panoramic Photographs for some inspiration.

Find something to focus on

What keeps a lot of landscapes from being successful is that they don’t have any main focus. A main focus can be anything of interest which captures the eye of the viewer. When choosing your location try to find something that is interesting in the foreground as well as the background. For example, in a beach scene find a rock pool, beach ball or something similar to position in the foreground.

Look for lines in the image. I will use the beach example again. If you can find a set of rocks leading up to your main focus point, use them. Your eye naturally looks for lines and people instantly to follow them.

Credits to wili_hybrid for the image - Link

Shoot at night

Locations instantly change when the sun goes down. Cities are a classic example; all the lights come on and then your looking at a completely different photo.

If you are able to visit a location during the day (maybe approaching sunset) and then stay until it gets dark, you will end up with two very different styles of landscape photography.

Have a look into the following Phototuts+ tutorials for more tips:

Shooting an Incredible Lit Landscape From Start to Finish by Cameron Knight

Quick Tip: How to Capture the Beauty of Stars by Simon Bray

Shooting at Night: 4 Photography Scenarios Explained by Josh Johnson

Use your histogram

The histogram is simply a graph that shows you the distribution of the tones: shadows, midtones, and highlights. Almost every camera contains a histogram function.

The histogram graph goes from very dark, dark, medium, light, very light.  Histograms for most images look like a mountain range. You want to be able to see the beginning and the end of the range. The left and right edges should be at zero. This will indicate that the photo has exposed correctly, its often a better way to judge your photos than looking at them on preview!

Understand histograms is a vast topic and deserve a tutorial of their own. Luckily we already have a few here on Phototuts+, check them out!.

How to Use the Histogram by Daniel Sone.

Video Introduction to Digital Photography – Part 2 by Simon Plant

Research

Finding locations can be a lot of work. My tip is to use Google to look for scenes of beauty in your area. Another option is hoping online and looking for great dog walks. I don't have dog but those who do often pick very scenic places to spend time with their canines. Internet dog forums and other dog sites are great places to find walking suggestions.

Also, be sure to double check that you are not trespassing on private land.

I would suggest taking some business cards out with you, so if anyone questions you what you are doing, you can hand them out. Near where I live there is a nuclear power station. I once was hanging around for an hour waiting for a long exposure shot with a large telephoto lens.... lets just say its only a matter of time before someone questions what you are doing.

If you own a smart phone its a good chance you will have a GPS, when you are out and don't have your camera on you, you can save the GPS coordinate to come back to it on a later date.

If shooting cities or popular tourist destinations, I would suggest picking up a guide book or once again, give it a Google search before you go. Here on Phototuts+ we also have a few specific guides for shooting in Hong Kong, London and Melbourne.

Other articles on Phototuts+

How To a Capture Stunning Fine Art Landscape Photograph:

120+ Magnificent Natural Landscape Photographs:

Achieve Beautiful Landscape Photos with a Neutral Density Filter

13 Steps for Creative Coastline Photography

Thanks For Reading!

I hope these tips and ideas will be useful. Post up your own favorite landscape shots, share you favorite locations for shooting landscapes, or share you favorite tip for this part of photography below in the comments!