5 Tips to Better Landscapes

The most common questions I get here on the blog center around the idea of how to take better pictures.  Whether those “better pictures” are better landscapes, or portraits, wildlife or events, everyone wants suggestions on how to approach the practice of taking pictures better.  Esoteric and creative considerations aside, there are some fundamental “tricks of the trade” that, by and large, will almost always improve your craft in pretty much any genre.  So, today, I thought I would take a moment to share 5 “tricks” I’ve learned that always lead to better landscapes:

  1. Shoot During the Golden Hours – The reason these hours are called “the golden hours” are twofold:  first, because the quality of light from the  lower angle of the sun is more yellowish and natural looking (or golden), and is more flattering than the harsher light of the hours in between.  Second, because the shots you produce from these windows translates into sales on a much more regular basis than other photos.  While you may not be interested in selling your work – images are far more appreciated when captured during this special time.  In general, the best hours are the ones just prior to sunrise and just after sunset.  With the sun below the horizon, but still casting its light above, the harshness is gone and everything is bathed in golden hues.  Plan your shoots accordingly!  Whenever you notice these lighting conditions, make note of your surroundings – you may see something in a new light – literally!
  2. Scout Your Locations – It’s one thing to know when to shoot, but it’s another thing entirely to know where to shoot.  One of my favorite images from my own portfolio came from a venture I took with a fellow photographer in South Carolina that had been studying the movement of the sun for over a year in a certain area.  At the time of year that we went to this place, he knew the sun would be positioned ideally in the sky, the colors it cast would offer the most potential for just amazing results, and the type of skies and weather would be perfectly suited.  He knew this almost down to a science.  When he invited me and said “I’ve never seen conditions better than this”, given his research to date, I knew it was a rare opportunity to get some great shots from the scouting that he had done… I had to jump at the opportunity!
  3. Minimize your gear.  Landscapes are all about catching the perspective of a wider area, and the best way to catch a wider area is with a wider lens.  You simply don’t need that 100mm macro, or the 70-200mm zoom.  Take your widest lens and your best body.  For me that’s the 10-22mm and my trusty 40D.  I also don’t take any extra flashes or light stands, umbrellas or snoots either.  My camera with lens on a Rapid-R strap, a spare battery in one pocket and spare memory cards in another, and I just happily shoot away!
  4. Shoot in Portrait Mode – I know this sounds crazy, but landscapes usually are not just about the foreground or the background – there are elements of both that you would like to have.  Even when you shoot a wide angle lens in landscape mode (horizontal), it’s best to span the area with multiple images and then stitch together the resulting ones afterward in your favorite editor.  If you are going to stitch together afterward anyway, catch more of that sky and more foreground detail by rotating the camera 90 degrees.
  5. Center the Horizon – Conventional wisdom in composition says to put your horizon on one of the Rule of Thirds lines.  While this is true as a general rule, when capturing a landscape image, especially when stitching multiple photos together, it is better to put the horizon in the center for a number of reasons.  First off, there will be less distortion of the scene where it matters most in post production.  When your software stitches things together afterward, it tries to match elements and overlay them.  If your horizon is off center (and this is even more true the wider the lens), there will always be some distortion due to the physics of how lenses work.  Minimize this distortion by centering that horizon.  You can crop it appropriately during the post production phase if needed, and the stitching will go a lot easier!

Since people tend to get a better idea of these types of principles by seeing examples too, here’s a few shots that utilize some of these techniques.

Lines of Light

The Road to Folly

Colorado Skies
Can you guess which ones used which tips?  Got any tips of your own to add?  Sound off in the comments! 🙂  As always, happy shooting, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow – for the last day of the week, and the last day to submit your images for the January Giveaway!  See you then…

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7 comments for “5 Tips to Better Landscapes

  1. January 29, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Great tips Jason and stunning pics to demonstrate with.

  2. January 29, 2010 at 8:12 am

    I live by #’s 2 & 3. I scout locations so often. Don’t carry heavy, and get to know the area in question. If it takes a few trips, so what? You’re out in a beautiful area, right? So coming back should be fun a few times over.
    .-= Rich C´s last blog ..ST-E2 Post delayed, and other news tidbits =-.

  3. January 29, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Another intersting article Jason, particuarly point 5 which is not something I would have considered.

    One additional tip I would offer is understanding hyperfocal distance. Landscapes are typicaly about the great expanse and it is critical you ensure you are using the right aperture to maximise depth of field.

  4. January 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Nice tips. I like using a tripod when photographing landscapes. The tripod allows me to frame something exactly as I see it in my mind. Also, don’t be afraid of using long exposures. Longer exposures tend to add to the dramatic effects of a photograph.

    I am a big fan of scouting locations. Living in Arizona, I am always on the look out for new locations when I am hiking or driving around the desert. Sometimes it takes some more resources to scout locations. Recently on a trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone I studied other people’s photographs and locations through Flickr (etc.) to find some great spots.

    Centering the horizon is a good rule of thumb but sometimes when you lower the horizon skies can be the highlight of a good landscape photo.
    .-= Greg Taylor´s last blog ..FOCUS : Webisode 1 (Snake River Overlook) =-.

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