I so desperately need a vacation. I don't remember the last time I ever felt so exhausted...not even right after the baby was born. There's been a lot on my plate and I'm just looking forward to a mellow summer with my little family in our new place, some exciting work projects and possibly (hopefully) taking a trip somewhere. All this daydreaming got me to thinking about one of my favorite subjects to shoot.
I used to think that a landscape was a boring subject. I never understood the appeal of standing in a place, with a tripod or without, focusing on one scene. How wrong (and misinformed) could I have been? A landscape is as dynamic and exciting a subject as any. But, because of their popularity and because it is such an accessible subject to photograph, it can often be very difficult to make a landscape image stand out.
Here are some tips that have worked for me, and that I'm constantly working at getting better, for taking better landscape photos.
1. Play with composition
Try the usual and expected compositions because they can lead to amazing photographs but don't just shoot a landscape as well...a landscape! For obvious reasons this is the preferred method and the one with the most flexibility because you can shoot using a wide angle to capture a large scene, compose your shot using the rule of thirds and really take advantage of a larger scape. But, try shooting it as a portrait and you might be surprised at the results.
2. Get your exposure right
This is a general rule in all photography. No matter how much you try to play around during post-processing there's not much you can do if you didn't shoot with the right exposure set in the first place. Take it from me, it is very annoying and upsetting to see a fabulous photo ruined because it was too dark or blown out or you didn't adjust your settings properly. Sometimes you can't avoid it, especially with street scapes because you were in a rush to capture something or because you wanted to take advantage of good light, but as a general matter, be aware of your exposure. Depending on the time of day, you can go down on exposure a bit to darken the colors.
3. Play with shutter speed
If you're shooting moving water, like a wave or a water fall, you can try a slower speed. Play around with it and practice to get it right. Similarly, you can try doing this when you shoot street scapes too. Urban landscapes are cool because you can always show a lot of movement. People are always coming and going, rushing in and out of a frame and if you can use a tripod (see below) and set up a shot, you can really capture that craziness and kinetic energy of city life really well.
4. Chase the light
A photo will be disastrous if the light is wrong. I'm constantly looking for the magic light - most photographers I know are professional light chasers and the best time of day to find it when you're outdoors is either early morning or late afternoon/early evening. Obviously if you shoot in a studio you can make your magic light - not so for those of us who work primarily outside of the studio.
Shot on an early summer evening just after sunset.
5. Depth of Field
I agree that when it comes to landscape photography, as a general matter, using a greater depth of field will work best. You want to be able to capture the essence of your landscape and tell a story with your photo and you can achieve this when you get your entire frame in focus. Use a small aperture (a high f-stop number) and if you're shooting with a zoom lens, bring it back as wide as possible. Even so, like I said, you should definitely play with your compositions and try out different things.
This is a close-up and a different angle...
This is a good example of why how sometimes a shallow depth of field works too.
6. Use a tripod...or not.
I'm not a huge fan of the tripod unless I'm shooting in low light or unless I want to shoot using a slow speed. I feel a bit too restricted by them but sometimes they are a necessity. They come in handy even if you are just shooting in the early evening and the light is a little low even when you've got your exposure set perfectly - the best way to avoid the blur or camera shake is to mount your gear up on a tripod.
7. Crank up the saturation
I love to use a polarizer filter on my lens when I shoot landscapes. The colors really pop and the images are just so beautiful. You can also play around with the colors and saturation in post-processing but I get so much satisfaction knowing that I got it right straight from the camera and that my pictures only need a little help afterwards.
These two photos were taken on the same day on the same beach but the techniques in-camera and post-processing were slightly different. Also, I know they seem crooked but they're not! We could see another island from the house we rented and the sea with the sight of land made the horizon appear tilted. Very bizarre and cool!
I'm a huge fan of shooting desaturated landscapes. You can try different color filters if you want to shoot in black and white. I shoot all photos in color even though my camera gives me the option of shooting in black and white and then I often add an orange filter to my lens to help me with the contrasts. Shoot with the filter and then when you convert to grayscale you will see how gorgeous the contrast created by the filter can be. Crank up the contrast and/or exposure in post-processing and WOW-SA.
Shot using an orange filter on a tripod.
I love that this looks like it was shot on the moon.
8. A cityscape is a landscape too
I've been able to travel to some pretty fabulous places in this world and believe me when I tell you that I feel beyond blessed to have been able to do that. But I also live in the urban jungle that is Manhattan so while I love to shoot landscapes, when you're in the city they look very different than what you'd typically see when you think of a "landscape" photo. So? Have fun with this subject no matter where in the world you are. You can apply all of these tips to your photography and most importantly, push yourself and have fun doing it.
Here are some more landscapes from my personal archives.
A personal favorite from a very hot summer day in Washington Square Park.
I love this photo because I can remember how freezing it was this day. This photo just looks cold!
Embrace the chaos of city living and make it come to life in simple black and white. Strollers, bikes, dogs, people, cars, cross-walks!