Photographing the natural world seems to present endless opportunities. The scenes we encounter are often awe inspiring but can be challenging to capture in a way that portray’s the true atmosphere of the moment.
Landscape photography is certainly one of the more intricate and complicated forms of outdoor photography. Specialist landscape photographers dedicate all of their photographic time to planning and executing the capture of a perfect scene.
In reality, being on safari or travelling does not always allow time for such intricate calculations with the amazing scenes we witness and lugging around additional gear is a challenge. So let’s look at some things to remember which have a big impact on how striking your landscape images can be no matter what you are shooting with.
I shoot most of my landscape shots with a 24 – 70mm f2.8 lens which is not technically a wide angle lens, but using it in combination with a full frame camera, in this case a Canon 5d mark 3, gives me sufficiently wide angle for most scenes I wish to capture. A lot of people use a smart phone to great effect which generally have wide angle lenses as a default. If ever I find my lens is not quite wide enough, I can take two pictures of the scene at different angles and merge them later in photoshop. This technique is also fantastic for creating panoramas and quite easy to do if you have Photoshop version CS5 or later like in the image above.
Stabilise – It is critically important to be stable. If the light is low, your shutter speed is going to be slow in order to let in the desired amounts of light. Being slightly unstable will create blur in parts of the shot which can ruin the whole image by distracting your viewers eyes. Ideally a tripod with a shutter release should be used. What ever the scenario, reduce any potential for camera shake with things like a bean bag, a mono pod or anything you can reasonably stabilise with.
Tip: If you are shooting from a vehicle always remember to switch off the vehicle. The engine running creates camera shake.
Focal Point – All images need focal points or they can land up looking empty. Choose a focal point in your image so the viewer has somewhere to anchor their eye.
Foreground – The presence or lack of a foreground in an image makes a big difference to the story you are telling. If you don’t know what I mean, take your mobile phone out and take a picture of a subject with and without a foreground and see how different the two images are. Foreground can give the image much needed depth and can set a landscape image apart. A well used foreground can give your viewer a way into the image. Think carefully about your image composition when capturing a beautiful scene. Some stories need the life of the foreground to give a full sense of the atmosphere within the frame while others need big skies and grandeur.
Skies – One of the fantastic things about travelling through Africa or being on safari in the Summer months are the beautiful skies which we see in such wild landscapes. The use of the sky can really bring a dramatic element to your images with the kind of cloud formations we see thanks to the summer storms. The sky can be used to great effect to bring grandeur to your images and accurately convey the emotion of the scene.
Change your Point of View – Minor adjustments of angle or height can make a big difference to the story your image will tell and the atmosphere within the frame. Most people give no consideration when capturing a scene to how big a difference something as simple as getting lower to the ground will influence the image. Take a walk around and change your position to see if one or other angle offers a better point of view. Take a bit of time on this to get the most out of the environment you are in. It could change a nice shot into a spectacular shot.
Horizons – Always make sure you horizon is straight. Take a moment while looking through the view finder to ensure the roof of your frame is parallel with the horizon. This can be fixed in post production but it means you have to crop out a part of your frame which is usually a loss to a landscape or beautiful scene where you want as much atmosphere and perspective as possible.
Try not to cut the image in half with the horizon. I usually break this rule if it is a scene where I want to capture a mirror image reflection in some water but otherwise the image should have a more predominant foreground or sky. The rule of thirds works well in this case.
Plan – It may not always be possible on safari or when travelling. However, planning is what really sets the difference apart in landscape shots. When the conditions are right, a landscape comes to life. This means taking light and time of day into account, predicting the weather, animal behaviour and more. But in the end, it is worth it if you truly want to convey the beauty of what you behold on these thrilling adventures. The image below was meticulously calculated. At the right time of year in the Busanga Plains a red mist rises…
Metering Mode – Set your metering mode to Evaluative Metering so that you are taking exposure readings throughout the scene. Rules are made to be broken and depending on the lighting effect you are going for you may want to experiment with the other metering mode options. I like to use evaluative metering and then experiment with higher and lower exposure using the exposure meter as a guide when shooting in Manual.
Depth of Field – Unless you are going for a specific type of effect using a shallow DOF, set your aperture to be high so that you have a deep depth of field and can capture most elements of the image sharply. With a landscape scene you want your viewer to be drawn into the image and be able to wonder around each element. Having a higher aperture value allows these elements to be captured sharply at different depths.
Post Production – Try to keep in mind some of the steps you may take in post production. If there are areas of high and low lights in the same frame, I like to ensure the highlights are closer to a neutral exposure and bring up the lowlights in post production. It is easier to give light to an under exposed area when editing than it is to correct areas in the image which are greatly over exposed.
So get out there and enjoy your landscape photography. Plan when you can but never let it get in the way of capturing a beautiful scene. Stabilise, change your point of view, consider your horizons, foregrounds and skies and most importantly have fun!
Enjoy your shooting until next time,