Landscape photography is capable of getting you out, away from the everyday busyness, into the stillness of the wild and wide-open spaces. Whether you end up in alpine meadows, the dry and unforgiving deserts, wind-blown prairies, mysterious coastal forests, or the rugged mountains, shooting landscape photos allows you to enjoy some solitude.
Being good at scenic photography takes more than just a great hiking or backpacking camera – you need knowledge too. To take pictures you can be proud of when you are out backpacking or hiking, you have to know how to manipulate your camera settings, have a good compositional element understanding, be in the right place at the right time, be creative, and much more. In this article, we will take a deeper look at the tips you can use to improve your landscape photography skills.
A Word About the Camera Settings
The main crux of our article is not to share the camera settings you need to use for scenic photography. When it comes to camera settings, a wide range of variables do exist – the settings usually vary depending on the situation. Below, however, we will give you some key pointers to get you started. Rember it is not all about
In most instances, you just need to use the Aperture Priority (Av or A on some cameras) to capture great landscape photos. This is generally where the photographer sets the aperture and then lets the camera work out the rest to achieve an ideal exposure.
When taking pictures outdoors, you may find yourself with a lot of time to spare. If this is the case, you can always explore the manual mode. Consider working out the exposure by adjusting the settings yourself; check to see what you come up with. After practicing for a while, this may end up becoming second nature.
As a rule of thumb, if you intend to hand-hold your camera, make sure that its shutter speed is approximately the reciprocal of the focal length or even better, make it faster. To give you an example, if the camera’s focal length is 40mm, ensure that the shutter speed is at least 1/40th of a second.
Exceptions do exist for every rule. In some instances, you can cheat and reduce the speed. This should work well if the camera or lens has been image-stabilized to help with offsetting the camera shake. If you would like to show movement, a slow shutter speed may be ideal.
To keep everything in the image in focus, you will want to have a larger field depth. To accomplish this, consider setting the aperture to a bigger number. For example, you can use f/13, f/16, or even f/22. You should also keep in mind that diffraction tends to be an issue for smaller lens apertures.
After grabbing your camera from the hiking camera backpack, check to make sure that the ISO is in the lowest setting. Lower ISO settings usually produce cleaner images. This means an image featuring less grain and noise.
Most cameras will either go down to 200 or 100 for their lowest ISO setting. Start there and then bump it up only when you have to increase the shutter speed when hand-holding the camera.
For scenic photography, the RAW image format works best. Compared to JPEG, the RAW format usually preserves much more of the data. This allows you to pull much more detail out of the highlights and shadows. While RAW files do take more storage space on your hard drive and memory card, they are worth it.
Landscape Photography Tips
After donning your hiking boots or hiking pants, be sure to following the tips below to take great landscape pictures:
1. Do Your Homework
If you have been practicing photography for a while, this is one of the tips you have probably heard about already. Before packing your backpack and heading out to take some landscape photos, learn as much as you possibly can about the area. This is true irrespective of whether you are working close to your home, traveling far away, or any place in between.
Numerous resources are available to help you find the information you need to take excellent photos. Before you put on your hiking sunglasses and grab your trekking poles, be sure to do a simple search on 500px.com, Flickr.com, and Google Images for the landscape you are interested in. Simply searching the name of the place will yield numerous photos – these should show you what to look for and also offer inspiration for your shoot.
2. Be in the Right Place at the Right Time
You need to know where to go for your landscape photo and when you need to go. The light quality can make or break the photo – you will, therefore, need to ensure that the light is impressive.
The harsh midday sun is not what you should be looking for. When the light is nearly or directly overhead, transitioning from the bright to the shadow areas is extremely hard. Direct sun is a recipe for creating a scene with little texture and depth and incredibly high contrast.
The evenings and mornings feature the best light for scenic photography. Golden hour light, which is generally the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset, is optimal.
Keep in mind that you can still shoot later into the morning or earlier in the evening and get great results. During these times of the day, a careful combination of camera setting manipulation and the low sun angle can produce interesting images featuring increased texture and depth.
3. Cut the Clutter
Deciding what to not include in your picture is more important than deciding what you want to have on the picture. When someone looks at your picture, he/she should be able to tell what the image’s main subject is.
For example, if before crossing a river you decide to take a picture, the viewer should be able to tell that the river is the main subject. Other elements on the picture are supposed to be there to complete your main subject by adding both dimension and depth.
If things that do not add interest to the image exist, change the composition to remove them or minimize them in the frame. You can achieve this by setting the camera at a lower angle or by zooming out or in from a different angle.
Before you press the shutter button, always do a quick check around the edges to ensure that unwanted elements do not exist. A branch protruding in from the top can distract the main image subject.
4. A Strong Foreground Element is Extremely Important
Think of the foreground element as the introduction or the first impression that your image makes. If the foreground is strong enough, it should draw the viewer in and then lead his or her eye deeper into the picture, to the main subject. Strong foregrounds give a sense of depth and also makes the viewer feel like he/she is standing right where the shot was taken.
A strong foreground could be anything. When exploring the wilderness, it could be a rock formation, a bush, or even a small tree. The foreground is usually placed prominently in the image’s lower third and is often close to the camera. Getting your camera low and as close as you possibly can to the foreground should aid with the creation of the dynamic composition.
5. Keep Everything in Focus
For a good landscape image, you will need to get everything in the scene in focus. You should be able to control how much is in focus (depth of the field) using the camera’s aperture setting. Setting the camera’s aperture to a larger value, say, f/13 or f/16, and then focusing approximately a third of the way into your chosen scene should do the trick.
If the camera you intend to use when cross country walking does feature gridlines on the back LCD or the viewfinder, this should make things easier. Try to focus on something close to the bottom third gridline. This should get the whole scene in focus.
6. Change the Perspective
Most new photographers set up the tripod or hold the camera at eye level to take their shot. While this may be ideal, depending on what you are trying to focus on, changing the perspective could dramatically change the feel and look of your image.
Trying getting low to the ground to see how this changes your image. In some instances, this could eliminate a boring middle ground or accentuate the foreground.
If you will be using a monopod or a tripod, try shooting from up high. For example, mount your camera on the tripod, start a 10 seconds timer, and then hold the tripod above your head.
7. Show Scale
If you are used to selfie sticks, chances are, you have never had to worry about showing the scale. When it comes to landscape photography, there are times when you may want the viewer to know the scale of the scene or subject in general. In such a scenario, consider placing something in the frame that helps in giving a sense of the landscape’s grandness.
Ensure that whatever you decide to use is familiar and also easy for the viewer to figure out its relative size compared to the size of the surrounding area. To give you an example, if you will be hiking with kids or someone else, consider placing the individual in the scene.
8. The Tripod Should be Your Friend
If you rarely use a camera tripod, it might be time to get familiar with the tool. During the low light times of the late evening or early morning, a tripod can help you reduce the shutter speed and maintain a low ISO without damaging your image. If you plan to take pictures when hiking at night, the tripod can make your work much easier.
9. Show Motion in Your Picture
If during your backpacking trip you intend to shoot a scene featuring something moving, say, a waterfall or a stream, you can drop the shutter speed and allow the movement to be seen in the image. Having a tripod can make everything much easier.
The shutter speed may not need to be as low as you might think. For example, when shooting a fast-moving stream, 1/4th of a second should ideal.
If you determine that it is impossible to get the needed low shutter speed via adjusting the ISO settings and the aperture, you may need to attach an ND (Neutral Density) filter to the camera lens. The ND lens cuts the light reaching the sensor and hence allowing you to achieve a slower shutter speed.
10. Remember That Composition is King
While pulling the camera out of the hiking backpack when the light is ideal is always a great idea, your image may not work if it doesn’t have a strong composition. For all the pictures you take after donning your travel backpack to be perfect, they will need a good combination of both great light and good composition.
Even if you are just getting started with photography, chances are, you have heard of the rules of composition. These rules include the rule of odds, leading lines, and the rule of thirds. Learn these rules, understand them, and then start practicing them. The rules should help you create impactful landscape images.
However, it is not all about gear. At the end of your photoshoot, you will need photo editing software to get the best from the best.
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Time is probably the most crucial investment you need to make to take great landscape images. When you arrive at a place you have never been to before, spend some time scouting the area, trying to locate different vantage points. Carry a compass to figure out where the sun rises and sets. Try to imagine how the landscape of interest will look like in varying kinds of light.
All of this will need practice. When you take your first few pictures, you may notice that they are not as perfect as you would want. However, as you continue to practice, your landscape photography should continue to improve.
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- Landscape Photography Tips – Lightstalking.com