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5 Things That Can Improve Your Landscape Photography

by Samantha Lee (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     
Image taken by Cuba Gallery

1. Timing

There’s a reason so many landscape photos are taken in the hours just before the sun rises and sets - the glow over the horizon is softer and warmer, which provides more detail in the highlights, midtones and the shadows. Likewise, a little cloud cover can help to create the same sense of depth across the entire image.

If you aren’t able to shoot landscapes during the golden hours or on an overcast day, and are working in very strong sun, try converting the final image to black and white. Some landscape photographs actually look better in black and white. I love to push the contrast up and increase the shadows to highlight the different lines and textures in landscapes.

2. Bracketing/HDR

Bracketing is taking the same photo using different settings, exposing for dark, light and just right. A lot of people use bracketing for landscapes because different elements usually require different settings. For example, exposing for the sky could result in making your landscape too dark and exposing for your landscape could leave your sky washed out.

Most digital SLR cameras available now have an auto-bracketing feature that will do all of this for you. I personally think that this takes out all the fun in bracketing in the first place. I still love manually bracket my photographs and use a program called Photomatix to combine all of them together. You can also do this in Photoshop, using HDR techniques like in the photo below, such as compositing with layers, although this can be tricky.

3. Straight horizons

There are two ways to achieve this easily. First, is to turn on the grid in your camera display and the second is to use a tripod. Granted, you can always edit the straightness using editing software but it is still more practical to shoot a photograph with a straight horizon to minimise the amount of post production you will have to do later on.

A landscape photograph is traditionally divided into thirds. The horizon should be placed in the top third - avoid positioning the horizon right in the middle. You can only take a landscape photograph a certain number of ways before they all start to look alike. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the different elements. On a really sunny day, I especially love shooting landscapes with a high percentage of sky in the composition. I also love taking landscape photographs where most of what you can see is water. Sometimes, the best way to express how you feel about the scenery is by showing what you’re leaving out.

4. Lens filters

There are two kinds of lens filters that landscape photographers keep in their bag. The first is a polarising filter. Use this filter to reduce the reflections and glare you will normally get when shooting near bodies of water, especially at golden hour. It also increases the saturation and contrast especially on a really sunny day.

The second filter you should have in your bag is an ND (neutral density) filter. The most common problem you will face when photographing landscapes is the difference in exposure settings for the sky and the landscape. ND filters have a gradual transition from clear to a bit of tint that equalizes the brightness of the sky and the landscape.

Image by David Wood

5. Depth of field

In landscape photography, the depth of field should be wide (the foreground must always be just as sharp as the background and middle ground). To make sure that all the elements in your photograph are in focus, make sure you select a higher aperture setting, ideally between f/11 and f/16, or at your len’s sweet spot. However, this means that less light will be coming through your lens so you have to compensate by adjusting your shutter speed and ISO. A prime lens often helps to keep a image sharper as well, compared to a zoom lens, because the lens design creates better clarity.

If you’re using a very low shutter speed to compensate for a narrow aperture, or if you're shooting a night landscape, using mirror lock-up or a remote shutter release can also help to prevent any blur that occurs when the shutter button is pressed.

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