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10 important tips when shooting landscape photographs

The golden hour
one of the most important things when shooting landscapes, or any other genre in photography is having good light. Without good light, your image might not have great, strong impact that highlights or illuminates your subject that you are shooting. Many times one has too much light or too little light in a photograph, causing overexposed or underexposed images.

Have you ever taken an image and realised that the shadows are too dark and the highlights are too bright? If you were to shoot landscape images during bright daylight, you will obtain hard light with defined shadows. This also interferes with your DSLR’s internal light meter causing it to give inaccurate light readings. The best time to shoot a landscape image is during the golden hour. For those who don’t know, the golden hour is 30min before sunrise till 30min after the sun has risen as well as 30min before the sun sets and 30min after the sun sets. The light is perfect when shooting in these conditions. You have golden light illumination your subjects, your shadows are soft and if you are shooting long exposures, you are able to get some movement in the clouds as well as in the ocean.

Rule of thirds
this is one of the most important rules in regards to landscape photography. This all falls part of composition in your image. You may have all the elements in an image, but without composition, your image might lose impact and strength. The rule of thirds is a technique used by almost every landscape photographer, making sure that your composition is perfect before pressing the shutter. If you are using a Canon DSLR, you could activate the “grid” and you will be able to see it on the live view function. Most DSLR camera’s have the grid function. Each grid is divided into 9 blocks. The bottom 4 blocks is used to place your foreground of your image. This could be used for various subjects such as plants, rocks, animals, insects, water, reflections, trees or any other interesting subjects to shoot. The middle 3 blocks is used for your mid-ground which could be anything from a dune, tree, mountain, ocean, rock, plants, hill, desert, house, animal or any other interesting mid-ground and last but not least, the top 3 blocks are used for your background such as a sky etc. You will notice that you can make sure that your horizon is straight buy simply adjusting your camera to your grid, you will also see that 2/3rds are land and 1/3rd sky. There are some cases where one can play around a little bit depending on what you are shooting. The key is to identify when you can break the rule of thirds and when you can’t. Photography is all about expressing yourself with your images. The idea of the rule of thirds is to help one compose better photographs. You are able to apply the rule of thirds on any horizontal or vertical photograph.

Finding a 3rd element to make a subject
this topic seems to be overlooked in many cases and I feel that it’s a important factor in landscape photography. This all falls part of composition and rule of thirds. When you are choosing your foreground for your image, try to look for something in the foreground that makes an interesting subject in your image. For example, there might be an old shoe that you landed up seeing laying on the ground in a desert, instead of just shooting a desert and sky, the shoe ads impact on the photograph making the viewer wonder why it’s there. Another good example could be an old dead tree that was discovered on the beach while shooting the ocean. Now without the 3rd element, you will just have sand, sky and ocean, but because there is a dead tree or a branch lying on the sand, you can place the dead, deserted tree on your thirds of the image to add impact on your photograph. By this I mean, place the 3rd element on the left or right third of your image, not dead smack in the centre, this makes your image much stronger. The human eye reads from left to right of any image or sentence, therefore, try keeping the viewers eye occupied and interested by placing the subject the left hand side or right hand side of the image.

Shooting on a high F-stop to improve overall sharpness
I’ve seen many images lately that seems to be out of focus, this does tend to concern me quite a bit. Many photographers shoot landscapes images between F4 to F8, there is nothing wrong with shooting images on these kinds of settings. When one has lots of light, try to keep the image as sharp as possible by shooting on F22, as the afternoon drags along and less light is available, start moving down to F18, F16, F14,F11. I usually shoot all my landscape images between F18 and F22 on light conditions, as the sun goes down, I shoot on F16 and as it gets darker I move down from F16 to F14 or F11. If it is really dark, I move down from F11 to F9 and lower. It’s important to shoot ISO 100 or 200 during daylights, when it’s completely dark; ISO 400 – 800 is used. This also depends on what kind of images you are looking for, if you want fast shutter speeds, you might have to experiment a little bit with the ISO. I would not go higher than ISO 400 when trying to use a super fast shutter speed during daylight.

Capturing exposures with a heavy tripod
as we all know, a nice heavy, sturdy tripod will always help while shooting landscape images. Many of the cheaper tripods work well when one shoots basic stuff, but there will always be a windy day or rough waves that could make your tripod move while capturing a exposure causing your image to have camera shake. By having a nice sturdy tripod, you are less likely to have such movements on an image. While we are talking about camera shake, one can use a shutter release cable to prevent camera shake, if you don’t own one of these, it would be a great investment, and they aren’t that expensive. Alternatively, you can also put on the timer on your camera and press the shutter; this also helps quite a bit.

Using filters in your images
one of the most important filters to invest in is a CPL and UV filters. The UV filter is a clear glass filter that one can screw on to your lens to protect your CPL filter as well as your lens against dust and scratches. It also adds a little bit of vibrancy to your colours. It’s not a major difference though. It’s more of a protector though, if you are serious about looking after your gear, I would invest in one of these. The CPL filter is very important. This filter not only makes your colours vibrant, it also blocks out light in certain areas. One can shift light by simply turning the filter. You can also take all the reflections out of the water, making it transparent. You can also take the extra glare out of the sky, making it look more dramatic. This dark filter would cost more than your UV filters, but it plays a big role in landscape photography. There are some other filters that also make a big impact on your images. Have you ever tried taking an image and realising that the sky is completely blown out and the foreground is light, or you might have a nice sky exposure but you can’t see the foreground at all. This is because our human eye can see multiple exposures where the camera can only see a single exposure at a time. By investing in a decent pair of ND filters, you can capture a perfect sky and foreground in a single exposure. This usually comes with a bracket and an adapter ring for your lens with a large glass or resin filter that fades from a ND8/ ND400 to a ND2 or being completely transparent. By this, I mean, one half of the filter is dark and the other half is light. This is a very expensive investment that not everyone can afford. There is another solution though. You can always capture a dark exposure for the sky and a light exposure for the foreground. You can then blend the two exposures using the gradient tool in Photoshop.

Shooting multiple exposures
this is one of the things that I do with almost every shoot. I shoot 3 different exposures of the same shot with every capture using the bracketing function on my DSLR. The bracketing function enables one to shoot multiple exposures without having to adjust each exposure every time you press the shutter. Most DSLR cameras have this function, if you don’t have it; it’s not a big issue at all. The only reason why I prefer using the bracketing function is to ensure that I have identical shots, when you are adjusting the exposures manually, you could move the frame slightly without noticing it, making it hard to blend exposures while processing an image. The reason I shoot several exposures is to get a perfect, realistic exposure of the location. I usually set one light exposure for the foreground, one dark exposure for the sky and one medium exposure. There might be a time where the sky is too dark in your dark exposure or the foreground is too light in the light image, this is why I have the medium exposure to play around a little bit to make sure that I get good results. For the bracketing function, I would recommend using the timer or shutter release cable to make sure that you don’t get camera shake while pressing the shutter. Now many cameras only allow you to shoot 3 exposures, some allow you to shoot up to 9 exposures at a time. This entirely depends on the photographer. Baring in mind, the more shots your take, the quicker you fill up your memory card and the more images you have to look through.

RAW vs. JPEG
there has been many debates between shooting JPEG images and RAW images. Which one is better, the answer is RAW! Why not JPEG? Shooting Jpeg saves some space on your memory card; you will shoot an 8mb for compared to a 18mb RAW file. This is because JPEG is a single exposure shot saved into one small file where the RAW file is a multi exposure shot saved into one file. By shooting RAW, you are able to choose the best exposure to suit your image where you are unable to do this in JPEG, once you have shot a JPEG image, that is it! You don’t have the flexibility to change your exposure, contrast, white balance, sharpness, saturation or curves, which one can do in a RAW file. There really is comparison! Advantage goes to RAW!

Weather conditions
I am a sucker for sunset photographs, I always look out for some amazing high level clouds to shoot. The reason for this is that they don’t move as often as normal clouds, also, after the sun sets, they usually turn bright orange or pink, in some cases, one can even get a bit of purple, this is very rare though. I’ve seen quite a few photographers pack up their gear as soon as the sun sets, stay longer, the show usually starts 5-20 min after the sun sets! What about completely overcast days? Take advantage of this as well! This is when you can get some stormy, dramatic images with lots of impact and strength. You can try shoot long exposures from 10sec to 30sec. If you own a ND8 or Big stopper filter, you can shoot for up to 40 minutes. It’s all about experimenting. You might realise that there are no clouds at all and that it might be a clear sky the whole evening. Bonus! Then venture out somewhere dark and shoot the stars or Milky Way on a large ISO such as 3200 to 12800 and on the lowers aperture possible such as F2.8 to F4. Also check the weather forecast on a regular basis to make sure that you are prepared! If always carry a micro fibre cloth with me when shooting, you never know when your filters are dirty, when it starts to rain or when a wave sprays some water on your lens. You don’t want to waste time by trying to clean your filter with your shirt. It could take a while!

Always be prepared
If you are shooting in a dark location, carry a torch with you to make sure you don’t fall anywhere, this also helps when you are setting up your gear while shooting at night. When shooting seascapes, you are bound to get wet, wear some shots with slops, if it’s really cold, you can wear a waterproof jacket, thermal training pants which is also waterproof and some boots, you will still get wet, but not as bad as wearing normal clothing. Always carry a spare memory card or battery for in case you run out. Extra lenses are always a bonus, such as zoom lenses and prime lenses. Not everyone can afford prime lenses, but a variety is good! Carry one or two micro fibre cloths with for in case you need to clean your filters or lenses. Always take some warm clothes or spare clothes if you get wet. I recently got an umbrella that I take along for in case I shoot in rainy conditions. Taking your lens hoods along will also benefit you in certain cases. I would also suggest packing your shutter release cable when you shoot. The best advice I have is to get out there and experiment, express yourself and capture the beauty that you see through your lens!

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Comment by Andy Y on October 28, 2012 at 11:36am
Well written. Tips I will use. This is great, I have been trying to figure out what photographers were saying about light ect but I am starting to understand it and this will. Funny how things come when they are ment to . Thank you for sharing
Comment by jaffar kassim on August 8, 2012 at 3:02am

Great pics and tips Juan..

Comment by Juan Wernecke on August 7, 2012 at 10:15am

Comment by Juan Wernecke on August 7, 2012 at 10:11am

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