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A few weeks ago I was asked by an online photography friend here in Vermont to take a look at some landscape images and make some suggestions on improving and getting better shots for the upcoming Fall foliage season. I get a little nervous doing this as I don’t feel I am better than anyone else when it comes to landscape work however when asked I will offer my opinion and suggestions.
As I was looking at the images it got me thinking that being asked to review images like this would make for an interesting blog post about ideas for improving your landscape images. I sat down and examined my own work and how I like to shoot and came up with a list of 25 ideas or ways to go about shooting landscapes that I incorporate into my own work everyday.
Coming up with these ideas was an important exercise for me as well as someone who would be looking to improve their shooting. Every so often I like to look at my body of images over the past few months and look at what I did right and where I went wrong. It is also helpful to go through all the steps you take when out shooting to look for areas to improve and it is my hope that this list will at least steer someone in the right direction!
1. Look for the abstract in a composition and how the light plays off of your surroundings. Instead of snapping away stop and soak in the area you are working in and see how the light interacts with the environment.
2. Flash isn’t just for portrait work. Learn to use speedlights and high-speed sync in landscape images to isolate subjects and give your shots a unique look. I have been experimenting with flash over the last several months in my landscape work and view it as another tool that I would like to master. I always carry my flash gear when out hiking…Flash can add some real interest to a landscape image when used properly.
3. Learn long exposure photography and how to record movement in a still image. This is a whole blog post in itself but it’s another tool to make your images more dynamic. It is another area that I have been fascinated with over the past year and I find it opens up a whole world of possibilities for a photographer once the technique is learned. Sometimes I am just not satisfied with blue skies and big puffy clouds..I want to add some drama to my images with streaking clouds and picture perfect reflections in water.
4. Look at every corner of your composition in your viewfinder and get distracting elements out of the frame. It takes practice to learn what to exclude from a composition but often times less is more.
5. Look for S curves in your compositions. S curves are much more pleasing to the eye and can lead the viewer into and out of your image. S curves can appear in many ways in landscapes from roads to waterfalls so remember to look for them! It’s also a classic technique in portrait and glamor photography to position the body into an S curve.
6. Know when to use and not to use HDR. I am starting to move away from HDR simply for the reason that I have never liked its look for the most part in landscape work. Clouds never look right, water never looks right and I would rather practice and really learn how to meter a scene and use my cameras controls most effectively. While I still do shoot HDR brackets on occasion it’s almost always on static images with no movement.
7. Get a really low or really high vantage point. Most often compositions can look completely different from up high or down low. Don’t be afraid to explore a composition from all different angles.
8. Look for foreground elements. This can be difficult without the benefit of a tilt-shift lens but it can be done. Foreground elements can help to anchor the image and draw a viewer in. Look for ways in a composition to include something in the foreground, middle ground and background.
9. Focus on the intimate details in a scene rather than the grand scale, wide-angle image. Knowing what to put into a scene and what to leave out can make or break an image. It’s a habit I am trying to break…I just don’t want to miss an image by not looking at all aspects of the scene.
10. Don’t center elements in the frame. Another classic compositional rule and one that can be broken at times. Learn to off-center your anchor element in an image.
11. In “chaos” look for one element in the frame that can stand out from the crowd and anchor the image. Repeating patterns or Fall foliage come to mind as examples of “chaos” that need something in the frame to lead you into it and to keep the “chaos” from overwhelming the viewer.
12. Look for elements to bring mood to your images. Use weather or time of day, fog, storms, etc…to really add some punch and drama. Use all of these to your advantage…You can shoot in the rain!
13. Use the distortion in a wide-angle lens..Don’t fight it. While the distortion is more evident on a full frame sensor than on a crop sensor body it is still there to a degree. Tip the camera up or down on a foreground subject to see how it will distort. Again more difficult to do without a tilt-shift lens but possible.
14. Learn to use graduated and neutral density filters to balance exposures in landscape images. This was the single best thing that I did years ago to help me become better at landscape photography. It’s easier than you think to learn and will lead to much less frustration and more keeper images.
15. Look for ways to be creative and exclude the sky when clouds are flat and difficult to expose for. The sky does not always have to be in an image..Even with a graduated neutral density filter flat clouds with no shape can be difficult to expose properly.
16. The area you live in can be your best source of images. You often don’t have to travel far from home to make some quality landscape shots. Take time to explore the town you live in and see what you can find. Doing this exercise will boost your creativity and help you to see compositions better.
17. Know when to not take an image. The tendency with digital is to shoot first and look later but if I look at something and am not inspired by it then I won’t shoot it. Learn to be discriminating and really take the time to look at what you are about to take a picture of.
18. Get your ass out of bed! Some of the best images are made at sunrise, sunset and at night. Just look at a photography magazine and you will see what I am taking about. It took me awhile but I have become accustomed to getting up at sunrise and find its my favorite time to shoot. Go beyond what everyone else is doing.
19. Shoot all angles of a composition. When you look at something look at every angle of the subject. Straight on shots can be boring sometimes so mix it up!
20. Look for pattern or shape. I am always on the hunt for an interesting pattern, shape or texture. While not my strong suit I do practice and try to get better at noticing these things while out on hikes. Nature is full of patterns but sometimes spotting them can be tough.
21. Balance in focus elements with out of focus ones. Sometimes images that are sharp front to back can be boring. Give some interest to an image by using aperture to have sharp foregrounds with out of focus backgrounds. Use depth of field to your advantage.
22. Learn to use a circular polarizer. I love using polarizers in Autumn and around sky and water. They are very effective for adding something special to an image but it can be overdone. Learn to use them sparingly and in the right situations.
23. When you are out shooting always say to yourself “What images can I make here?” Push yourself to think out of the box when faced with an area with very little composition possibilities. Never think in the negative…Be creative!
24. Be critical of your work and set high standards for yourself. Another skill that has taken me some time to master but an important one. You don’t have to post everything that you shoot. Look at your work with a critical eye and know when to not post something for all to see.
25. Get out there and shoot! Shoot as much as you can. Know that you are going to make mistakes and that maybe one image in twenty will be a spectacular one. Be patient and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to come up with that award-winning image. It takes time!