It’s Spring. We’ve had days in the 90’s and days in the 50’s, days it’s been sunny and days its poured and poured, days it’s been calm, and days the winds have gusted over 50mph. Such is spring in the Northeast, but it’s been so great to be beyond the grip of winter.
With digital point and shoot cameras and consumer DSLRs so easy to use to make high quality photos, the number of Philadelphian’s and visitors walking on the paths beside the Schuylkill River a couple of weeks ago, to watch and take photos of the shells rowed quickly down the River, and the beautiful landscapes of Fairmount Park’s flowering trees along the River was amazing.
As I watched the scenes revealed as I walked up the River banks, I thought I might discuss some ideas I’ve learned about making landscape photographs better, here on the Blog.
- With film, there was a real cost per photo, so photographers gave thought to composing each one. With digital image costs at almost zero, that impetus for thoughtful image composition disappeared, and now too many travelers bring home too many poorly composed images. I see travelers so excited to arrive at their destination, that they start taking photos willy-nilly. Take a breath, take in the scene, then compose an image which shows off the scene well. That way you’ll make photographs, not take snapshots.
- Maximize your depth of field (well most of the time anyway). Generally you want to ensure that as much of your image as possible is in focus. The easiest way to do this is to choose a small aperture setting. The smaller your aperture, the greater the depth of field in your photos. Don’t forget, a smaller aperture means you’ll need to decrease your shutter speed, or increase you sensor sensitivity (ISO setting) to get the correct exposure, or a combination of both.
- Sometimes to help your image have a more natural look, and focus on an object in the foreground, or the foreground itself, you might want to narrow the depth of field. This can give the image a real sense of depth, and give the viewer a way into the photograph. I often choose this, to emulate the way we actually see a large landscape, by keeping the foreground and mid-ground of the image in sharp focus, but allow the background to be somewhat fuzzy. When we look at a scene and concentrate our eyes on the foreground, the background is generally somewhat out of focus.
- Landscapes need some sort of focal point to avoid ending up looking rather empty. Focal points prevent your viewer’s eye from wandering, with no guidance of where or how to look at your photograph. Focal points can take many forms in landscapes from buildings, trees, boulders, birds, ships, islands, a person, silhouette, etc.
- Consider using the sky to enhance your landscape. Many great landscapes will either have a dominant foreground or sky to eliminate your photo from being boring. If your sky is bland, compose your landscape to focus on its foreground by placing the horizon in the upper third of your shot (Remember my article on the Rule of Thirds.) If the sky is filled with drama, interesting cloud formations and colors, let it dominate by placing the foreground lower. You can even enhance skies via a polarizing filter or in post production.
- When people think landscapes, they think of passive environments, still lifes, but many of the great landscapes show motion and the movement adds drama, mood and points of interest. It could be waves on a shoreline, a waterfall, moving clouds or birds flying, for example.
- After you take that breath, while you’re composing your landscape image, one question to ask yourself is “How will you lead the viewer’s eye in the photograph?” We’ve already discussed some methods. Another is to provide viewers with lines that lead them into and through an image. Lines give images depth, scale, perspective and can be a point of interest, creating patterns in your image.
- Photograph during the “golden hours,” the hours near dawn and dusk. This is the time when the light must travel through the atmosphere the longest distance, which effects it’s “golden” color. The light being low also creates shadow, and helps define shapes better with improved contrast, interesting patterns, dimensions and textures.
- Think about the horizon in your landscapes. While you can fix the horizon in post processing it’s better if you get it right when you take the photo. Ask yourself if it’s straight, if it should be, and if it’s in the right place to make the best landscape possible. Think about that rule of thirds I keep mentioning. It works.
- Remember it’s not the camera which creates great photographs. Photographers create great photographs with their minds, hearts and senses.