Thursday, 02 July 2009

How to master landscape photography

Driving through the countryside you encounter an awe inspiring scene that just has to be captured on your camera! Stopping the car, you shoot a few shots. But the results disappoint. The haunted house on the horizon is a mere speck in the distance and the photograph looks ordinary. The scene has somehow lost the charm that drove you to capture it. What must you do to ensure that your landscape photographs portray as stunning a scene as the one that you saw?

Composition is one of the most important aspects of landscape photography. What you capture on camera is only a portion of what you see with your eye. Review the features of the landscape that will stand out and make your picture interesting. Identify a focal point, something that will draw the eye. Decide on a focal point and examine its relationship with the rest of the scene.

The classic rule of thirds provides an excellent guideline to get you started. Divide the picture into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Some digital cameras have a grid to help achieve this. The horizon should be placed upon either the upper or lower horizontal third. An interesting feature or focal point of the landscape may be placed on one of the intersections of a vertical and horizontal third. This technique works and results in a much more interesting picture than one where the point of interest is centred in the frame.

Many people include city photography and views of the sea as landscapes. Strictly speaking, a landscape is a scene of land, of scenery that may include hills, valleys, rivers and mountains. Seascapes are scenes that feature the sea while a cityscape features an urban scene. The rules and techniques that apply to one, apply to all.

One way to provide perspective and a sense of scale is to include objects in the foreground of the composition. These may include a nearby sand dune, a tree, a building, an animal or a person. Foreground features help to give a three dimensional feel to the picture and add a sense of perspective.

One of the classic mistakes made by tourists is to attempt to combine a portrait of a loved one with a landscape. The girlfriend stands smiling to the camera in front of the Tower of London. This simply doesn't work! Each is an object of beauty, so treat them as individuals.

Put some thought into your landscape photographs. Look for lines - vertical and horizontal and diagonal. These can help to make the picture interesting. Horizontal lines help to provide a feeling of tranquility while diagonals suggest movement. A winding path or meandering stream disappearing into the distance creates a hint of mystery. Vertical lines - such as trees at the edge of a forest give strength and frame the scenes around them.

Examine the relationships between near and distant objects. Explore the scene through the viewfinder while moving around to get the best vantage point.

Photographing a scene from a cliff stands the risk of losing the feeling of height. This can be countered by ensuring that part of the cliff itself is included in the frame.

Water provides a wonderful opportunity for photography. It provides reflections of the sky and surrounds, and that shimmering effect that can really add to a scene.

Light and colour can make or break a landscape. As the day progresses from morning through to might, the light changes. Viewed through the naked eye, the scene appears the same. Captured through a camera the difference is immense. The light at daybreak throws a golden hue across the world that changes the colours all around. The midday sun produces short shadows and a rather harsh light. The quality of light changes through the seasons as do the colours of the landscape. Light varies from one country to another. The harsh light of Africa may be contrasted against the more hazy and gentle light of Europe.

While contemplating your landscape consider what aspect of the landscape you want to portray.

The photographic equipment is often considered to be of prime importance in landscape photography. Indeed, a camera that is capable of capturing pictures at a high resolution can make a big difference. A good lens is important to ensure that detail is captured well. But great landscapes can be captured using even a simple camera.

A tripod can be very useful, especially when light conditions dictate either a slow shutter speed or a wide open aperture. The aperture should be as small as possible to maximise the depth of field captured, but a different effect can be created with a larger aperture to blur the foreground.

Many people automatically select a wide angle lens to shoot landscapes. While this will help to provide a panoramic view, there is no reason why a standard or telephoto lens should not be used to capture a specific scene to achieve a different effect.

Experimentation in photography is the name of the game. Bracket your photos to ensure you get the optimal exposure. Try photographing from close to the ground or from a high point. Experiment with different exposures to produce different effects. Impressionistic landscape photographers may use extreme underexposure to produce a silhouette, while abstract photographers look at the relationships between the shapes captured.

Great equipment will help. If you are planning a series of landscapes to use as publicity posters for an advertising campaign, you will need some serious equipment! In most cases, it is the photographer rather than the camera that produces great photographs.

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