Landscape photography is all about capturing the beauty of a scene. Whether it is a natural scene or an urban landscape is entirely up to the imagination the photographer brings to the image. These days, anything from a mountain vista to the rolling plains, a seascape to a lake view, and a cityscape to an architectural image can all be called landscape photography.
Symmetry, repetition, contrast, asymmetry, coherence, symbolism, and even a dash of irony can all be contained in landscape photos. Any or a combination of these are components that construct a beautiful photograph. Some people feel that landscape photography is easy. They think all you need to do is arrive at a destination, take out your camera and snap a photo. But that kind of thinking produces a snapshot that can be captured by anyone using the camera on their cell phone.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very nice cameras on cell phones these days. What I’m talking about is getting that excellent shot that produces reactions when someone views your image. Great photographers take the time to view the scene and look at many angles and perspectives. They plan ahead so they can be on the scene they want to capture when the best light is available. They use tools that allow them to produce the sharpest images possible. And they practice, practice, practice, honing the skills required to produce great images.
Looking Back at Landscape Photography
Since the early days of photography, landscapes have been one of the favorite subjects of many photographers. Landscape photography can be traced back to as early as 1849 when the book “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie” containing prints of paper negatives was published. In the 19th century, many eminent landscape photographers emerged. Their amazing photographs still dominate photography collections in museums and galleries all over the world. Today, many budding photographers continue to fall in love with shooting landscapes. And as they pursue the road to landscape photography, more and more works emerge. Techniques also continue to evolve as new tools become available to the photographer.
Falling In Love With Landscapes
Most people would say that it is easy to take landscape photographs because you don’t need to pose a subject, as you do with portrait photography. You can choose whatever angle you want to create your image. And you know your subject is always available to you. However, many photographers believe that landscape photography can be quite difficult because you need a very keen eye to make an ordinary scene quite extraordinary. Planning and a lot of hard work can go into getting an extraordinary landscape image. You may have to brave the elements, walk over rough terrain or cover quite a distance on foot, get up early or stay late to get just the light you want, or even keep coming back because the weather makes the shot you want impossible.
Tools For Landscape Photography
The minimum tools you need include your camera, a wide-angle lens or lenses, and possibly a lens hood. Although you can use any camera, most photographers would recommend a digital SLR because you have the choice of lenses. A point-and-shoot camera can only give you so much creative potential. The ability to swap lenses to find the one you need to capture the image you want is one of the major advantages of a DSLR camera. Wide-angle lenses are preferred because many of the scenes you will want to capture are huge. Although you may take the lens hood off when you get ready to capture the image, they are helpful for protecting your lens should you drop your camera on rough terrain. Most photographers don’t recommend using a clear UV filter for protecting the front element of your lens from scratches. I tend to agree with this and never place a UV filter on my lens because it can degrade the light entering the lens. I also almost never attach a hood to my lens unless I’m in a place where I’m afraid of dropping the camera.
A tripod is a must-have for many landscapes. A tripod allows you to stop down your lens to get an adequate depth of field. Your shutter speeds can increase significantly when you stop down your lens to f11-f22. Most photographers will tell you that it is very difficult to get sharp photos handheld at shutter speeds slower than 1/60 sec. If you want shutter speeds faster than that with the aperture stopped down, your only other option would be to increase your ISO setting. This can introduce noise into the final image you don’t want to have to fix in post. Instead, buy a light composite tripod and carry it with you.
Consider the position of your camera. Make sure the horizon line is straight. It makes us feel uneasy when viewing an image with a horizon line that is skewed off the horizontal. It just feels unnatural. Not the emotion you want to evoke with your image.
Photography is basically capturing the light. Use that knowledge to your advantage and plan your image to capture the best light. This may be the blue hour before sunrise or the golden hour around sunset. It could be an overcast day depending on your subject. Just note that most scenes look flat and washed out in the harsh light in the middle of the day. Try to avoid shooting in the middle of the day if at all possible.
You need to learn some type of post-production software. Whether it is one of the Adobe products or another photography package, there are few really great photos that don’t have at least a minimum amount of post-production. This may include subtle touches to bring out more light in some areas and balance the light in others. Don’t let anyone tell you that learning software to enhance your image is cheating. Some post-production can make your good photo into a really great photo. Just don’t overdo it. We’ve all seen photos with way too much processing that no longer look natural.
Landscape Photography Filters
Landscape photography filters are useful in many situations as a landscape photographer. Filters can help out with setting a mood or making the colors in a photo pop. Using filters for landscape photography can make your images really stand out from simple snapshots of the same scene. Using filters can bring the image more in line with the way our eyes see the scene. Many times our camera cannot reproduce the entire scene the way we see it due to the amazing adaptability of our eyes when moving from the darker parts of a scene to the lighter parts. With the right filter, you can duplicate closely what your eyes can see. It is relatively inexpensive to put together a small kit of filters that you can carry with you when you go out to shoot landscapes.
Besides the camera, lenses, and a good solid tripod, you can’t go wrong with a set of useful filters. Graduated filters are great for bringing the sky and ground into good exposure. A UV filter can remove haze from the sky. A polarizing filter can remove unwanted reflections from water or other reflective objects. An intensifier filter can remove light pollution from the night sky and bring out the reds in fall foliage.
The filters used for landscape photography are placed in front of your lens to affect the light entering the lens and falling on the sensor. Filters that screw onto your lens using the filter threads are the least expensive. Just be sure and read the reviews of the filter you are considering purchasing. Some cheap filters can add an unnatural color cast or other artifacts to your images. The other type of filter slides into a frame mounted in front of your lens. These professional filters are more expensive and maybe a little more than the average photographer needs. However, be aware that they are available and if they fit your needs they are very useful.
Below is a list of some of the most important filters for landscape photography and the reasons you would want to add them to your photography bag.
Neutral Density Filters (ND): Neutral Density filters are designed to help you with tough exposures. They work by decreasing the total amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor. These filters come in a variety of strengths. The most popular are 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9. Each filter will progressively reduce the light entering your lens by one stop. The 0.3 filter will reduce the light by one stop, 0.6 by 2 stops, and 0.9 by 3 stops.
There are also graduated ND filters. One-half of this filter is dark, and the other is completely clear. They work by reducing brightness in the sky to help with balancing exposure in a scene.
For instance, you may want to take an image of the beach at sunset. You take a light reading of the sky and get an exposure reading of F/22 at 1/8 second; you take a reading from the beach in front of you and get a reading of F/22 at 1 second. This is a difference of three stops of light. You need to reduce the brightness of the sky. By using the 0.9 ND, you will reduce the light in the sky by three stops without affecting the light hitting the ground in front of you. Then you can shoot the scene exposing for the beach in front of you, and the whole scene will be properly exposed. If you exposed for the beach in front of you, the sky would have the highlights blown out and show no detail. If you expose for the sky, the beach will be under-exposed.
If you want to get the silky effect you’ve seen in flowing water, a 10 stop ND filter will allow you to shoot long exposure images in the daytime as in the sample below.
Polarizing Filters: A polarizing filter should be one of the first filters you plan to purchase. A polarizing filter can be used with color or black and white and is probably the most important filter you will pack in your kit. The polarizing filter can darken the blue sky to give it a strong, rich color. It will make clouds stand out also. It can also be used to eliminate the glare from the surfaces of water and other smooth, polished surfaces. The polarizing filter is mounted to the front of the lens and then rotated while you look through the viewfinder until you reach the level of polarization you want to achieve.
Warming filters: In overcast conditions, a warming filter can add detail and contrast to your photos. On an overcast day, images often appear cold and dull. On a bright summer day, the character of the light can be a little too much toward the blue end of the spectrum. Try using a warming filter. These filters will remove the dull effect that you get shooting without the sun. The 81 & 85 series will give your images that extra warmth. An 81A warming filter is ideal to use in adding extra warmth to low-light images.
Cooling Filters: Cooling filters do just the opposite of warming filters in that they can give a cooler tone toward the blue end of the spectrum when your images are just a little too warm for your taste. It is important to remember that you need to move your white balance setting off of auto when using warming or cooling filters. You need to set the white balance as close as possible to the ambient lighting conditions. If you try and use the auto setting for white balance, the camera will simply shift the white balance to compensate for the filter.
Red filters: Red filters are also known as intensifier filters. This filter will darken the sky, giving your image more impact. These filters cut some of the orange parts of the spectrum. By doing this, they intensify the red colors, especially when shooting fall foliage. Another use for intensifier filters is in night sky photography. The cut of the orange part of the spectrum helps cut out light pollution from the night sky since much of the artificial light at night is from sodium vapor lamps that produce an orange-tinted light.
IR Filters: There are also specialized IR filters that have a growing following. These filters allow your camera sensor to record IR light. They allow only the infrared light to reach the camera sensor by blocking all light in the visible spectrum. Since most cameras have a built-in IR filter, you must use long exposures with an IR filter. But they do create some ghostly and ethereal images.
Filters for B/W photography: Just because you shoot in black and white doesn’t mean that you can’t use filters – there are several filters that work with B/W photography. The polarizing filter is one of the few filters that work for B/W and color photography. It will help to darken shades of gray in your final print.
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