Landscape Photography: Beyond snapshots

Tips for capturing the beautiful world you see around you


Landscape Photography: Beyond snapshotsWhether you're taking photos while on vacation in a far-off place or simply documenting the beautiful scenery around you, landscape photography is a great way to capture the beauty of the world. Sometimes it means getting up before dawn to capture the sun rising over the mountains, or hiking to a remote lake, or even just pausing by the side of the road to snap some photos of cows munching grass in an idyllic pasture. Here are some quick tips to making the most of the world around you in your pictures.

kmg 300 landscape fence flickr lizwestLeverage your depth of field
While there are exceptions, generally in landscape photography you want to have as much depth of field as you can so that the largest area of your image is in focus. Luckily, this is usually pretty easy. You're working with plenty of light outside during the day, which means you can use a small aperture (that is, a large number).

Of course, if you're not working with bright sunlight, a small aperture might mean you'll have to increase your ISO (which will create some digital noise and isn't ideal) or your shutter speed (which may mean using a tripod). 

Lead the viewer to your focal point
Landscape photography benefits from being selective about your subject and the details you include in your photo. Add visual interest by including objects such as flowers, bushes, or rocks in the foreground. Make sure that your depth of field is wide enough so that both the close objects and those farther away are in focus.

kmg 630 landscape pathMake sure your image has a focal point that draws the viewer's eye and a visual path to get there. One method of doing this uses what are called lead-in lines -- placing lines such as roads, pathways, and even things like tree branches starting at one edge of the frame and going toward the focal point. This leads your viewer toward the part of the image you want them to spend the most time looking at.

kmg 300 landscape water flickr lorenkernsBalance water and light
Your shutter speed choices impact how you treat any water in your photograph. Still water can add a new dimension of beautiful reflections, but moving water can be somewhat trickier. Depending on your shutter speed, moving water might come out as smooth, flowing lines, a fuzzy blur, or sharp and frozen droplets. Each effect creates a completely different scene, so check out our other tips on photographing water. Experiment and see which you like best!

While it may not always be practical, try to arrange your photography for the morning or afternoon, when the shadows cast by the angle of the light bring out the shape of landscape features. The midday sun tends to wash things out, making them look flat and lifeless. Sit down, open up your picnic lunch, and let the photos wait until the sun is a bit lower. 

kmg 630 landscape clouds flickr davidwiseWatch the sky
While you're paying attention to the light, also spare some thought for the sky and how it will appear in your photograph. While sunsets and sunrises offer obvious choices for stunning landscape backdrops, keep an eye out for interesting cloud formations and colors to enhance your shots. A static, dull gray sky probably won't add much to your picture, so if you're not blessed with great weather, try filling more of the frame with what's below the horizon. If the sky is spectacular, include more of it. 

Using a polarizing filter can enhance the blue of a clear sky and deepen the colors of the landscape. A gradated grey or neutral density filter works similar wonders on bright but cloudy days.

kmg 300 landscape beachGo off the beaten path
While you can certainly find lovely views from the side of the road, sometimes you have to put a little effort into finding the perfect shot. A good camera bag that both protects and distributes the weight of your gear is a must if you're going to be hiking through the great outdoors. Don't worry, a little sweat is absolutely worth the reward: gorgeous views unencumbered by the hand of humanity.

On the other hand, don't be afraid of civilization. Landscape shots can definitely include buildings and other man-made structures. An old barn can serve as a beautiful focal point to an autumn scene, as can statues, benches, and all sorts of man-made objects.

Aim for the horizon
Since the horizon is usually one of the most obvious lines in a landscape photograph, take the time to make sure it's actually straight. A bubble level that slips into your camera's hotshoe mount makes this easy; most tripods have levels in them, as well. You can always correct a bit of rotation with photo editing software later, but it's much better to take a good shot the first time around. 

The other thing to consider in regards to the horizon is where you place it compositionally in the scene. Following the Rule of Thirds is generally the best idea, though breaking that rule occasionally results in an interesting image.

kmg 630 landscape mussendenLook to the greats
Landscape photography is as old as the camera itself, and there have been many artists who are regarded as masters of landscape scenes. Ansel Adams is one of the most well-known. Others such as National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg and early photographer Edward Weston 
also offer extensive galleries of beautiful images. Spend some time browsing through their photographs, and really look at what makes those images so great -- then go out and make your own beautiful pictures!

[Writing Credit: Katherine Gray.  Image credits: K. GrayLiz WestLoren KernsDavid Wise]

Thanks to our friends over at Tecca for submitting this post.  Find more How-to tech articles & Gadget news at Tecca.com.  And, as always, if you have an amazing landscape shot, don't forget to post it up on Steve's Facebook Wall, or hit up the Steve's Forums to talk about this article, ask questions, or anything photography related.