Saturday, 20 December 2008

Shoot Better Landscapes Part 1

Here is a few hints and tips for better landscapes.
This is part one and I will post part two in a couple of day. Use the upcoming holidays to study them and start to put them into practice.

1. The Idea:
You need to start with an idea, a germ of inspiration that will give birth to a stunning image. Without a starting point or an objective you'll find yourself aimlessly wandering.
2. Maps: First thing first, study a map of your chosen area to decide where to start. Google Earth can also be useful.
3. Get out there: There's no substitute for getting your boots muddy and eyeballing the lie of the land. Doing so from a car never works, get out there and use the most useful piece of photographic gear you have available to you: your eyes.
4. Seasons: How will the seasonal factors affect your shot. Does it cry out for autumn colours, or a frosty morning?
5. Sunrise or Sunset: Once you have found your chosen spot, consider how the light will paint the landscape at different times of the day. Is it a sunrise or sunset shot?
6. Bearing of the Sun: The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, right? Wrong. Here in these northely latitudes there is a massive seasonal variation from sunrise in the northeast in the summer to southeast in the winter. Consider exactly where the sun will rise or set for your chosen time of year.
7. Obstructions: Look around you. Is there a hill that will cast a shadow across the scene as the sun dips? Will those trees to the east mask the rising sun?
8. Weather forecast: Every landscape photographer is a weather forecast junkie. Check the forecast regularly and try to read between the lines to ascertain whether the lighting conditions you need could transpire.

9. Cable release: You need to keep your hands away from the camera when you're making the exposure, so always use a cable release in combination with a tripod. And if you loose your cable release use the camera's self-timer instead!
10. Check your batteries: Always carry enough spares to avoid them dying on you while on location. The weather can shorten battery life- in cold conditions it's worth keeping a spare in your clothing, underneath your main jacket, so it remains a normal temperature and ready to use in case the one in the camera gives up.
11. Polariser: This filter has a magic touch, saturating the colour in a scene, making rich greens, glories blue skies and fluffy clouds that look almost 3D. Polarisers also make a nifty neutral density filter as well, cutting the light down by two stops.
12. Graduated Filters: Skies are more often than not much brighter than the land and therefore need balancing with the use of graduated filters. They come in different densities, cutting the light by 1, 2 and 3 stops. There are both hard and soft gradient types also.
13. Compass: If the shot doesn't materialise on the first visit it's worth coming back another day when the light is right. Part of the preparation is knowing where the sun will be at a particular time and therefore a compass is useful.
14. Tripod: A tripod enables you to keep your camera steady, so that you can use a slow shutter speed to correspond with the small apertures required for plenty of depth of field.

15. Know your equipment: Only once you can use your equipment unthinkingly will your creative mind truly be free.
16. Know yourself: Don't be afraid to change direction. Accept what genre truly suits you - it may not be the same as that which you most admire.
17. Persist: If you really want to develop your photographic eye persistence is required, almost to the point of obsession. Absolute dedication is all that separates the good from the great.
18. Leave your camera at home: Sounds odd? Think photographically as you look about you in your daily life, when you are without your camera. This mental editing process will refine your eye. Tou will reach a point where you know exactly what a photograph will look like, and exactly which is the best way to make that image.

19. Keep is simple: When looking for a subject to photograph, compose your shot to remove as many un-neccessary objects as possible. A clean and simple composition is an essential ingredient to an eye-catching image.
20. Work in odd numbers: Odd numbers are always very effective in photography, especially threes. Any subject matter should work well this way, maybe three foreground rocks, or three trees on the horizon. It's up to you, but always remember that odd is more visually pleasing than even!
21. Use lead-in Lines: A good composition will consist of lead-in lines which draw the viewers eye from the foreground of the image towards the middle and then background. Obvious lead in lines would be a road, river or pathway, winding throughout the image. Less obvious lead ins could be a line of trees, rocks or waves breaking on the shore.
22. Foreground, middle and background: To achieve a strong composition, there should be subject matter in each of these places and they need to work in harmony. Look for subjects which compliment each other throughout the frame, this could be in appearance, colour or their association to each other.
23. Rule of thirds: Compose your image following the rule of thirds and you won't go far wrong. Place the horizon on the first or second horizontal line, and place your focal point at one of the intersection of the lines.
24. Don't dominate the foreground: A wideangle lens helps to accentuate foreground and create shots full of impact. But unless you are careful, the foreground subject will dominate the frame and throw the composition off balance.
25. Watch out for unwanted items: An obvious one, but something that we all fall foul of occasionally. Once you have composed your shot, look carefully through the viewfinder for any unwanted items such as crisp packets, bottles etc. These can be removed so much easier before taking the photo than in the computer afterwards.
26. Go low or high: It is natural to take photographs at standing height. But often compositions can be improved dramatically by setting your tripod nearer to the ground. By doing this you can maximise the intricate detail near the ground and give people viewing your shot a far greater sense of being there. Alternatively, if opportunity allows, try setting up your camera at a higher vantage point to gain another alternative view.
27. Use a small Aperture: With landscape photography, a small aperture of f/16 - f/22 will allow you to capture the full depth of your subject matter in detail.

Ignore all the above
All the above tips are just a guide. Rules are there to be broken, and doing so can often make the most dramatic images. Don't be afraid to try something different.