Fundamental landscape photography techniques – do you know them?
Landscape photography techniques can be many things, both technical related and the creative aspect of it. There are a few fundamental techniques you must learn and understand.
Without this knowledge, you will have a hard time making stunning photos with a wow factor. Because you want your photos to be admired, right?
Don't blame your camera
Like me, you probably have come back home and with disappointment realized the images on the screen was far from what you experienced when you took the image.
The reasons can be your composition is not working, or most likely you did not use the correct settings on the camera. The latter is related to the technical execution of the photo.
As a beginner you probably not even recognize the composition is wrong. Everyone, beginner or not, can see when an image is poorly exposed or out of focus.
So, who to blame? The camera? No, I don’t think so. You are the only one to blame whether it is composition, bad exposure or out of focus.
Understanding the technical terms
Many beginner photographers struggle to understand the technical terms and how a camera works. A bit of math and physics is involved so this is understandable. Not all of us are techies. The good news is you don’t need to understand the math, only how to use it.
The two biggest challenges for beginner photographers
Two of the areas most photographers find difficult to understand when they start out are focus and exposure. If you don’t know how to focus properly, your images will be blurry. If you don’t know how to expose, the images will be too dark or too bright.
Don't think all can be fixed in Photoshop
It is also a misconception that “I will fix this” when post-processing my images. A badly exposed image can be fixed in Photoshop, right? To some extent yes, but there are limitations on how much you can fix on a bad exposure.
On the other hand if you missed the focus, this cannot be fixed in Photoshop or any other software for that sake. You simply missed your shot - very irritating.
"What camera do you use"?
The most common questions related to photography is “what camera or lens should I buy”? And if you ask you typically get different recommendations depending on who you ask. A similar question is “what camera do you use”?
A lot of beginner photographers believe it is the camera that makes the photo. They couldn’t be more wrong. Which camera has nothing do to with your landscape photography technique.
Yes, you need a camera
You need a camera for sure but how big and expensive it is is not that important when you start photographing. There is a camera for every photographer need.
If you only show your images on the Internet, any camera will do. The camera is not the limitation. It is at the time you want to make large prints of your photos the specifications of the cameras and lenses will have an impact.
I suggest you stick with the camera and lens you already own and learn how to use it properly. When you have learned the most crucial landscape photography techniques and you can tackle these, it is time to consider new gear.
If you learn photography step by step, you will know by yourself when the equipment is limiting you from getting the results you want. No one else can tell you that.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss the fundamental aspects related to photography and how the camera works.
Two holy trinities of photography
Trinity - #1
The three most important ingredients in making a stunning landscape photograph is:
Not having a clear or interesting enough subject is the most common problem when you start photographing landscapes. If you just snap away without having a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your photo, it will most likely not be any good.
I remember when I started out photographing. I had no plan when I photographed a landscape. Photography technique was not on my mind. I just saw a beautiful scene, lifted the camera to eye level and did a couple of shots.
I only did a couple of frames because I used “expensive” slide film then. The roll of film was 36 frames, and it should last for a while. Oh boy, it is different know. No reason to save on digital “film”.
Wrong or no subject can ruin your image
Lack of subject made most of my earlier images boring compared to what I do know. Therefore, it is important you take your time and don't start snapping as soon you arrive at a scene you want to photograph. Look around and try different viewpoint.
Take the camera off the tripod while scouting around. Looking through the viewfinder when handholding the camera is much more convenient. When you have found an interesting subject and decided on a composition, you put the camera back on the tripod and make the image.
Composition in photography is important but it is highly subjective what is an interesting composition or not. There are many different composition rules you can use but when you master them, you can break them like with any rules.
Some photographers have a photographic eye and can make great compositions, but they struggle with the technical aspects. Too much clutter and attempting to get too much in the same frame is a common beginner error. Learn more about composition here.
Photographing is “painting with light”. Without light, there will be no photograph. Light is just a natural thing for us which we rarely give a thought. Beginner photographers don’t realize the importance of light.
Light comes in many different variations. Some light is more pleasing than other and makes for better images. You should learn everything you can about light and shadows and how they influence on a photograph.
"See the light"
I never thought about light when I started my photography. Now after many years I look for and see light everywhere even when I am not photographing. Light is fantastic.
Some lighting situations are very challenging to handle for both the photographer and the camera. When you have learned how to control light by using your camera settings, you can deal with any situation.
Trinity - #2
The Exposure Triangle
- Shutter speed
Another landscape photography technique you need to know is the Exposure Triangle.
When you realize and understand how these relates to each other, you can make any picture you want. You can even get creative with the camera by using different aperture and shutter speed and to some extent the ISO.
Get everything tack sharp
Another landscape photography technique many photographers struggles with is the focus, not only the beginners. Getting everything in the frame in focus is essential in landscape photography. Most of the time, you want both the foreground and background to be properly focused.
Depth of Field and Hyperfocal distance
Understanding the relation between focal length, aperture and distance to the subject are important. To be sure of proper focus throughout the entire landscape, photography techniques like “Depth of Field” and “Hyperfocal distance” is important to learn.
When you understand and master these two techniques, you have come a long way in making sure your photos are in focus.
I still must challenge myself in many situations, like when I focus on a very near foreground element and also want the background perfectly in focus. The longer focal length I use, the more challenging it is. In some situations, it is simply impossible to get everything in focus.
In these situations focus stacking, another landscape photography technique, comes to rescue.
Motion blur is not a focus issue
But be aware. What seems to be a slightly blurry photo and which you blame on bad focus can actually be motion blur. Motion blur is more common than we could expect, and it appears when the camera is moving during the exposure.
Blur due to motion certainly will happen if you don't use a tripod. What you might not think of is even with a tripod you can get motion blur. If you have a small and flimsy tripod, you will see this more often. It is also important you learn how to use a tripod the correct way.
Landscape photography technique - Post processing
If you want the best out of the image files, I recommend you to shoot in RAW format. The RAW format makes sure all available data captured by the camera is written to the memory card.
If you use JPG some of the information is discarded before the camera saves the file. This data is lost, and you can never recover it.
Because RAW files appears to lack contrast and sharpness you will need to post process them before you have the final result.
Image editing - you need to know some
You should know the most basic landscape photography techniques of post processing. It is not that complicated, and it is a lot of fun.
If you are starting out in photography, I recommend Adobe Lightroom before both Adobe Photoshop Elements and the full version of Photoshop. You can do almost everything in Lightroom and the learning curve is less steep.
Techniques for creativity in landscape photography
Getting creative is the part I like the most. These days it looks like every photo must be adjusted to perfection in post processing. I have done the same myself. But when all photos you see on the Internet starts to look the same, what is it left then. Is that what we want?
I like to play around with my photos. I want to see what I can create with them. Why not make Photo Art and composites from your landscape photos? You can learn techniques that combine more than one image. You can stack many photos and make your own compositions. The possibilities are endless.
When making pleasing composites, you need to understand both color theory and composition techniques.
The takeaway from this article is simply - don’t believe buying a new camera will help if your images do not look great. If you already have a DSLR or another system camera, you need to work with you photography techniques to make your landscape photos shine.
The key is to understand what your camera does if you set all the setting to manual. I mean both exposure settings and focus settings. In manual mode, you have full control, and you can make a great photo in any situation.
Learn the basic functions of the camera first. No need to dig too deep into the menus.
When you know it is the camera that limits your creativity, then go look for a new camera or lens. If you have to ask someone what camera or lens to buy, you’re probably not ready for an upgrade.
If you don’t have a system camera or at least a camera where you can set focus, and the exposure controls manually, well then you have some limitation.
It does not mean you can not take good photos with this camera. You certainly can. Go practice on composition techniques instead and make your photos stand out because of eye-catching compositions.