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Landscape Photography is the Oldest Photographic Theme

Elvis Elvis

From the very first photograph ever taken, landscape photography has fascinated the photographer. The land allows you to photograph it as it lies, from whatever viewpoint you can reach, at any time. The big challenge with landscape photography is to find the ideal viewpoint in the ideal lighting and weather conditions. A certain landscape may make a great photograph under stormy skies, but look pretty dull in bright sunshine, or vice versa.

I believe that a succesful landscape photographer will think carefully about four factors:

* Location
* Nature conditions
* Filters
* Representing the scene.

Location

Maybe this is the most crucial aspect in creating a good landscape photograph. To produce beautiful landscape pictures, a photographer must learn how to find the right place from which to take the photograph.

I often find that when a great opportunity for a landscape picture arises I just want to take the picture! However, to enable you to get the best shot possible, it is often necessary to take a step back, maybe even put your camera down for a while. Walk around, climb up a hill and spend some time to find the best vantage point for the landscape under consideration.

To get to the best location for the shot, you have to do some hard work and take some time. I promise you once you have done this the resulting shot will be much better than the one you were about to take when you first saw the opportunity.

Nature conditions

Landscape photography depends heavily on the weather and other nature conditions that shape the landscape. The nature conditions at the time of taking the shot can have a great impact on the resulting picture.

Sunrise and Sunset

Sunsets are probably the most over photographed subject out there. However, in the first and last light of the day, a landscape can look so much more dramatic, with very warm colours, that every landscape photographer should give this time of the day special thought.

Often we are so enthralled by the beauty of the setting sun that we forget to look around. If you look at the landscape opposite the sun, you will see that it is lit up in a warm glow, and will almost always make for a very pleasing photograph. Since I first learned this, my landscape photography improved in heaps and bounds. I suggest that you look around next time you are watching sun go down!

At dusk the same dust particles that cause that magic glow at sunset makes for a pleasing image, but often there will be mist as well. These two factors make sunrise one of the best times for great landscape photography. Even the most boring landscape subjects can look exciting at sunrise. The only real advice that I can give you here is that he early bird catches the worm. Get up bright and early and you will get that winning shot!

I have learned that in wintertime when the sun rises later, it can be much easier to witness the sunrise. Yes it is a bit colder, but at least you do not have to get up at 4 am!

When actually photographing the sun at dusk or dawn, you have to decide in which area in your landscape you want to retain detail. The contrast in a sunset or sunrise scene is huge, and far greater than the contrast your digital sensor (or any film) will be able to handle…

When you expose for the sun, or the sky close to the sun, you will lose a lot of detail in the foreground. However, this does make for nice silhouettes! When you expose for the foreground or some point closer to the foreground you run the risk of the background and sun looking pale or being burnt out.

Landscape Photography is the Oldest Photographic Theme

Filters

Of all forms of photography, I believe that landscape photography gives you the best chance to use filters creatively. In fact, every landscape photographer should have a polarizing filter and a neutral density graduated (NDG) filter in his bag.

Polarizing filters

A polarizing filter is an essential accessory for anyone serious about landscape photography. The circular type filter is better than the linear type since the latter can interfere with your camera’s metering and autofocus systems.

When the front rotating element of a polarizing filter is turned to the correct angle to the sun, it has the effect of darkening a blue sky. This effectively reduces the luminance range of a scene, which yields a better picture. The effect of the filter is heaviest when the lens is at a right angle to the sun.

The warming version of this filter is also very useful if you aim to produce warmer looking landscape images. I personally feel that a normal polarizing filter can be too cool (blue) and prefer a warming polarizer.

NDG filters

An NDG filter has the effect of darkening the one half of an image. It is best used when the upper half (sky) of the image is too bright to preserve proper detail in the lower half of the image (foreground). It can be moved up or down until the correct effect is reached and comes in different densities. I prefer those filters with a smooth transition between clear and graduated glass, as it does not leave a distinct line on the image.

If you want a sure way of improving your landscape photography, acquire the above filters and experiment with them! Shortly you will know when and how these filters are best applied.


I do not discuss the equipment needed for landscape photography on this page, as I believe it is possible to produce good landscape images with a very simple SLR setup. The bigger formats is maybe even better. However, before I continue on how to represent your scene let me just say that I think a tripod is imperative for sharp landscape images.

Bogen (or Manfrotto) make some of the best tripods (and other camera support devices) around. I particularly like their grip action ball heads for landscape photography. I can assure you that you will get a lifetime’s service out of their products, as many professional photographers will attest.

Representing the scene

Once you have your camera and your tripod ready and you are sure that you have found the best viewpoint for the scene, think about how to represent the scene on your photograph.

If you have a object (or even person) standing out in your intended picture, a good starting point might be to decide where you want to place it in the scene. For instance, a significant rocky outcrop in your image might be less distracting in the bottom left corner than anywhere else, or even make a more pleasant composition there.

One option is to follow the rule of thirds when placing objects in your scene. This rule states that a photograph is more pleasing to the eye if subjects are positioned on the points where lines dividing the photograph in three parts (horizontally and vertically) intersect. Phew! What a mouthful. However, rules are sometimes there to be broken and I often find that if the subject is placed anywhere but squarely in the middle of the frame, it is possible to produce a pleasing picture.

Once you have identified where to position objects making up your picture, you can decide whether you want to keep your camera in the landscape or the portrait position. Generally for landscape photography the landscape position will work better (yes, I did figure that out all by myself!). Plus with the widely used 35mm camera the landscape position feels “right” and the camera fits ones’ hands better when held like this.

However, the portrait camera position might produce a more aesthetically pleasing photograph if the subject has a vertical emphasis. Turning your camera 90º (even though this feels unnatural) will work well for photographing trees, waterfalls or other subjects that just fit the frame better in the portrait camera position.

In landscape photography, the placement of the horizon on your picture is important. It is not advised that the horizon divides your picture in two equal halves. This is not very pleasing to the eye. Shifting the horizon up or down into the picture produces a much more interesting result, while placing the emphasis on the sky or the land respectively.

If you have a boring blue (or gray) sky without any clouds, it would be better to shift the horizon up, and to place more emphasis on the land. However, if you have a stunning, colourful sky, do not hesitate to shift your horizon right down to the bottom of the picture.