As the chair of this years Folsom Focus Photography Contest I though it would help if I came up with some tips for each category starting with Folsom Outdoors. The most popular subject photographers like you submit in this category are landscapes. There are at least 50 tips I could list for landscape photography, but I’ll just start with the basics. So here's 11 tips to master for a great landscape photo.
1. Scout out a location:
You know what they say about realty, it's all about location, location, location! When it comes to landscape photography it’s the same thing. So if you want to take a photo of your favorite lake don't just plop your camera down at your normal spot or right where you pulled your car in. Before even taking a photo get out and walk around the area. Don't even take your camera with you the first time you scout a location because you’ll have a tendency to take pictures of everything you see. Just observe the entire scene, find your favorite spots and come back when the light is right.
2. Time of day:
Keep in mind the best times of the day to take landscapes are 1 hour before and after sunrise and 1 hour before and after sunset. These times have the best light. It’s soft, provides amazing colors and creates soft shadows. (See examples for aperture for difference in mid day light and after sunset.)
*Bonus tip: If you are taking sunset photos wait until the sun is below the horizon. The sun creates the most brilliant colors after it has dipped below the horizon such as pink, deep orange, green and blue.
3. Time of year:
Photographers love weather! So summer is not the most opportune time for landscape photography, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get great photos. If you can wait until fall, winter and spring to take landscapes photos. Weather provides your photos with drama.
Take you time taking a landscape photo. Landscape photos are made over time and not in the 15 minutes you decided to go for a walk. Be patient and wait for the landscape to unfold, wait for clouds in the sky or wait for the fog to roll in. Landscapes are well thought out and planned.
4. Manual mode:
If you are just a beginner or an amateur who has been shooting automatic for awhile you really need to learn manual mode. You will not get what you are looking for on auto. Your eyes and your camera see very differently. You’ll want to adjust your settings to achieve what you are envisioning for your photo. For example landscape photography is very detailed. So you’ll want to maximize your depth of field (how much of scene you want in focus). This means you’ll want a smaller aperture (higher number like F16). To understand this better think of drawing with a Crayola marker versus a pencil. You’ll get more detail drawing with a pencil than a marker because the pencil is smaller. The small the aperture (the tinier the hole in the lens) the more detail you’ll get in your photo. Once you set your aperture then you need to know what shutter speed to use, then ISO. If you aren’t familiar with these parts of the camera than you are missing out on making spectacular landscapes.
5. Get a tripod (one with ball heads are best): If you are using your camera at F16 for the aperture most likely your shutter speed is going to be very slow. Slow shutter speeds are sensitive to movement. You may think your hands are super still, but guaranteed your photo will turn out blurry. Even breathing can cause motion blur.
*Bonus tip: For really long shutter speeds get a remote shutter release that way you won’t shake the camera when you hit the shutter release button.
6. Composition: If you don’t know what composition is in art and photography, it’s how to place objects and visual elements in your photo. There are rules to compositions, which can be broken, but should be practiced a lot before doing so. The easiest composition rule and the one that’s used the most in any photograph is the rule of thirds (see examples below). For landscapes don’t put your horizon in the middle unless the subject is reflected or symmetrical or your focal point.
7. Focal point:
The landscape is not just your focus in a photograph. You need something else to draw your viewers attention, a focal point, like a rock, person, structure, tree, etc. Otherwise your image will look boring or empty.
8. Point of view:
The best landscapes are not usually taken at eye level. You need to look at the scene in different perspectives. Get down on the ground (worms view) and get up high (birds eye view). Look through things and Frame things with foreground objects.
9. Foreground, middle ground and background:
For a great landscape photograph you need to think about elements in the foreground, middle ground and background. Have all three of those helps the viewer step into the photo. It literally looks like you can step into the scene and take a look around.
10. Wide angle lens:
Wide angle lenses are awesome for landscapes and will give you the best scope of the scene. Wide angle lenses are 35mm and under. Most likely you already have one in your repertoire that will work nicely. A lot of cameras come with a kit lens. My first Nikon camera did which was an 18-55mm. I still use the lens today and for amateur photographers this is a great lens to start with.
11. Keep learning:
As you can see in some of my photos the difference time and practice make. No matter how good you are there is always something new to learn. Also, there a ton of other tips out there for landscape photography, but you might get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. So stick with the basics first and get really good at them before trying a bunch of other new things. I hope to see your landscape photos in the Folsom Focus Photography Contest.