Photo masterclass part 1: Landscapes
Welcome to our exclusive series to help you improve your wildlife and nature photography. First up, how to take better landscape photographs.
Welcome to the first of our exclusive series on the art of wildlife and nature photography. In each installment, we will focus on a different type of photography and demonstrate how you can improve your pictures. Part one shows you how to take better photographs of landscapes.
What could be easier than walking or driving up to a beautiful mountain, forest, lake or rocky shore and taking a prize-winning picture? There’s no need for specialist equipment – the subject is visually impressive in its own right and doesn’t run away if you get too close.
There’s plenty of time to choose the right lens, set up the tripod (you weren’t thinking of taking the picture without a tripod, were you?) compose the shot – and snap.
John Shaw’s top landscape photography tips
Use the light
Light is the essence of landscape photography. Beautiful or dramatic light can transform an otherwise ordinary picture into an extraordinary one. The best light is at the beginning or end of the day, at the edge between daylight and darkness, when the sun is close to or even below the horizon.
Design the picture
Light may be the essence of landscape photography, but careful design is the basic ingredient. Think graphically – beyond the actual subject. Try setting the lens slightly out of focus for a few moments before taking the picture to help you see the shapes, lines, colours and textures more prominently.
YOUR STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE: Mark Carwardine shows you how to apply the theory to get the perfect picture.
- Use the rule of thirds
Rules are made to be broken in photography, but this one works surprisingly often. It states that a well-balanced picture is divided into thirds (eg one-third sky and two-thirds land) rather than halves (with the horizon in the middle).The rule of thirds also helps create a sense of dynamic tension by identifying ‘points of power’.
Imagine drawing two horizontal and two vertical lines across the frame to produce four points where the lines cross. Then try positioning a rock or a tree on one of those points instead of dead centre. It makes the picture far more compelling.
- Try a telephoto lens
There is no single correct lens for landscape photography, but try using a telephoto instead of a wide-angle to get a different effect. A telephoto lens compresses the scene while also bringing it closer – so it’s not the same as moving nearer to a particular part of the picture. The isolation effect of a telephoto, which makes it much easier to remove all the clutter and focus on just one element, helps to pare down picture-taking to the bare essentials of composition.
Using a wide-angle lens very close to a natural subject in the foreground, with the rest of the scene disappearing into the distance, adds drama and depth. It decompresses the view and makes a two-dimensional image much more three-dimensional. Keep the foreground subject in sharp focus or it won’t work.
- Add some foreground interest
Try using a rock, flower, tree or even water ripples to add some foreground interest to your landscape pictures.
Get down low (if your hands and knees aren’t muddy you’re not low enough) to give it a really dramatic perspective.
- Define your subject
A professional landscape photographer is able to define the precise subject and purpose of any picture. Vague feelings are not enough.
Try saying outloud what you’re planning to photograph (see through the jumble of features in a landscape and think in terms of lines, shapes, colours, textures and patterns), then include what fits your definition and nothing else.
The simpler your brief, the better the picture will be.
Before you release the shutter, do a final viewfinder check for unwanted branches, rocks or even jet trails disrupting the composition.
ESSENTIAL KIT: Tripod
A landscape photographer without a tripod is like a boat without a keel. It’s one of the most important accessories you’ll ever own and will sharpen your pictures immediately.
What to look for:
- Weight – heavier usually means sturdier (though most professionals use carbon-fibre models that are sturdy but relatively lightweight).
- Heavy-duty head – a good quality tripod head provides easy, smooth movements in all directions.
- Legs – these must be easy to extend and adjust, and should offer a comfortable maximum working height.
- Monopod – a one-legged tripod (if that makes sense) that isn’t as steady as its three-legged friend, but better than nothing at all.
- Brick-sized bean bag – fill it up with beans, rice or even birdfood and use it to rest your camera on fence posts, rocks, bird hides and car windows.
DOS & DON'TS:
- DO take time to think about the picture you are taking. Don’t just hope for the best.
- DO try to get one outstanding picture rather than several mediocre ones.
- DO keep it simple.
- DON’T fill the picture with too much clutter – less is more.
- DON’T take pictures in the harsh, contrasting light of the midday sun.
- DON’T stay indoors because it’s raining.
If you enjoyed this masterclass, why not read the next part?