Landscape photography

Why do the same places shot by different people look so different in the photographs? It is the same place, right? Does it depend on the type of camera, the aperture and shutter speed settings?
The answer is no, it does not depend on the camera and the settings.
In order to have a good landscape photograph, you need a little more than correct aperture and shutter speed. There is no universal recipe for good landscape photography. In any case, you should not take seriously any ready recipes, because instead of good photographs you will end up with good clichés. One of the most wide-spread clichés is that to have a good photograph you need sunny weather, a picture in focus, and a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds in it. Once all of the above conditions have been met, all you need to do is stand in front of the object and push the button.

I can assure you based on my own personal experience that to take a good landscape photograph you need time. You cannot make a good shot from the window of your car or simply passing by a place. What you notice at first sight is what everyone else will notice and shoot – a sort of tourist registration to prove that you were there. In order to feel the spirit of the place you need to stay longer and get to know the surroundings. Only then you start to see and pay attention to the details and the light. You begin to notice that some completely ordinary things seen from an unusual angle are interesting.
One of the main things in landscape photography is light. The same place could look completely different under a different light or in different weather conditions. It could look anywhere from plain and characterless, to impressive and dramatic.

sunrise image
photograph taken a little after sunrise and at noon Sony Nex7, Sony 10-20/4

A good photograph is knowing where to stand.
Ansel Adams

he best time for shooting is in the morning, a little before and after sunrise (or in the evening, a little before and after sunset). On the one hand, the light is softer, falls from the side and illuminates objects well. On the other hand, the air is clearer in the morning and visibility is better. The worst time for shooting landscape photographs is at noon, because light falls directly from above, the shadows are quite unpleasant and dense and the contrast is too high. Of course, the season, geographic latitude and altitude are also important.

Canon 6D, Canon 24-85/3.5-4.5

When shooting landscapes, conditions permitting, close the diaphragm. A closed diaphragm produces greater depth and sharpness. In this way all the objects in the foreground, midground and background will be in focus and you will have more detail in your shot. The best results are achieved with aperture of around 8-11. When using this aperture, even the cheapest and low-quality lenses produce good results in terms of sharpness. When the aperture is closed, 22-32, the image begins to ‘soften up’ because of light diffraction. If your camera does not have the option for manual settings, select the landscape mode icon.

Sony Nex5N, Sony 16-50/3.5-5.6

One of the specifics of landscape photography is that you can make no compromises with the quality of the image (from a technical point of view). In reportage photography the lack of sharp focus, noise due to high ISO, blurred images due to a shaky hand, poor composition, wrong white balance, etc. are all imperfections which can be forgiven in the name of the power of the captured moment. When shooting static objects (landscape, architecture, still life) the photographer is expected to take the extra several minutes needed to produce photographs with the best technical quality possible. That is time to put the camera on a tripod, to set low ISO, to set the white balance, focus and depth of field with precision. Time to level the horizon. Time to compose the frame well.

Sony Nex7, Sony 18-200/3.5-6.3

Shooting in RAW will help you produce a more dynamic nuanced image with many subtle undertones and more opportunities for post-editing without losing quality. A tripod is a must-have accessory for landscape photography. Because you are using a closed diaphragm, you are supposed to shoot at slower shutter speeds. In this case even the slightest shake of your hand will reduce the quality of the image. When you place the camera on a tripod, turn the stabilisation off (if you have stabilisation in the body or the lens).
When composing the frame, follow the natural lines of the landscape. Be careful to keep the horizon level, unless you are aiming for some kind of different viewing point. Also be mindful that the line of the horizon should never pass directly through the centre of the photo. A widely-accepted standard in landscape photography says that the sky should be 1/3 or 2/3 of the frame. Unless you are looking for symmetry, like in the photograph above. Of course, this rule is not set in stone and all sorts of interpretations are possible.

Canon 6D, Canon 24-85/3.5-4.5

Having wide-angle optics is an advantage, but only in some situations. Many people believe that the wider the angle of the lens, the better it will work for landscape photography, because it will include more of the viewing field into the photograph. Yes, that is so, but always at the expense of scale. Personally, I do not like photographs of mountains shot with wide-angle optics, because it shrinks everything in the frame to an extent where one loses the sense of scale and the grandeur of the mountain is lost. Wide-angle optics is better suited for large open spaces.

Sony Nex5N, Sony 16-50/3.5-5.6

The advantage of wide-angle optics is that it allows us to emphasise on the foreground. Differentiating between the different planes in the photo – foreground, middle ground and background, is important, because this differentiation is what adds depth and volume to the space in your photograph. You cannot shoot only faraway wide shots and still want your photos to be impressive and have depth. They will look flat and boring. Our consciousness creates the illusion of three-dimensional space and depth in a two-dimensional photo when there is opposition between objects which are near and objects which are far.

Ситония, Гърция, Sony Nex7, Sony 16-50/3.5-5.6

The best solution when shooting landscape photography anyway is to use zoom lenses, which allow you to position objects closer of further away, to select closer or wider shots and have the best composition. If shooting portrait photography without a zoom lens means taking three steps back or three steps forward, in landscape photography zooming in on faraway objects means several hours of walking and sometimes it is outright impossible because of the nature of the terrain.

As the ancient Greeks used to say, ‘Man is the measure of all things’. It is good to have people present in the shot. Traces of human presence or recognisable objects in general. This helps the viewer to determine scale. Otherwise it will be difficult to tell the difference between a 2-metre and a 20-metre rock.

Sony Nex7, Sony 16-50/3.5-5.6

It is a good idea to use UV and polarizing filters in particular. A UV filter will reduce the impact of UV light, which in the winter and high up in the mountain is so strong, that it can affect the metering of the camera.

Polarizing filters are a grid which lets in light only coming at a certain angle and stops all side light. Other than reducing certain reflections and glare, polarizing filters accentuate on the sky and the clouds, increase contrast and bring forth the natural colours of the objects in the photo.

Pentax K10, Pentax 70-300/4.5-5.6

Any landscape photographer must have a neutral-density (ND) filter. It reduces the amount of light passing through the lens without affecting the colours in the image. In this way a ND filter allows you to have longer exposure times even during the day. Longer exposure times can help us catch a lightning in a shot. Most often, it is used to blur moving objects, water, clouds, passing vehicles, people and animals. With the help of an ND filter, you can have a combination of sharp and blurred objects in a single frame which helps the photo be more dynamic and with more motion.

Pentax K10, Pentax 18-55/4.5-5.6

The dark weather, the rain and fog are no reason why you should give up shooting. Landscapes can be taken not only in good weather and definitely not only in colour. From time to time, you can change the settings of your digital camera to black and white or sepia. I can assure you that some things look great in black and white.

What is particular about shooting sunsets and sunrises is that you should reduce exposure times. The same goes for dark weather. Modern cameras have perfect light metering. But they are no judges when it comes to determining if it is light or dark. They try to always have a correctly exposed photograph and when it is dark, they reduce shutter speed or open the diaphragm to let in more light. When we are shooting a landscape photograph, this would kill the mood you would otherwise like to convey with the photograph. Photographs shot in the evening look like they were taken at noon and you do not feel the mystery of the dusk which is typical for the hours before evening. This is why you need to reduce exposure times. You need to underexpose the shot by 1-2 f stops. This means 1-2 diaphragm stops towards a more closed diaphragm compared to the actual reading of the camera or 1-2 shutter speed stops towards higher speeds.

Fujifilm S5Pro, Sigma 10-20/3.5-4.5

If your camera has no manual settings and you cannot adjust it in this way, use the + or – option for exposure adjustment which even the cheapest digital cameras have and correct the light exposure of the photograph.

Canon 6D, Canon 24-85/3.5-4.5