Get more from colour tones in your landscapes

Train yourself to look first at a landscape’s hues rather than its forms and you’ll increase the power of colour in your photos

Colour contributes to the mood of a picture. It’s all too easy to describe a landscape by the shapes that comprise it, colour normally takes a back seat. But if you can switch off this instinctive response and focus on the colours of the different elements in the scene and how they work together, you can make colour a much more potent force in your picture.

Unreflected glory

Water lying on the surface of leaves can take the edge off that colour saturation. Use a circular polarising filter to reduce or eliminate this reflected light and be prepared to lose up to two stops in the process. On a still day, select a longer shutter speed rather than a higher ISO or wider aperture.

Out of the darkness

As the sun rises ever later, so the morning shadows take longer to shrink, providing a cool foil for those areas already bathed in early sun. If the morning is frosty, these shady corners will reflect the blue of the sky, setting up tension with warmly-lit vegetation nearby.

Cool colour

If youre going for the high-tension colour look, keep the colour palette as simple as the elements of the composition; avoid any other colours creeping in that detract from the main stars of the show. Successful pictures with a more tranquil mood draw upon an even narrower gamut of colours, reflecting their simplicity.

In both types of picture, colour dominates the subject matter. While it may be difficult to find many perfectly complementary colours in nature, cool and warm hues are commonly found together, especially at this time of transitions.

Shooting RAW

If you shoot RAW files, dont be tempted to oversaturate them. While you can get away with this for web display or even projection, you may find that the resulting print is a world away from the vivid image on your display. Use your editing applications Gamut Warning (in Photoshop, under View) to show colours that cant be printed or, if youve set up Soft Proof profiles, get an on-screen preview using Proof Colors.

A big amplifier

Reflections are the best two-for-one deal around – just so long as the copy is as good as the original. Youll need to rise early to have the best chance of a dead calm and a piece of water that isnt likely to be disturbed. For this reason, inland water bodies are generally a better bet than the sea.

Shoot with the sun if you want to show as much detail in the landscape as possible. Alternatively, if its a big colour impact youre after, take a silhouette shot, and give prominence to the sky.

A third option is to shoot two RAW files that are identical in all but their exposure (one optimised for the sky; the other for the foreground) and then combine them afterwards in an image-editing application.