Commandment 5: Use a steady tripod
If you want sharp landscape images then a good, solid tripod is essential, but it won’t guarantee shake-free shots – there are a few techniques you need to employ as well.
A remote release is a sensible investment because this will enable you to trigger the shutter without touching the camera directly. If you forget your remote release, use your camera’s self-timer (and if you don’t have a tripod, check out these 3 ways to hold a camera steady).
With a DSLR, it also pays to use mirror lock-up. This flips the mirror up with one press of the shutter release, before triggering the shutter to fire on the second press, after a delay, to allow vibration from the mirror movement to stop.
With some cameras the self-timer can be linked to the mirror lock-up feature, so the shooting process takes place with a single press of the shutter release.
An added advantage of using a tripod is that it slows you down, and this automatically makes your photography more considered.
It also means the camera is fixed in one position while you experiment with different filters and exposure settings and so on (see our 4 tips for sharper shots when using a tripod).
Break the Rules: Move!
Although a sharp image of a landscape might record exactly what the scene looks like, it may not capture the atmosphere of the location or the emotion of being in a particular place.
As we look around a woodland, for example, we don’t see all the tiny details of the leaves and trees around us because they are blurred as we move our eyes. If the camera is moved during the exposure you can replicate this blurring effect.
You don’t need an especially long shutter speed to blur an image – it can be achieved with just 1/15 sec, but a longer exposure of around a second or more allows for larger, more dramatic movements and greater blurring.
It’s often possible to get a sufficiently long exposure by selecting the lowest available sensitivity setting and using a very narrow aperture. In bright conditions it may be necessary to use a neutral density filter on the front of the lens. This cuts out some of the light so that a slower shutter speed can be used.
Try to move the camera in one smooth movement. It can be helpful to use the self-timer to delay the exposure by a couple of seconds as this gives you time to adjust your grip and start the camera movement just before the shutter opens.
Because all the highlights and shadows are blurred, the image will look flat straight from the camera, but this is easy to adjust using Levels in an image-editing application.
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Commandment 6: Focus one third in
Getting a landscape sharp from front to back requires careful focusing. If you focus on the foreground, the depth of field won’t extend as far as the background, and the horizon will be soft. If you focus on the horizon, the foreground will be soft.
The trick is to focus at what is called the hyperfocal distance. This is the point that will make the maximum use of the depth of field. Finding the precise hyperfocal distance requires look-up tables (which can be found online) or aperture and distance markings on the lens, which some modern zoom lenses don’t have.
Roughly speaking, depth of field extends about twice as far behind the focus point as it does in front. So, focusing on a point that’s approximately one third of the way into the scene should ensure the maximum depth of field is used.
For greater precision, activate your camera’s live view mode. Select the area on-screen where you want to focus, then use the magnify option to zoom into the target area.
With the camera set to manual focus mode, you can now adjust the focus until the correct part of the scene is sharp (for more on focusing manually, see our guide to Manual Focus: what you need to know to get sharp images).
In bright sunlight you may find that you need to shade the LCD so you get a clear view. Now, using the lens focus ring, simply adjust the focus back and forth until you find the point at which the details are sharpest.
Break The Rules: Focus on the main subject
If there’s an important, stand-out feature in the landscape, you don’t want it to be just ‘acceptably sharp’, you want it to be the sharpest part of the image – after all, that’s what viewers will be drawn to look at. In these cases, forget about focusing a third into the scene and focus bang-on the main subject.
It’s especially important to focus on the main subject if you do decide to go ahead and break commandments four (Find foreground interest) or nine (Use a narrow aperture).
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