14 Aperture control
Set your DSLR to Aperture Priority (A or Av) mode and you can take control of the aperture. Use a wide aperture such as f/2.8 for a shallow depth of field and a narrow aperture such as f/22 to create a deep depth of field. Most landscape photographers prefer a deep depth of field, but wide apertures can also be effective. Experiment.
15 Manual control
Many amateurs are happy to rely on their DSLR’s semi-auto Aperture Priority (A or Av) or Shutter Priority (S or Tv) shooting modes. However, to take control of your exposures it’s better to shoot in Manual (M). This means you’re able to set the aperture and shutter speed to get the results you’re after, rather than letting your camera dictate what it thinks should be bright and dark in the scene. This is especially important, for example, if you want to shoot silhouetted landscapes at sunrise or sunset and still capture colourful skies.
16 Try using a wide-angle lens
You’ll be able to capture reasonable landscape shots with your standard 18-55mm or 24-70mm zoom lens at its widest focal length. However, to take really expansive, dramatic landscape shots you’ll be better off with a decent wide-angle zoom lens. Choose a lens with a focal length range of around 10-20mm for SLRs with a crop factor of 1.5x/1.6x (or around 16-35mm for full-frame SLRs) to obtain really big scenic shots.
17 Keep your ISO low
As you’ll be shooting with a tripod you won’t need to obtain fast enough shutter speeds to shoot out of hand, so keep your ISO locked to its lowest setting of ISO100 (or ISO50). This will ensure the best quality images with no grain or noise problems that could spoil your scenic shots.
18 Use a wireless remote trigger
Using a remote release is a must for long exposures when shooting landscapes. You may think that gently pressing the shutter won’t cause any movement, but you’ll be surprised at the effect this has on the quality of your shots. Wireless remote triggers are very affordable and offer you greater freedom of movement, because you’re not literally tied to your camera at all times. You can also use a wired remote shutter release cable – you just won’t be able to move around as much.
Getting your composition and framing right in-camera is crucial – if it doesn’t look right through the viewfinder, it won’t look right later on your computer monitor. Visualising the rule of thirds when evaluating a shot is a simple technique to help you achieve balanced shots (for more on this, check out our guide to the 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work).
Imagine the landscape in front of you split into a grid of two vertical and two horizontal lines. Decide which of the four intersections you want to place your main subject on and compose your shot around this. If this means including a lot of sky, consider fitting a lens filter…
20 Enhance dreary and dull skies
When photographing landscapes, especially in the UK, you’ll invariably encounter dull and cloudy grey skies. You can get around this by attaching a Neutral Density graduated filter (ND grad) to the front of your DSLR’s lens.
ND grads enable you to get a balanced exposure when a foreground landscape is darker than a bright-yet-boring sky, and will capture better, infinitely more inspiring skies, as well as revealing more detail in your foregrounds (learn what every photographer should know about using ND grad filters – or alternatively, find out how to replace boring skies in Photoshop).
21 Get the best out of your polariser
Circular polarisers (you should avoid linear ones) enable you to cut out unwanted reflections on water and foliage, and boost the contrast between clouds and skies. Remember, though, that a polarising filter doesn’t have any effect on a scene if you’re directly facing the sun or it’s behind you. You need to be positioned between 45° and 90° to the sun to achieve the best results.
22 The golden rules of composition
Effective landscape shots will always include one or all of the three main principles of composition: the rule of thirds, the golden mean or the golden spiral. The most commonly used is the rule of thirds, where the frame is dissected by equidistant lines – two vertically and two horizontally, creating four points where the lines meet. Placing your subject or points of interest on these intersections creates a good sense of balance.
The golden mean divides the frame into three triangles using two lines. One runs from a corner to the opposing corner, the other from the bottom or top corner to the dividing centre-line. This splits the frame into diagonals and works well as an aid to composing architecture, abstract patterns and natural lines.
The golden spiral is an infinite arc, like the cross-section of a snail shell, which runs through the frame. Placing shapes in petals, landscape hedgerows or winding rivers along any part or section of the line of the spiral will create depth and give an extra dimension to your shots.
23 Go wide for impact
Shooting and stitching panoramic images has never been easier. For the ultimate wide-angle shot, shoot with a panoramic image in mind. Today’s stitching software is so good that, unless the work is really critical, you don’t even have to worry about using a dedicated panoramic tripod head. Just remember to turn your camera to its vertical position (so you end up with an image you can print much larger) and give plenty of overlap between the shots. Bracket the exposure of each image and you can layer them to create a pseudo-HDR shot, where essential detail is retained in both the highlights and the shadows.
24 ‘Seeing’ a scene
It can initially seem daunting trying to train your eye to see a landscape shot in black and white. It’s important to look out for simple, balanced shapes that sit well within an image. Give yourself time to stand and look around. Don’t set up your tripod too early; instead, fix a telephoto zoom to your camera and move around, zooming in to isolate elements that you find visually interesting.
We came across this scene in Wales at 6.15am, only to discover that there were a number of possible landscape opportunities within it. By positioning the camera high above the valley, we were able to get a good look around and enjoyed 15 minutes of shooting as the sun rose and the mist lifted.
We used a 70-200mm lens and shot away without a tripod – we had to work quickly because the sun was coming up and the mist disappeared rapidly.
25 Use the histogram
Don’t rely on the LCD screen alone to assess a shot’s exposure. Instead, call up your camera’s histogram (for more, learn how to read a histogram).
This simple graph shows the tonal distribution of your image, with the darkest areas of the image shown on the left, and the brightest highlights on the right. If the bulk of the histogram is shifted to the left, the image is dark (possibly under-exposed), while a right-shifted graph means the image is light (potentially over-exposed).
The key is to make sure you haven’t lost any detail – and if you have, it’s in areas you are happy to lose. Lost detail is displayed by a histogram that extends beyond the left or right edge, indicating blocked-up shadows (pure black) or blown highlights (pure white) respectively. If this happens, use your camera’s Exposure Compensation feature to adjust the exposure, then re-shoot and check again.
26 Review your shots
Unless you’re photographing a once-in-a-lifetime, split-second moment, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t check your images after you’ve taken them – even if you only look at the first one in a long sequence.
The most important tools for this are your camera’s LCD screen and histogram display. Using the screen, you can easily check your composition and framing, and make rudimentary checks on colour to ensure the white balance is set correctly.
Checking the frame is especially important if your camera’s viewfinder doesn’t offer 100% coverage, because you might find a stray branch or figure has appeared at the edge of the frame. If so, you’ll have time to re-shoot.
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