Landscape photography is one of the most popular subjects for photographers. Even if you live in a big city, you don’t have to go too far to find nice countryside or coastal vistas, and scenic shoots are a great way to make the most of the capabilities of your DSLR. But serious landscape photography raises some questions.
How should you set up your camera? What white balance setting is best? Which metering mode, and more? We’ve broken down everything you need to know about the importance of good lighting to help you shoot stunning landscapes.
In this tutorial we’ll show you some of the best camera settings for dramatic landscape photography and how you can use the natural light more creatively.
Where’s the sun?
Most people assume photographers want to shoot with the sun behind them so the light falls onto the subject.
This does produce the richest colours, but there are times when exactly the opposite can create great results.
So don’t be afraid to try shooting into the light, also known as shooting ‘contrejour’, as demonstrated above.
Shoot towards the light and your camera’s light meter might get confused by the concentrated area of bright light in the frame – taking this pocket of light into consideration and overcompensating for it.
The result will be an image that’s underexposed and too dark. Use the Exposure Compensation function on your DSLR to ‘dial-in’ a higher exposure setting.
Shooting with the light to the side of the scene creates strong shadows in your landscapes, such as above. This can accentuate the three-dimensional form of buildings and the surface texture of the land itself.
The golden hour
Most landscape photographers prefer working in the early morning or early evening.
These moments are often referred to as the ‘magic’ or ‘golden’ hours, and while it can be a drag getting out of bed so early in the morning, the subtle qualities of the light at these times will make it worth the effort.
Light can change in a matter of seconds, especially if there are fast-moving clouds in the sky.
These images of Glastonbury Tor were taken in the space of one minute. You can see how much the changing light has altered the final effect.
For more accurate metering use the Partial or Spot metering mode. With this setting your DSLR will take a light reading from a small central area of your scene. These metering modes are ideal for more challenging situations, such as backlight.
Set the right white balance
All DSLRs allow you to alter white balance, so you can specify the light source of a scene (eg, Daylight or Fluorescent) for more accurate results. If you’re shooting RAW, you can change the white balance in photo-editing software, but it’s quicker to get it right in-camera.
Or set the wrong one
You don’t always have to use the ‘correct’ white balance. Your DSLR’s Auto White Balance (AWB) and pre-set options (see above) are great in most circumstances, but try experimenting with different colour settings to enhance the mood of your scene.
Light can completely transform a scene, so be prepared to head out early or late in the day during the ‘magic’ hour.
When the sun is close to the horizon try shooting into the light to give your images an evocative feel.
You must take care with exposure, though, and check the histogram to ensure you have held detail in the highlight areas.
Look for fleeting light, when the sun peeps through gaps in the cloud and sends shafts of light downwards.
Planning is the key, so research your location thoroughly and choose your shooting points in advance so that you can make the most of any fleeting situation.
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