Try these landscape photography tips and techniques for getting razor-sharp images straight from your camera.
Taking sharp landscape photos isn’t difficult, as long as you’re disciplined enough to follow a routine for checking your photography gear and camera settings before you take the shot.
Of course, buying the best quality lenses you can afford helps, but even the sharpest glass will produce a soft picture if it’s not supported firmly during an exposure.
With that in mind, our guest bloggers at Photoventure share 10 steps to banishing blur that every landscape photographer should know.
1. Don’t… skimp on a tripod
None of us have an unlimited budget as far as photography equipment it concerned. But if there’s one camera accessory it’s worth spending more on, it’s a tripod.
It’s rather hackneyed advice to suggest that you need a ‘sturdy’ tripod, but there’s a big difference between a tripod that seems robust enough on the carpet tiles of a camera shop, and one that’s built to shrug off a force 9 gale on the North Sea coast.
Read tripod reviews and get the opinions of users who’ve used them in the field to get the true picture of performance.
If sharpness is key, go for a tripod without a centre column, but which gets the camera to your eye level without having to extend every leg section.
Another feature to consider is spiked tripod feet, as these provide additional stability in boggy ground.
Don’t underestimate the difference that a good quality tripod head can make to image sharpness, either. Cheap ball heads can suffer from image creep, where your carefully framed scene slowly drifts in the viewfinder over time. Three-way heads are often better in this regard, but all those knobs and arms can slow things down when you need to make fast adjustments.
2. Do… use your body as a wind block
If you’re shooting landscapes in exposed locations, then a ‘sturdy tripod’ alone may not be enough.
Acting as wind block by positioning yourself between the prevailing wind and the tripod-mounted camera can help, assuming that the wind isn’t blasting the camera from the front.
Many tripods feature a hook underneath the head or at the end of the centre column. Use this to attach a weight, such as a full (and heavy) camera bag or rocks (commercially available ‘rock bags’ make this simple). A lower centre of gravity provides greater stability, so hang the weight so that it’s almost touching the ground – a length of bungee cord can help here.
3. Don’t… forget your remote release
The smallest vibrations can make details in a landscape look soft, including those vibrations caused by pressing the shutter release button.
The sharpest landscape photos are the result of hands-off photography, with the camera mounted to a tripod and the camera shutter fired with a remote release.
You can, of course, use the camera’s self-timer function to trip the shutter, but if timing is critical, such as taking a shot as waves advance or recede on a beach, then a remote release is the better option.
4. Do… use mirror lock-up
The action of the mirror bouncing up and down inside the camera is enough take the edge off sharpness at slower shutter speeds.
Use your camera’s mirror lock-up function — not to be confused with the mirror-up function used for cleaning the camera sensor — to move the mirror out of the way before you make the exposure.
With the function activated, a single press of the shutter release locks the mirror out of the way — you’ll know it’s worked because the viewfinder turns black. After a few seconds, any vibrations will have faded, allowing you to press the shutter release again to take the shot.
Some cameras have an exposure delay function that works in a similar way. For those that don’t have either, just use Live View mode: here, the mirror is already out of the way, allowing the rear screen to show a direct feed from the exposed camera sensor.
5. Don’t… leave image stabilization switched on
Some image stabilized (IS) lenses can detect when the camera (or the lens itself) is attached to a tripod and switch off the system accordingly.
But why take that chance? Not all lenses have this feature, and if image stabilization remains active while the lens is fixed to a tripod then the system essentially gets into a ‘feedback loop’ and attempts to compensate for vibrations that aren’t present. The result? Soft pictures.
For sharper landscapes, switch off IS.
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