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Shoot like a pro in 5 steps: outdoor photographer Matt Holland on rivers

Matt’s choice of a 25mm focal length (50mm equivalent) is truer to the eye’s natural view than a wide-angle lens (Image credit: Matt Holland)
Meet the pro: Matt Holland


(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

Matt is an outdoor photographer based in southwest England. He combines his love of taking photos with the outdoors, and runs workshops, teaching others how to wild camp and navigate, as well as capture shots. Matt is also a graphic designer and head of marketing for Kase Filters UK. 

@matthollandphoto  (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)

Every month in Digital Photographer magazine (opens in new tab), we shadow a pro photographer and glean their tips, tricks and techniques on a different genre of image-making.

We recently met Matt Holland for an outdoor shoot in the West Country, exploring the rugged landscapes of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, England, near where Matt now calls home.

He’s an expert on the area, and runs guided tor walks, backpack camping experiences and photography workshops all year round as part of his Discover Dartmoor portfolio. 

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

Our first shooting location was at Dewerstone Rocks, Shaugh Prior, a spot that Matt’s looked up in detail online but hasn’t been to before – a bit of a recce then.

“I typically begin with Google Maps when I’m starting from scratch with a location,” Matt says. “I’ll find out where car parks are, and look across to Flickr to see if anyone else has got something similar. Most of the time I know the rough area."

Dewerstone Rocks features a magical woodland, a raging river and rocky terrain, and Matt was ready to set up at the riverbank and show us his approach to capturing the water with a slow exposure to freeze movement.

Shoot a river scene in 5 steps

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

1. Frame with your phone

“I often tell people to try this first if they don’t understand composition well. It takes away the complications of filters and means they can focus on the scene.”

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

2. Steady the tripod

Matt extends his tripod legs to different heights so that his camera has a sturdy base on uneven ground or in the river. The spikes at the base of the legs also help with stability.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

3. Shoot in manual

Matt tends to shoot in Manual mode, setting his ISO as low as 64 for shots on a tripod. For blurred water imagery, he starts with a fairly narrow aperture of around f/8.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

4. In-camera features

Matt selects Live ND shooting and Tripod High Res Shot mode from the menu of his Olympus camera. The benefit is that he can shoot RAW images up to 80MP.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

5. Try both orientations

“I encourage people to get portrait and landscape options in the same spot, as they might wish they’d taken a different orientation later. It usually takes seconds to change.”

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

Matt finds the debate about the quality of Micro Four Thirds cameras a bit of a bore, especially when it comes to photographers comparing specs on paper. He loves the tilt screen of his camera for composing scenes, as well as the hardiness of its build for rough weather. 

There are some features of the E-M1 III that are unique to Olympus, and he uses these a lot for long-exposure shots down by the river. “Live ND Simulation and High Res mode are just amazing. I’m obviously a big fan of using [Kase] filters in-camera, but if I can’t, then the simulation really does work.” 

It’s at this point that Matt realises he’s dropped his polariser in the river. Unfazed by this, we decide move on to our next location, Sharpitor, to capture some wider views and pony portraits... 

Read more: 

10 landscape photographers to follow in 2021 (opens in new tab)
Best cameras for landscape photography in 2021 (opens in new tab)
Use a fisheye lens for 'serious' landscape photography (opens in new tab)

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Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.