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Photo ideas: Find the beauty in ugly landscapes

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We’ve all experienced it: you rock up to a location, hoping to photograph a landscape, take one look at what's in front of you and mutter, “Oh,” before putting your camera back in the bag. 

Maybe the weather is miserable, or the scene has changed since you were last there, or maybe there’s building work going on – whatever it is, you’re just not inspired to take a picture. 

However, we say shoot it anyway! Your camera wasn’t bought to be sat in your camera bag as you walk to the nearest coffee shop, so get it out and take a picture of that view you exclaimed at. 

There’s no telling what you’ll get until you do start shooting, but it will develop your photography skills by trying to find the hidden beauty in your landscape and reveal it through your lens. 

In fact, you can challenge yourself by actively hunting out bleak views. You may choose a steelworks, like we did, or perhaps alleyways near your house. Whatever it is, you’ll need to keep a few techniques in mind…

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Landscape photography tips and techniques

Stunning steelworks

01 Beauty spot?

A big part of making the scene beautiful is finding the best aspect of it. We chose a high vantage point to look down on Port Talbot’s steelworks. Pick out the key elements that you want to photograph in advance; we arrived three hours before sunset to find this spot.

02 Poetry in motion

The steam, the clouds, a plane passing by – these are all moving elements in the landscape. In order to capture the movement you’ll need to set a long exposure, and that means keeping your camera still atop a tripod. Make sure that each leg is on a stable part of the ground.

03 Zoom to frame the extremes

This technique is about what you leave out of your frame. Isolate only the very worst or very best of the scene – don’t settle for average, as your image will have no impact. A telephoto zoom in the region of 70-300mm will give you flexibility when it comes to varying the framing.

04 Balance

Make balanced shots with patterns or strong structures. If you have row after row of piping, why not find a pattern and make a more visually pleasing image? Steps are also good, as they usually lead somewhere, and you can use a vanishing point to make a photo with infinite depth.

05 Settings

In manual mode, set a shutter speed of 3 secs to blur the clouds. To do this during the day you’ll need an aperture of f/16 or above, plus a 5-to-10 stop ND filter, or f/2.8 without a filter at night. Use the self-timer at 2 secs to avoid nudging the camera, and keep the ISO at 100.

06 As night rolls in…

… Slow your shutter speed! As the sky darkens, the histogram will lean against the left side of the graph. This is normal – just check to see if the highlights are touching the right-hand side; if they are, then they’re blown out and you should increase your shutter speed.

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The best lenses for landscapes: get ready for the great outdoors
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  • jean pierre
    It comes under the heading "learning to see" - learning how to look. That's fundamental to photography - because it's what's in front of the camera that you have to work, to create the image.

    It's not like it is for an artist - who can do a rough outline in the field, take it home to his studio, and make all sorts of changes there.

    Of course these days we can also make all sorts of changes back at home or in the studio, during post processing - but that's quite a different thing.