Landscape photography is perhaps one of the most varied forms of photography, ranging from urban landscapes, through to dramatic mountain scenes and even micro-landscapes; the small scale landscapes of small subjects. The basic rules and principles remain though, whatever the subject.
The key to a good landscape is maximum sharpness across the whole scene and to have a strong subject or lines. To get maximum sharpness, a tripod is essential. Even when you’re able to use high shutterspeeds, there is some softening of the image if a tripod isn’t used. Sharpness can also be increased by using mirror lockup and in fact for longer shutterspeeds, it is imperative. Weather conditions can also affect the quality of what may otherwise be a perfectly good landscape image. Wind is often the bane of a landscape photographer, especially without a solid, sturdy tripod. In very windy conditions, a beanbag may be useful, as the lower the camera is to the ground, the less it is affected by the wind. Foliage is also blown about by wind, so unless you’re looking for more of an abstract image, the wind may dictate when you photograph your chosen subject landscape.
Lighting is the next key to a good photograph and may turn an average image into a great one. Bland, grey skies rarely make for an interesting landscape, but change those for deep, moody clouds and you can have a very dramatic scene. This image typifies the sort of image you can get on the Scottish Western Isles and proves, you don’t need bright colours.
There are also other ways that you can make use of the light, for example, sun shining through the clouds onto the main subject or simply the angle of lighting, particularly in the golden hours after sunrise and before sunset.
Shooting during the golden hours gives you the best chance for a landscape with real impact, because it is when the light is at its softest, allowing for less harsh contrasts and the ability to use the lengthening shadows to add depth to the scene. This also increases the mid-tone contrast, which is the area in the histogram that gives the image the punch it needs to stand out.
Without a strong compositional element though, many landscapes fall flat, simply because there is nothing within the scene to attract viewers. The best landscapes are often simple when you look at them closely, even when they contain many fine details. Most of the best landscapes can be diluted down to an interesting foreground, which draws the viewer in, then there may be leading lines, either diagonals or s-shaped curves, pulling the viewer towards the main subject, which is likely to be on one of the thirds intersections. Sometimes, the main subject is the landscape as a whole, but there is usually a strong supporting subject on a thirds line in these cases and the leading line acts as a guide, taking the viewer on a tour around the image. Both of the above examples use the shore as a leading line from the corners to the distance, literally going through most of the scene.
In Part 2 I will talk of some of the more technical aspects of landscape photography and visit micro-landscapes.