Landscape Photography Part 2 – Technique

In part 1 I discusssed the artistry behind landscape photography. Before I start on the technique, I’ll say a little about micro landscapes. Micro landscapes are pretty much as the name would suggest, landscapes on a small scale. This could be a detail shot of a small area or perhaps even a macro image showing the minute details in a very small scene, maybe showing the habitat of an insect or other small animal.

Macro view of melting hailstones

Small cascade in the Findhorn Valley

Some assumption is made below regarding knowledge of photography basics, such as depth of field, aperture size and the relationship between the two. There are a number of articles available that describe the basics of photography if needed. I may cover some basics in a future blog entry.
Whether a micro landscape or a more traditional one, the basic technical issues are similar. Some form of support is essential. Normally this would be a tripod, but if the conditions dictate, a beanbag could be used or perhaps rarely, a monopod. Beanbags are particularly handy for low level perspectives or if the conditions are very windy. Some tripods are also able to be dropped down very low to the ground. Generally speaking, shutterspeed is a secondary consideration to aperture size and ISO setting. Unless conditions are windy and a faster shutterspeed is required to freeze foliage, then the slowest film speed or ISO setting should be selected, which for most digital cameras is ISO 100 (some may require the use of a “low” setting to achieve ISO 100 and some may offer ISO 50). Aperture is dependent on the scene itself and how much depth there is. For most landscapes, an aperture of f/8 to f/16 should be selected, occasionally narrowing the aperture to f/22. Most scenes contain quite alot of depth to them, so to get adequate depth of field, f/16 is needed, in order that the whole scene is in sharp focus. Sometimes a scene may not require as much depth of field, for example, photographing a waterfall or cascade from a distance, when there is very little background. In such cases, it is better to aim for a slightly wider aperture such as f/8 or f/11, as most lenses are sharper at the slightly wider apertures (i.e. mid-range). It is also preferable not to go narrower than f/16, as you start to get problems with diffraction, which is a physical barrier and one that will soften the image. At f/22 it is easily noticeable, but there may be occasions, where the need for more depth of field outweighs the effects of diffraction. Beyond f/22 though, the image is little more than a soup without much detail and should be avoided. A natively sharp lens will be sharper at f/22, even though the effects are just as great, so high quality lenses will still allow a higher quality image. One last thing to consider is the camera you are using or more to the point, the size of the capture device. Film cameras and full frame digital cameras will require a smaller aperture than crop cameras (smaller sized sensors) to get the same apparent depth of field, assuming the same field of view, although you may be looking at a different framing with a full frame camera compared to a crop sensor DSLR, so it will be less of an issue in reality. If that is the case, then rather confusingly, it is actually the full frame camera which has the greater depth of field in reality.
The key to taking a competent landscape photograph is to understand how the different settings on your camera interact with one another and what effect they have on the resultant image. The first point of call is your user manual, it is surprising how much useful information you will find, they don’t just contain instructions for use, but also chapters on making the most from your camera. Being able to take a great landscape photograph however, is a different story. It is something that takes lots of practice, luck, swearing and visiting an area several times until the light is just how you want it. It is important to know your camera inside out, so that you can then concentrate on the creative side to try out different ideas.

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