What takes a really spectacular scene and reduces it to an ordinary snapshot? These seven problems in landscape photography are easy to resolve if you put in a little extra effort.
1. Wrong Time of Day
Have you ever wondered why there are so many sunset shots compared to sunrise shots? It’s pretty easy to get to a good sunset (usually around 7-8pm – depending on your time zone and location). Getting up at 4-5am and getting to a good sunrise is another story completely. In addition, trying to get a decent landscape photograph at high noon it another thing that makes an otherwise good photo look like a snapshot. Great landscape photographers get up before the crack of dawn to capture the sunrises, beat the crowds, and catch the dew on the roses. Landscape photography is 80% being at the right place at the right time. Scott Kelby says “shoot at dawn and shoot at dusk” and calls this the Golden Rule of Landscape Photography!
2. Not Thinking Foreground Background
Train yourself to think in layers. The more layers you can bring to the image the more interesting. If your landscapes are looking “flat”, remember that introducing foreground elements will immediately solve that. Thinking in foreground, mid ground and background adds yet another dimension to your photographs. Extra credit for foreground that leads into background! Double extra credit for atmosphere – fog, mist, haze.
3. Not Remembering Composition Rules
Composing great images is not always intuitive if you are just starting out. The easiest rule to remember and implement into your photography is the simple Rule of Thirds. Most cameras have a grid with lines that divide the screen into 6 parts (3 on top, 3 on bottom). Where these lines intersect, is where you should put the point(s) of interest. For example, having the sunrise in the middle of your frame – snapshot. Having the sunrise positioned on the lower right third, much better.
4. Not Using Best Aperture
Each type of landscape shot has some ideal camera settings to make the photo really superb. For example: Setting your aperture to ƒ22 when the sun is in the shot will yield nice rays from the sun. The rule here is: always shoot in Aperture Priority Mode and let the camera do the rest. High numbers (ƒ22, ƒ36) will keep everything in focus (foreground & background). Low numbers (ƒ2.8, ƒ4, ƒ5.6) will have a narrow range of focus (and nice bokeh too). One exception to this rule is shooting water. Water looks great with a slow shutter speed. If ƒ22 isn’t slowing your shutter down enough (one second and up) you can add a ND (Neutral Density) filter and/or manually adjust your shutter speed.
5. Not Shooting RAW
Shooting RAW, especially for landscapes, allows you to manipulate your photos in post with much more finesse and accuracy. Lightroom and Photoshop processes RAW images in ways that can make an average shot look amazing. Shooting RAW gives you the opportunity to widely adjust over 30 different parameters. A jpeg image can only be adjusted slightly before artifacts get introduced. Some higher end cameras allow you to record both RAW and JPEG at the same time so shoot both if you are a bit afraid of the RAW beast.
6. Not Cropping
Cropping your image can make an otherwise so-so snapshot an amazing photograph. Remember the rule of thirds I mentioned? Cropping can help you tweak your image into an exceptional photograph. There are no rules with cropping. You can crop for effect, crop out unwanted elements, crop to feature only one element, etc. With cropping you can simulate a panorama, create a triptych, and images that are quite unique. Next time a photograph isn’t working for you, try cropping it for some added punch.
I’m guilty of this. Just because you have a good image and just because you shot it in RAW, doesn’t mean you move all the adjustment sliders to the right! Specifically, over sharpening, over saturating, over clarifying, and over noise reducing. The idea with having all that power of RAW processing in Photoshop and Lightroom, is to help your picture “pop” and to make some minor corrections. There IS such a thing as too much of a good thing. Go easy. If I’m thinking of doing a wall size image, I like to make a small (4×6) print first and leave it on my desk. Inevitably, I’ll come back the next day and be amazed at how “fake” it looks. I can also take my 4×6 and check it against different lighting conditions that exist where the final framed image will reside.
Here’s the best bit of advice for awesome landscapes – shoot a lot of landscapes. The more you shoot that better you get. Ask for creative feedback from people that will give you an honest critique.
Have a tip that you can share for taking landscape photos? Leave me a comment!