10 Tips For Taking Stunning Landscape Photos With Your DSLR
Landscape photography is one of the few forms of photography that everyone loves. It doesn’t matter whether you are a wedding photographer or a street photographer. It doesn’t matter whether you use a beginners DSLR or a high-end DSLR. When it comes to spellbinding views and captivating vistas, who can dare resist the need to try their hand at landscape photography? But do your photographs offer justice to those amazing views and vistas? Let’s see how you can do a better job of capturing those stunning landscapes with your DSLR.
I assume you would already know some of the elementary aspects of landscape photography. Using a wide angle lens, shooting during the golden hours and post-processing your images are commonly known practices. I have not included them in the list here. The first five tips of the ten listed here are basic tips applicable to most forms of photography but very important for landscapes. If you are a beginner, start with these –
1. Research the location and plan your shots
You must always do an in-depth research of the location you are going to visit. By research, I don’t mean the itinerary or hotels. I am talking about specific sites that you plan to visit which has the potential to give you some amazing shots. Research the best time of the year to visit, the best time of the day to visit and the best shots of that location clicked by others. It is perfectly fine to study what other photographers were able to capture in that location. It will only give you a better perspective of the place and the possibilities.
Though many times the best shots come from the most unexpected places or times, being well informed and prepared is always a good thing.
2. Always carry a tripod to make the most of all situations
Most budding photographers tend to carry right lenses needed for landscape photography. But many of them believe that they need a tripod only if they are going to shoot in the night. So why carry a tripod during the day? Well, a tripod is one of the most important piece of equipment even during day time. Being able to set your camera on a tripod helps you to be flexible with your shutter speed. There are situations when you might want to use slow shutter speeds for landscapes. Which situations? I will come to that in a bit.
3. Learn to be patient and capture the right moment
Another myth that many budding photographers have is that only wildlife and bird photographers need to be patient. It is true that animals may move unexpectedly and birds may fly off, so one needs to be very patient. So why be patient in landscape photography when mountains, rivers and other such commonly shot natural elements are still? That is because there are factors such as light, wind, clouds or even unposed person which are dynamic. Photographers who shoot great landscapes often wait for the right moment to ensure every element in the frame is perfect. This photographer would be very different without the lady walking near this pond. I could see I would get a great reflection here but had to wait for quite some time in this isolated village of Himalayas for someone to pass by this pond.
4. Maximize Depth of field to have most elements in focus
Now that you know what to do before you start clicking, let’s move to what you should do when you are actually shooting. In most circumstances during landscape photography, one needs all elements in the frame to be sharp. The most basic way to achieve this is by keeping a high depth of field. So, test the maximum depth of field that your lenses allow you to set and shoot images with most subjects of your frame in focus.
Maximum depth of field means the aperture size of the lens becomes small. This means there will be less light coming in and this is where a tripod would come in handy. Since you brought your tripod, you are now in a position to set slow shutter speeds.
This is not a strict rule and you can use shallow depth of field creatively in landscapes. This is a guiding principle for most of the situations you might come across.
5. Choose a focus point in your frame
It is easier to focus on a specific subject in many other types of photography. For example in Portrait photography, you will surely focus on the person you are clicking a portrait of. But in landscape photography, due to the vastness of space or relatively smaller size of the subject, one might not focus on anything specific. Though you might shoot at a high depth of field with an intent of keeping everything in your frame in focus, it is important to identify your point of focus and allow viewer’s eyes to rest on a specific point.
Focus points in landscape photography could be anything that stands out relative to rest of the elements of your composition. A tree in a plain field or a hut on a hill are common examples.
Hope these 5 basic tips were useful to shoot stunning landscape photographs. Let us now move to some tips useful for those treading advanced stages of their photography learning curve. As a beginner, if you are able to use these tips, great!
6. Control the light using appropriate filters
Polaroid or Neutral density filters are useful accessories for outdoor photography including landscapes. Polaroid filters cancel out polarized light resulting in the removal of glare and reflections. This increases color saturation. If used in the right manner, they would make the colors in your photograph, especially blue of sky and green of trees, pop out. Neutral density filters reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor. What this means is it helps you control the exposure by darkening the image. Now to allow more light in, you might want to click at slower shutter speeds again while using your tripod. This is extremely useful for shooting waterfalls where you want the milky flow of water.
7. Read histograms to identify incorrectly exposed images
Despite all your efforts, you might often find yourself in a situation where some elements of your frame are too bright or dark. If you are unable to identify such specific areas while viewing images on the LCD panel of your DSLRs, you can check histograms. Histograms are frequency distribution charts of your image which show tonal ranges on the X-axis and number of pixels on the Y-axis. If more number of pixels are darker in tone, the chart would show higher lines on the left. In a similar way if more number of pixels are too bright in tone, the chart will align towards the right.
So by looking at a histogram, you can identify over-exposed and under-exposed areas in your image. This gives you a chance to change some settings and shoot again.
8. Choose the right vantage point before shooting
Imagine you are driving when you suddenly see a gorgeous view. What do you do? Park the car, get out and shoot? Please don’t. While your instinctive reaction might be to shoot, you must first analyse the situation. Is this point the best position to shoot? Should you move a few steps ahead or backwards? What would be better - holding the camera way higher above you and angling downwards or lying on the ground and shooting through the grass? Should you walk across the road and capture the car as well or should you click a panoramic shot? In short, you need to analyse the situation and identify the best vantage point from which you should shoot.
Of course, if the view is dynamic that lasts for a few seconds or minutes, you might want to shoot from whatever vantage point you were lucky to be in. But in other situations, the first rule of composing an image should be selection of the right vantage point.
9. Use complimentary elements in foreground and background
This is a compositional tip useful for landscape photography where you might have natural elements such as mountain, river or waterfall. Having only these in the frame may not look appealing enough. But the moment you add a different complimentary subject in the foreground, the impact of the photograph changes. Such objects not only bring a lot more depth to the image but also balances the visual weight of the photograph.
You can see in the photograph below how the slightly pinkish shades of flowers in front complement the whites and browns in the background. Also the tenderness of these flowers in foreground complements with the raw strength of textures of backdrop.
10. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication
What I imply by this famous quote is - in landscape photography, it is perfectly fine to be minimalistic. The contents of an image need not be the only subjects of your photograph; empty space too can be a key subject and play a powerful role in your photograph. So don't fear emptiness. You need not always include subjects, you can exclude them too. Take the below photograph for instance. Despite having many more subjects in this lake, I have excluded them and used empty space effectively.
Note that in any form of art, it is always okay to break the rules and explore your own style. These tips are only meant to be a guideline that might help you. Hope you found these 10 tips useful and are able to use them on the field. It is important to keep in mind above listed points before and while shooting landscape photographs. Implementing these tips will result in stark difference in the kind of images you are able to click.