How many people have never taken a photo of a landscape? After all, it’s a photography technique that doesn’t require any sophisticated equipment.
All you need is a good Mirrorless or reflex camera, even a cheaper one, and a good tripod (Manfrotto® offers a vast range of solutions for all tastes and budgets) and you’re more than halfway there already.
Well… that’s not strictly true, is it? Especially when you look at the results. You’re not happy with the photos, particularly when you compare them to those taken by certain photographers who publish online on 500px or Flickr.
It doesn’t take much and you end up believing that you have to visit some exotic country somewhere to get beautiful landscape photos. But you would be mistaken.
In reality, it’s likely that you are simply making one of the six mistakes that pretty much everyone makes. Of course, there’s no magic formula; you will still need to take time to hone your technique, but once you are able to work out where the problem lies, it will definitely be easier to find the best solutions in order to avoid it happening again.
Here are the 6 mistakes you’ve been making or that you are likely to make:
1) YOU TAKE LANDSCAPE PHOTOS AT THE WRONG MOMENT
This is definitely the main mistake people make. You get your camera out to capture the landscape at the wrong time of day, that is to say in late morning or early afternoon on a beautiful sunny day.
It’s not an absolute truth, but intense sunlight on a summer afternoon is certainly not the best in terms of light conditions for landscape photography; the light is too harsh and the contrasts are too much to manage, especially for modern digital cameras.
Avoid these times of day and focus on taking landscape photographs in the early hours, at dawn or at sundown. You will amaze yourself with the quality of the results you will be able to get. A little trick that will immediately improve the quality of your images.
2) YOUR IMAGES ARE MISSING A EVIDENT SUBJECT
When you find before you something spectacular, such as a breathtaking landscape, it’s easy to make the mistake of taking an overly banal photo. Probably overcome with the emotion of the moment, you end up taking a photo that is meaningless to the observer because it is devoid of a evident subject.
If you happen to find yourself in this situation, before taking the photograph, count to ten and, before picking up the camera, ask yourself: “What was it that caught my attention?”If you are able to answer the question, you have the solution for producing an effective landscape photograph.
Once you have identified the key subject of the photo, you can find the best composition solution based on the lens you are using.
3) YOU HAVE NO CLOSE-UP SUBJECT
Certain landscapes, however fabulous, may not have a truly evident subject. Beauty is created by a multitude of combinations that might be hard to capture with a camera.
In such a deadlock situation, the turning point can be reached by looking for elements, such as flowers or rocks, to include in close-up.
4) INEFFECTIVE COMPOSITION
If you are lucky enough to visit extraordinary and much-photographed places it is easy, if not expected, that you end up taking a photo that has been seen a thousand times and is boringly identical to all the others.
So what do you do? You watch where all the other photographers position themselves and avoid taking the umpteenth photo from that viewpoint. Instead of wasting time taking the same photo as everyone else, explore the place a bit and look for different perspectives and viewpoints. Only when you have done this do you get out your camera and take a few unique and original shots.
5) THE IMAGES HAVE TOO MUCH CONTRAST
Digital cameras have a serious limitation: the narrow dynamic range. Without going into detailed explanation of what it is all about, all you need to know is that the majority of landscape photographs will involve a significant difference in brightness between the subject in close-up, or lower part of the photo, and the sky.
It is a pretty normal situation but it does make it difficult to obtain “beautiful” photographs with a digital camera. The answer is not to buy a new, better camera, nor to spend hours at your computer in post-production, trying to lighten the dark areas and darken the sky (also known as HDR). In reality, all you need is a neutral density graduated filter.
This filter goes gradually from very dark on one side (like sunglasses) to totally transparent on the other; hence the term “graduated”.
It is placed in front of the lens and is adjusted to darken the overly bright sky, making it possible to obtain an image that is both spectacular and very natural at the same time.
There are various types of this filter, differing in intensity on the dark side and according to how clean the transition is between this and the transparent side.
6) FEAR OF INCREASING THE ISO VALUE
It you have taken a photography course, it is likely that amongst the many things you were taught, you were told that it is always best to keep ISO values at the lowest level in order to avoid digital noise. Therefore, you may be surprised to learn that, for landscape photography, you may need to increase the ISO values.
The reason is simple: when you take landscapes, usually one of the first rules you learn is to close the aperture a lot. An aperture of f/11 or f/16 is standard for getting a good depth of field.
The problem is that a low ISO value, combined with such an aperture, can mean that you end up having to take photos with really long shutter speeds, even as long as 10 seconds in full daylight. It is true that the camera is on a tripod, but with such long shutter speeds it is highly likely that your images end up devoid of detail, due to the micro-movements of the trees and clouds during exposure.
For this reason, it is recommended that you have no fear of increasing the ISO values to 400 (or even 800 in many cases).
Landscape photography is a subject impossible to cover in just one article, but by following these 6 suggestions, you will already be certain to obtain improved results. So, what are you waiting for? Are you going to sit here in front of your computer or get out there with your camera?
Freelance Photographer, Photo coach, Author and Blogger.