33 ways to improve your landscape photography

33 ways to improve your landscape photography

Are you trying to improve your landscape photography skills? I am still trying to improve as a photographer after over 10 years of taking photos. Here are over 30 photography tips that may help you to get those killer shots that you are after:

Use a tripod – Getting the sharpest photos requires keeping your camera as still as possible when you take the shot. Using a tripod can really make a difference, especially if you want to start making large prints of your photos. Using a tripod also lets you spend a bit more time planning the composition.

Use a shutter release cable – Even when you use a tripod pushing the shutter button to take the photo can cause minute movement of the camera, especially as on most cameras the button is on a corner. Using a shutter release cable will take yet another way the camera can move during your exposures.

Use mirror lock up – If your camera has the ability to do so you should use your mirror lock up function. This function opens the mirror so that when you take the shot there is no vibration from the speed of the mirror. The energy generated by the mirror opening and shutting is quite surprising. Lately I have been using live view while out taking photos; this keeps the mirror open anyway although it makes batteries drain quicker.

The Slow Mo guys made a cool video about how the shutter mechanism works on a digital SLR.

Make sure your horizons are straight – There is nothing worse than having to crop your photos just to straighten them up. Use the guides in your viewfinder if you have them or on your live view display.

Another way to make sure your camera is level is to use a spirit level that can be attached to your flash shoe. Example here

Shoot in raw – If your camera is capable of shooting raw files you really should try to use them. The files give you much more non-destructive control over the final output of the photo. It can be the difference between a successful photo or not.

Check your camera settings – I know this one seems silly, but it pays to make sure your camera settings are correct. It is really simple to shoot in low light with a really high ISO setting for example and forget to put it back for your next shoot.

Use a low ISO – If you are using a tripod it can be good to use the lowest ISO that is possible. This will mean that your photo will have the least amount of noise in it. Don’t be afraid to use a higher ISO though, especially if you are trying to freeze motion in poorer light.

Plan your shoot – It is up to you how much detail you go into to plan. I like to make sure that I know where I am going, or if I am just out and about where I am going to end up for the golden hours. By planning I often have an idea or 2 for photos that I want to capture. I do like to just go with the flow once I am there though, but having pre-conceived ideas gives me a direction to start with.

Research your location and look at other photographer’s photos of the same area – Researching your location is really important, so that you can have a full understanding of what photos are potentially achievable there. There is nothing worse than planning for a shot and getting there to realise it isn’t possible. Check out other peoples photos of the location. This can be really useful for inspiration and also it helps me to plan alternative compositions before I get there.

Revisit a location multiple times – I really recommend re-visiting an area multiple times. I have photographed a few areas on a regular basis over the years and nearly every day has been different, between the weather and light conditions. It also gives you a chance to nail those ideal but difficult compositions.

Be aware of sunset/sunrise times – If you want to make the most of the golden hours in your photography it is important to be aware of sunset and sunrise times. I have to make sure that I plan for sunrise when I visit Dartmoor for example which is 50 miles away. I use the Photographer’s Ephemeris which is a fantastic tool. While you are looking at it you can check out the location to see where the sun will be shining from to capitalise on the best angles and light.

Shoot during the golden and blue hours

Shoot during the golden hours – I like to shoot at all hours of the day but the golden hours are truly special and a great time to try to capture the best images of many locations. It is also worth trying to capture some of the blue hours. I love shooting after the sun has set below the horizon; the tones in the light are often truly magical.

Be aware of tide times – Knowing when the tide is going to be in paired with information from the Photographer’s Ephemeris makes planning seascapes and coastal photography much more predictable. The last thing you want (or may not want) is to turn up to a beach at sunrise or sunset to find there is no water, or too much!

Change your height – moving yourself and your camera’s point of view up or down, even a few inches can make a dramatic different to the composition of your photos. Trying this can really open your eyes to different perspectives.

Move around – It sounds really silly but moving 4 foot to one direction can make or break a shot. If you have taken the time to put yourself in a fantastic place to take photos it would be a crime to not move around to make the most of it!

Look around – Much the same as moving around, be sure to look around. Sometimes the light from the sun can look average in one direction but behind you there can be a fantastic light show taking place.

Practice your composition – Practice your composition and experiment with it whenever you can. Pay attention to the focal point of the image and any distractions. Sometimes moving just a few inches on one direction can remove things much better than Photoshop.

Use your camera’s live view – If your camera has live view try using that, especially if you are trying to take a photo with the camera really low or at an odd angle. Seeing the composition on a screen in these cases can be much easier that trying to contort yourself to look through the view finder.

Look for a focal point – Nearly all good landscape photographs have a good focal point. This lets people begin here and follow any leading lines or elements around the photo to absorb it visually. Try to make good use of focal points, especially with wide angle shots. The rule of thirds can be good as a starting point although I don’t always stick to it.

Use leading lines or patterns – As well as using a focal point try to make use of any leading lines or patterns that can add to the photo. Leading lines can also be great for showing perspective.

Try different lenses – Trying different lenses can be really good for your photography. Sometimes it is better to use a longer lens to isolate a strong element than to shoot the photo wide and the element to be lost in amongst the rest of the picture.

Shoot a panorama to show perspective

Shoot a panorama – Sometimes it is just impossible to convey the true scale and impact of a scene before your eyes. Especially if you don’t have an ultra-wide angle lens. In these cases why not shoot a panorama? Using multiple exposures to make up the panorama will allow much more of the scene to be captured, and an added bonus is the file size will be much larger than 1 shot; ideal for large prints of your favourite scene.

Choose the right aperture – If you are taking landscape photos there is a good chance that you may want a low aperture to make sure everything is in focus, especially if you want to make large prints. Be careful not to go to low though because diffraction is present in all lenses to a degree which can make your image soft. I like to take photos at around F8 – f16 depending on the composition and often loiter at around F11.

Make use of movement – If it is a windy day or there is complimentary motion don’t be afraid to slow your exposure down to capture this. Sometimes a bit of motion blur in an otherwise sharp photo can really help to convey mood.

Check your histogram – You don’t have to chimp at every shot but it is really worth checking your histogram to make sure your photo isn’t under or over exposed. This can be quite important if you a shooting in changeable light such as the end or beginning of the day.

Use filters – Filters can really help the exposure of a photograph. I like to use ND (neutral density) graduated filters a lot in my photography. If you don’t have a filter you can often add a virtual one in Photoshop or Lightroom. I prefer to do it with a real filter if possible but this isn’t always possible.

Use HDR – If you can’t nail the full dynamic range of a photo in one shot take multiple and merge them to HDR. A lot of people get on their high horse about HDR because it is often over used. It will be difficult for most people to tell if a photo is a HDR photo if it is done well.

Take a bin bag and a change of clothes – It is well worth taking a bin bag and a change of clothes with you on a shoot, especially if you are travelling any distance. There is nothing worse than getting soaking wet knowing that you need to be in those clothes for hours. It could be enough to ruin the rest of your shoot. Just a few shoots ago I was out on Dartmoor for sunrise photos when I went up to my knees in the peat bogs. Luckily I had spare clothes once I got back to the car. This could save your life in an extreme environment.

The bin bag is dual purpose I use them to kneel on if I am somewhere muddy as I often like to kneel to try different compositions; and of course if you get soaked you can put your wet clothes in them when you change!

Take spare batteries and memory cards  – This one is self-explanatory; there is nothing worse than driving for 2 hours to take photos of something for your battery to die or to run out of storage space.

Take a torch – There is nothing worse than being miles from your car in the middle of nowhere while shooting the sunset and dusk and then realising you have to walk back in the dark! A torch is essential for safety.

Process your photos! – Processing your photos can bring them to another level. After you have been out crafting your compositions with such effort they deserve to be processed. Processing photos is no different to what the greats like Ansel Adams did in the dark room.

Show them off! – Don’t let your amazing photos hide in some dark corner of your computer’s hard drive; share some and show them off! I like to publish some of mine on my photo blog, and I love to print some of my favourites although I need to do more of that. There is something special about looking at your own large print on the wall.

Get out there! – You will never get amazing landscape photographs if you don’t get out there with your camera. Even if the weather isn’t perfect just go! Just think – every different weather situation is a different light and a new opportunity.

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