Words and images by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays
We've all seen those landscape photographs showing simple backgrounds with hills seemingly layered over each other like a load of cardboard cut outs. The technical term is aerial perspective and this is a brief guide on how and when to achieve it.
As it's a technique that deals usually with distant atmospherics, a telephoto lens is often, but not exclusively, the most useful; as it can pull-in a distant scene and by utilising the telephoto perspective you can really emphasise the stacked effect of distant hills. A graduated filter can help to keep detail in the lighter distant tones at the top of the picture, but don't overdo it, or you'll make it all too heavy. As with all landscape work, I would consider a tripod as a must, particularly when working with longer lenses.
The overriding requirement when shooting for aerial perspective is the weather itself, and surprisingly, many different weather conditions can provide a similar effect, including damp, drizzly days. But the best conditions have to be a misty, hazy (or cloudy) day. It's not exclusive to season either, as it can work in the heat of Summer just as well as on murky autumn days or crisp winter mornings. Whilst an interesting overlapping background can strengthen the effect, low rolling hills can easily work as well as mountains, so many locations are suitable.
To avoid simply a grey mass of overlapping hills, it is important to find some interesting foreground detail, to give the necessary contrast to balance the pale and ethereal background. Within the Lake district, this can just as easily be achieved at lake level as up in the hills. Aerial perspective is always more evident when shooting towards the light, (or the weather) so plan your shot angle and time of day accordingly. So in the morning, when there is always likely to be more in the way of mist, I'd be aiming to shoot towards the east, the south in the middle of the day and west in the late afternoon.
As always, it's important to avoid over-exposure, but your camera meter will "see" the scene, including that light, delicate background, as a mid-grey. In order to preserve the light ethereal feel, some positive exposure compensation may be of benefit, to keep the histogram to the right and maintain the feeling of light tones.