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How to Shoot Better Landscapes

How to Shoot Better Landscapes - See how three simple steps can improve the landscapes you take.

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Category : Landscape and Travel
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This excerpt is from Chapter 2: Creating Your Own Vision, of Advanced Digital Landscape Photography by Carl Heilman II. Visit Ilex Photo for more information.


Visualize, compose, and shoot: I go through the same three-step process with almost every photograph I take. The first step—visualization—is all about becoming aware of the photograph. Stop, close one eye to see the view in just two dimensions (as a camera does), then scout for the interesting details. Look at the view from different heights, and try to visualize what it might look like from another angle, at a different vantage point. Use your hands to create an approximate image frame, or work with a card or plastic 35 mm slide frame at different distances from your eye to approximate the framing of various focal lengths. In addition, think about how adding filters, bracketing, HDR imaging, or additional color work can affect the final photograph.


Visualizing an image is a who, what, when, where, why, and how process, with “what if?” being the most important element of creative photography. What if I were to look at this scene from a higher or lower angle? What if I used a long shutter speed? What if I tried a different lens or filter? What if I used a shallow depth of field? What if I adjusted the ISO setting? What if I tried panning the camera? What if I waited for different light or weather conditions? What if I returned at another time of year, when the sun is at a different angle? These are all questions you need to ask yourself.

Once those questions have been answered, the second step is to get the camera out, put a lens on, and physically work the scene with different focal lengths. The key to composition is to condense the larger view down to the main supporting details within a scene. Our tendency  is to step into a grand landscape and visualize  the whole scene, but creating an evocative photograph comes from composing the image around eye-catching details.

Some people work from the details out, others from the wide view in. Since my thought pattern tends to work from the widest view to the details, I typically look for the broadest view that will work for a composition first. I’ll start by looking at whether I can do a 360 degree panorama, then work my way in to a narrower panorama, a wide-angle landscape, telephoto details, and finally think about macro imagery. Oftentimes, there are many smaller detailed views within a larger view.

Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, MT

When I visit a scene, I tend to start with the broadest view and work down to the details. Here, I started with a panorama (above), then looked at how I could make more images by focusing in on specific sections of the same scene (below). Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, MT.

Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, MT

This fiery ornamental tree had wonderful detail in the branches, but I also wanted to give it a sense of place within the Japanese garden setting. This composition would still work if a branch covered over the doorway, but the door calls you deeper into the image and adds a sense of mystery. Hammond Museum Japanese Stroll Garden, North Salem, NY.











Hammond Museum Japanese Stroll Garden, North Salem, NY.

  • Recognise the value of a familiar subject, but perceive the essence
  • of what you are looking at.
  • The best photographs come from not only seeing the view, but experiencing it as well.
  • Learn how to express your feelings for the subject through the mood
  • of the photograph.
  • Having one quality image is far better than having a quantity
  • of less inspiring images.
  • Learn to sense anachronisms in the composition. It is often easier to see what does fit, than what doesn’t.
Also check out Ilex Photo’s IlexPhoto Tool iPhone App.


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