Scenic photography advice and tips

Lee Frost offers advice on how to shoot and sell picture of his own favourite subject - scenics.


Over the next few months, freelance specialist Lee Frost will be offering advice on how to shoot and sell picture of specific subjects. To get the ball rolling he looks at his own favourite scenics.
Everyone with a camera reckons they can shoot saleable scenic pictures you just go to somewhere interesting and fire away.

Unfortunately, life aint quite that easy if it was that easy, Id be sending out my four year-old son to do it for me while I sat back with my feet up and producing images that will sell and sell requires a little more effort.

The vast majority of scenic photographs taken are location specific - in other words, they are intended to show what a particular place looks like, be it a pretty Cornish fishing village or a Scottish castle. However, different markets tend to favour different styles of photography, so you should bear this in mind while shooting landscapes. The approach you take will also be governed, to a certain extent, by the type of location you are photographing.

Traditional markets for landscape photography, such as calendar, postcard, book and magazine publishers, tend to rely mainly on 'record' shots - pictures that are taken in ideal weather conditions and use straightforward photographic technique to show a place at its best.

If you thumb through a scenic calendar, for example, you will find that the majority of photographs were taken in bright sunshine, often with cotton-wool clouds drifting across vivid blue sky. There will also be the token snow scene for December or January, and perhaps a sunrise or sunset, but rarely does it get any more dramatic than that. The racks of postcards in popular tourist locations tell a similar story, as do travel brochures or regional features in country and outdoor magazines.

The main exception to this rule is when you are photographing areas where the scenery and weather is more dramatic. The Scottish Highlands and Lake District are two obvious regions in the UK where you expect stormy light, dark, threatening skies and harsh winters, so you would be foolish to ignore these things.

Some markets also prefer more photographically challenging and creative work, such as photographic magazines, advertising agencies and calendar publishers that produce bespoke calendars for individual clients. Equally, if you were ever lucky enough to be asked to take the pictures for a book on a specific area - such as the two I have illustrated in recent years on Dartmoor and Northumbria - you would be expected to work in all seasons and all weathers in order to create a realistic portrait of that place.

Beyond this type of illustrative scenic photography you enter the world of the generic image, where photographs are taken not to illustrate a specific place - though some shots can be both specific and generic - but for symbolic purposes.
If you check out the bottles of mineral water in your local supermarket, for example, you will often find a picture of a river or waterfall used on the packaging. Similarly, lush, green foliage or beautiful skies are often used to promote anything to do with good health, while tropical beach scenes are favoured in promotions for bank loans, pension schemes, investments and anything else that's saying 'do this and make your dreams come true'.

Atmospheric misty scenes, sunrise and sunset shots, sand dunes, rainbows, lightning, storms and many other types of subject or weather phenomena are also used. My scenic pictures are often published in brochures and 'mailers' - I have even sold shots for use on bakery packaging, a label in a waterproof jacket and an advertisement for carpets.
This is the great thing about generic scenics. Because they're anonymous, their use is almost limitless and you can find the same shot being used for all kinds of things - especially if you market your work through a picture library so it can be made available to a wider audience.

The need for anonymity also means you can take saleable pictures literally anywhere, instead of investing time and money travelling to areas that are more popular than when you live. Some of my best-selling scenic pictures have actually been taken within a few miles of my home, despite the fact that I live in an area that's renowned for its flat, featureless landscape.

Quality counts

Whichever market you are targeting, it's the quality of light that will make or break a great landscape picture so this factor should always be given priority.

In clear weather, the best times of day to shoot are during early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky, the light has a pleasant warmth and long shadows reveal texture and depth in a scene. Make the most of this by using a polarising filter to deepen blue sky and increase colour saturation.

I tend to rise before sun-up so I can be on location in time to shoot the sunrise, then take advantage of the beautiful morning light - without having to worry about people or traffic spoiling the view as most sensible folk will still be tucked-up in bed.

During summer, the sun has reached its zenith (highest point in the sky) and the light has reached maximum intensity by late morning. The next few hours are less productive because the light is too harsh, washing-out colour, while the overhead sun casts short, dense shadows and modelling is minimal. I use this time to recce new locations or move on to my next destination, then resume shooting during mid-afternoon and continue until beyond sunset.

Spring and autumn are the most attractive seasons in which to shoot saleable landscapes - spring for the fresh, lush foliage and autumn for the beautiful rustic colours. In both seasons the weather is also unpredictable. Mist and heavy dew is common in the morning, while sudden storms and heavy downpours followed by crisp, refreshing sunshine allow you to take a variety of different pictures in a short space of time.

During stormy weather, keep an eye out for rainbows which appear when the sun shine through falling rain - they can be great sellers. Use a wide-angle lens to capture the rainbow arching across the landscape, then home-in on the bow with a telephoto or telezoom lens. To enhance the drama of stormy light, use a neutral density (grey) graduated filter to darken the sky and take your meter reading from the sunlight foreground.

Winter is less productive simply because the landscape is laid bare and the weather tends to be less favourable. That said, snow and frost can transform a scene overnight so you should always keep an eye on the weather and be ready to make the most of sudden changes. From late autumn through to early spring you can also shoot from dawn until dusk without stopping because the sun never rises more than about 30 into the sky and the quality of light is always high.

After light, the next factor you need to consider is composition. A well-composed landscape photograph should lead the viewer into and through the image, transporting them from the comfort of their armchair to the place depicted. It should capture a sense of place, and tell a whole story in a single image.

Wide-angle lenses are ideal for this because they allow you to capture a broad sweep of landscape on a single frame of film - much more than the naked eye can appreciate. More useful, however, is the way they exaggerate perspective so nearby elements loom large in the frame while everything else seems to rush away into the distance. This allows you to use nearby features as foreground interest and by doing so not only create a logical entry point into the scene but also add a strong sense of depth and scale, giving the impression of three-dimensions in a two-dimensional image. All manner of natural and manmade features can be used as foreground interest - a river or stream, a path, moss-covered rock, boats at the edge of a picturesque harbour and so on.

Front-to-back sharpness is also vital for most landscape pictures, so make sure you stop your lens down to f/11 or f/16 and use the depth-of-field scale on the lens barrel to check what the zone of sharp focus will be. I use the hyperfocal focusing technique to maximise depth-of-field. To do this, focus the lens on infinity then check the depth-of-field scale to see what the nearest point of sharp focus will be at the aperture set. By re-focusing the lens on this distance - known as the hyperfocal distance - depth-of-field will extend from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity.

Telephoto lenses are more selective in what they see, allowing you to isolate interesting parts of a scene such as the sun's golden orb at sunset, the patterns created by dry stone walls on a pastoral scene, or the receding effect of mist and haze on the landscape. Telephotos also compress perspective so the elements of a scene appear closer together. This effect, known as 'foreshortening' can be put to good use when photographing mountains and hills, avenues of trees and other repeated features in the landscape.

Despite the power and drama of telephoto landscapes, however, you will find that wide-angle shots tend to sell better in traditional markets due to their 'scene-setting' ability - so make them your priority initially.
Next month the equipment you need to shoot saleable scenics.

Scenic photography advice and tips: Scenic photography advice and tips
The popularity of a location will have a big influence on whether or not a shot sells especially in more general markets. So, although places like the Lake District are already heavily documented, its still worth photographing such areas. You should also concentrate on producing first-rate shots of popular views in this case Rydal Water.
Horseman Woodman, 150mm lens, 0.6ND grad, 81B warm-up, Fuji Velvia, 1 second at f/22.5

Scenic photography advice and tips: Scenic photography advice and tips
Bright, sunny days provide perfect conditions to shoot saleable landscapes so make the most of them. Here I used a wide-angle lens to include the stone wall and grass verge as foreground interest, adding a sense of scale and drama to the scene. A polariser was also used to boost colour saturation and deepen the blue sky.
Pentax 67, 45mm lens, polariser, Fuji Velvia, 1/4sec at f/22/

Scenic photography advice and tips: Scenic photography advice and tips
Always strive for optimum image quality when shooting landscapes. Slow film is crucial, so is a tripod to keep your camera steady, and film format in this case I used 5x4in, and although large-format isnt essential, the quality it achieves is second-to-none.
Walker Titan 54, 90mm lens, tripod, polariser, Fuji Velvia, two seconds at f/32.

Scenic photography advice and tips: Scenic photography advice and tips
When you take a half-decent landscape shot theres just no telling how successful it can be. This picture of Combestone Tor on Dartmoor has been one of my best-sellers, grossing thousands of pounds in sales over the last few years and appearing on everything from posters and book covers to CDs and travel brochures.
Pentax 67, 55mm lens, 0.6ND grad and 81C warm-up, Fuji Velvia, 1/2sec at f/16.

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