Article by Sarah Howard from Image Seen
Having often been asked a number of times; what would be your top tips to making a great image, I decided to put pen to paper and jot down a few pointers which I hope you will find useful.
The good news is that armed with a basic DSLR and a couple of lenses you really can get some great shots, so before you rush out and buy the latest multi megapixel offering, don't forget that it is as much you, as your camera, that is responsible for the end result. At the end of the day, the camera is simply a tool used to create an image, so whilst it is true that, like an artist using the best brushes they can afford, a photographer will benefit from a good quality camera and lenses, it is also worth remembering that as the one behind the camera, you as the photographer are in control and ultimately, aside of technical familiarity with your camera, it is your creative eye and vision which will determine a good image.
Landscape photography may at first thought, seem relatively easy. After all you are not dealing with children or animals, your subject matter is unlikely to run away, and therefore surely all you need to do is point your camera in the right direction and get lucky with the weather? Unsurprisingly it’s a little more complicated. Granted, you may occasionally get a ‘lucky shot’, but as any landscape photographer will tell you, being in the right place at the right time, whilst it may seem obvious, inevitably involves for starters, a degree of research and planning.
A successful landscape image also needs good light, it must be well composed and it should attempt to capture the essence of a place. As with travel photography, a good image will draw the viewer into the scene, transporting them in an instant, and making them want to be there.
As with any image, a good landscape photograph is one which holds the viewers attention, and makes them linger just that little bit longer. It is an image that has a certain something, which you can’t always put your finger on. This may be down to good lighting, having a unique or interesting angle, or just sheer simplicity, but having great subject matter alone is not enough.
One of the joys of landscape photography is being outside; to breathe fresh air, to have the opportunity to slow down, to soak up the world around us and to appreciate it for all its beauty. It can also take us to places we may never have been otherwise.
Granted, whilst we are on holiday, we often have limited time, we’re trying to pack a lot in and can’t always allow ourselves the luxury of being able to go back to a location time and time again to get the perfect shot. As such, use the time you have before you go away to practice, and familiarise yourself with your camera and its capabilities. The following 10 tips may also help:
Light is quite simply, everything. Without good light, an image can appear flat and lifeless. Most landscape photographers are up at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise and whilst you may not wish to do this every day whilst on holiday, you could be missing out on one of the most magical times of day when the light is soft and it’s most flattering. The golden hour, which occurs in the late afternoon and early evening is also another fantastic time. Avoid shooting in the middle of the day when the light is harsh and contrast is high, shadows will be very dark and your camera will struggle to meter effectively. It may well be that you have to go back several times to a location before you get the image you want as the conditions are not quite right. This is not always possible when you are on holiday and have limited time but be more easily achieved at home.
A good sky can really make an image. There is nothing worse than a dull grey or bland blue sky lacking in interest. Clouds play an important part also in casting shadows on the landscape before you, adding form and dimension. If you have a great sky then let it have its say! Try devoting two thirds of the image to the sky.
The way we compose our image, or in other words, position the various elements within the frame is vitally important. There are various guidelines which can prove useful. The ‘rule of thirds’ is one, whereby imaginary lines are drawn, dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Important elements of your composition are then placed where these lines intersect. Quite often the horizon is positioned along the bottom third. However, rules are also there to be broken, so don’t be afraid to try placing your main subject in the centre of the frame sometimes – this often works best with very simple compositions.
Including some foreground interest will help to achieve a more balanced composition, as well as add depth and help draw our eyes into the scene. Lead in lines, such as a path, wall or river can be used to achieve the same effect.
4. Use A Tripod
Where possible try to us a tripod. Not only does it minimise camera shake and allow long exposures it also really helps with composition. By slowing you down, and allowing you to evaluate your image before you press the shutter you take more time and care with your photography. There are many lightweight, compact tripods on the market now which can be carried easily in land luggage but if you can’t take a tripod on holiday or find yourself in a place where it is not possible to use one then try resting your camera on a wall, your car roof, anything that will give support.
5. Keep Things Simple
Try not to over complicate. Often the best images are the simplest. Including too much within the frame can look messy and the viewer can easily lose sight of what they are looking at. We may be lucky enough to find ourselves in an amazing place, such as at the Grand Canyon, or somewhere equally majestic, but the image we produce on our camera does not reflect what we saw at the time. Quite possibly it is just too vast to adequately capture, so instead of trying to squash everything in, try and pick out one element of the scene, or perhaps focus on the texture of the rock, or the shape of the land. Remember that your eyes are far more sophisticated than the sensor of your camera.
6. Familiarise Yourself With Your Camera
It sounds obvious but so much time can be wasted trying to locate certain functions. Digital camera menus can be quite complicated and you will probably only need a third of what's available to you. Make sure you know where everything is that you will need on your camera.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. It's very easy to become locked into a way of doing things, or to always photograph the same type of scenery. Try to vary your technique. Force yourself to go to new places and photograph new subjects. If you’ve never done low light photography make a point of trying it, or perhaps try macro photography. Whatever you do, occasionally take yourself out of your comfort zone. In doing so you will open up new creative opportunities for yourself and keep your photography fresh.
8. Research And Planning
It is not often that we just happen across an image. The best images are usually those that have been researched and there are lots of tools out there to help us do this.
The Photographer Ephemeris is one and can be downloaded free from the internet. It assists in planning all types of outdoor photography, by calculating the angle of sun and moon for any given location in the world at any time of the year. LightTrac, an app for Iphone and Android, offers something similar.
It may also be that there is a specific time of year that is good to be in a certain place – such as late March/April for cherry blossom in Japan or late September/October for the fall in New England, a little bit of prior research before you plan your trip will prove invaluable.
9. Learn From Others
Other people's images can be a great source of inspiration and also help in the planning stages. But, rather than seek to copy, use them to get different ideas on composition, look at the lighting, what makes them work or not as the case may be. I'd recommend looking at postcards of the area, photographs in local magazines, and also image banks such as Flickr to get a feel for what a location offers. By looking at and evaluating other peoples work as well as our own we start to gain more understanding of why an image is successful or not.
10. Tell A Story
In creating your image try to invest something of yourself into the process, so rather than just simply pressing the shutter, stop and take time to consider everything.
Think about what you are attempting to capture in the scene before you – is it the calm and tranquillity of a beautiful lake, the solitude of a lonely tree or the drama of a mountainous environment. Think of your image as a way of taking the viewer on a journey into the landscape you see before you.
Persevere and enjoy!
As the great landscape master, Ansel Adams said; "Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer ‐ and often the supreme disappointment". There may be times that you feel photographically 'blind', when nothing comes together, the light is 'wrong', you can’t find a good composition, and nothing seems to be going right. However, whilst it can be frustrating at times, landscape photography can also be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. So, in the pursuit of an image let’s not forget the journey. Like most things in life, half the fun is getting there.
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