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Top landscape photography tips

Top landscape photography tips - Read David Kaplan's advice and learn how to take breathtakingly-good landscapes.

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Landscape and Travel

Tips and images by David Kaplan - www.kplan.ch

Mountain Landscape At Night
Photo by David Kaplan.

What is the most beautiful sight you can see in nature? The warm glow of a setting sun? The surging waves in an idyllic bay? The vastness of the universe? Or is it the snowy summit of a mountain chain? Everyone will have their own opinion on this but for me, the most beautiful sight I have faced during my career as a photographer is the landscape at night, covered in a sea of fog with the mountains standing out above it and a blanket of twinkling stars shining in the background. A view such as this is simply unforgetable and is most definitely one that will have you reaching for your camera when you see it. However, taking the actual photo is easier said than done so here's the process I follow to bring the magical scene to life.

Without careful planning taking a shot like this is almost impossible, so before you pick up the camera be prepared to make some notes.


As we can't control the weather a little bit of luck does come into play, however there are a few tricks that can help in the search for evening fog. First, of course, is checking the weather report. Secondly is remembering that there's a higher chance of fog appearing during the early part of the morning.


Basically, the higher you can get the better as you'll be above the fog level and you can stop at several points on your way up to take photographs from different perspectives! But for the shot to work, you must find a spot that looks over a large village or small town so the lights from the buildings shine through the fog. If there's too many lights or the fog's so thick you can't see any your shot won't look right so you may need to visit several locations. Make sure there's no trees in the foreground blocking the view and if you can, find a spot that has an interesting but not too distracting background.

Landscape overlooking a town at night
Photo by David Kaplan.


To see as many stars as possible, you need a night when the moon's light won't illuminate the fog. Up to a quater full moon is fine but anything more can produce too much light. Heading out durning the astronomical twilight, when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, will ensure the sky is as dark as it's going to get. You can find out the astronomical twilight times on various websites.


OK, so you've checked the weather and you've found your location so what now? Well the first thing you need to do is get your tripod, make sure it's level and fasten your camera, with a wide-angle lens to it.

Now lets turn to the camera settings. Since the Earth rotates relatively rapidly, so does the sky and if you use slow shutter speeds, as anyone who's photographed a child or dog running will know, your shot will be blurred. As a rule of thumb, at a focal length of 24mm you can leave the shutter open for 24 seconds. However, if you double the focal length to 48mm you can only leave the shutter open for 12 seconds. As little light is available make sure you're always shooting wide open and your ISO should be as high as possible without too much noise creeping into the shot or the final result ending up over-exposed. When it comes to focusing, autofocus will struggle in the dark. However, shining a very bright torch on a sufficiently distant point may help if you want to use auto focus but ideally you should use manual focus with Live View and focus on one of the lights in the distance. If you don't have Live View it may take a little trial and error to get the focus right.

A problem you may find is the dark areas of the image are actually too dark. You can, of course, increase the brightness during post-production but this will result in rather noisy images so the only way to bump up the light in the daker areas is with longer exposure times. But this turns any light sources that move, including the stars, into trails – a dilemma! I have created my own HDR algorithm to correct the movement in the images and to give the stars more 'pop' but there are several ways you can create a similar look without this.

Landscape overlooking town at night in fog
Photo by David Kaplan.

Method 1

Shoot two exposures – one from the sky and the other for the foreground. If there's a lot of fog you may need to expose for this too. Then in Photoshop you can blend the images together with masks to produce a shot that's correctly exposed through the entire shot. However, it can be a little tricky if you have a complex image, particualrly if there's a large amount of fog.

Method 2

Try using astronomical software such as Deep Sky Stacker to overlay several exposures. However, from personal experience, I found the software was a little hit amd miss but sometimes I did get back some very useful results.


Finally, I would like to say a few words about HDR as nearly all my photos use this. I know some landscape/nature photographers dislike it but in my view, it is one of the easiest ways to deal with high contrast problems. The choices we now have in editing software and tone mapping parameters mean that everyone can find his/her own style and as a result, make their work more unique. To create good HDR work all you need is a good HDR tool such as Photomatix and a 16bit-capable image editing program like Adobe Lightroom. The key to HDR photography is to not exaggerate the HDR effect too much when you first open the image. Instead, focus on getting the contrast right then do any fine tuning in your software designed for image editing.

Tips and images by David Kaplan - www.kplan.ch

Show off your landscapes

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