1.) Scout – Visit your chosen location and give yourself time to walk the surrounding area. When you find a suitable location, work each shot by taking various images until you find the strongest composition, you may find this easier when you get home to view all images on your larger monitor. Having found a strong composition, revisit the same location in different lighting, such as sunrise, sunset, etc.
2.) Tripod – If you want tack sharp images, then a tripod is absolutely essential! Make sure when buying a tripod that you purchase the best you can afford, not all tripods are equal. Choose a tripod head that you feel comfortable using, but one which will also allow you to set up quickly which will come in handy when shooting in fast changing lighting conditions. Heavier tripods offer better stability, whereas lighter versions offer better mobility.
3.) Shutter release cable – Every time you press the shutter, you introduce camera movement, purchasing a shutter release cable will eliminate any camera shake. They are relatively cheap but if you find yourself on a tight budget, and your camera has a timer, then use it as an alternative method to physically tripping the shutter.
4.) Filters – There are many different types of filters available to the landscape photographer, I’m not going to mention them all here as it would take whole book! Instead, I am going to recommend, what I feel, are essential.
Neutral Density Graduated Filters – often when shooting landscapes, you will find the contrast range of a given scene to be too high for your camera. Neutral density Graduated filters work by toning down the filtered part of the scene to bring the contrast range to a level that is within the capability of your camera.
Neutral Density Filters – Not to be confused with the graduated filter, these filters are used to lengthen the exposure time of an image. By lengthening the exposure time of an image you can emphasize movement. This could be trees, long grass, water, etc which can lead to a more interesting or pleasing image.
Polarizer – These filters are helpful for controlling reflections, darkening blue skies and help control reflections in a scene which also gives a more saturated appearance. They give best results when the sun is at a 90 degree angle. Be careful when using these filters with lenses wider than 24mm as they can produce uneven results.
5.) Composition – Composition is something that I feel comes with practice, but there some basic rules that when followed (not strictly) often produce a more coherent image.
Simplify – Often less is more. Remove all distracting elements from the image.
Light – Assess the lighting of your scene, will it look better in different lighting. We photograph the light first, the subject second. Even an average looking composition will look great in the best light, can we say the same for a great composition in poor lighting?
Contrasting Elements – Look for light & dark, fast & slow, high contrast & low contrast, opposing colours such red & green or blue & yellow, etc.
Rules – Look for ‘S’ curves, remember the ‘Rule of Thirds’, look for repeating elements, look for ‘C’ curves, look for things that come in three’s, try not to place horizon lines in the centre of the composition, try breaking the rules, don’t mount your camera to a tripod until you have found your composition, look for lead in lines.
Suit Yourself – Finally, when out photographing the landscape, suit yourself and nobody else! And above all, have fun.
6.) Common Mistakes – While some of these may sound obvious, I have seen it happen time and time again so I am listing them here so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Prepare – Often I see photographers stumbling on scene in the middle/end of a glorious sunrise, often missing the best light. Make sure you plan and prepare, set off in good time, it’s better to wait, than being too late!
Check – Again, this may be obvious, but I have seen it happen, people arriving without memory cards, batteries, grads, tripods, etc. Don’t leave the house until you have checked your equipment, bags, etc. There is nothing worse then being helpless, while witnessing a beautiful scene unfold.
Camera Settings – Double check things like Aperture, ISO, filters, etc before tripping the shutter. I was once guilty of coming home from a great landscape shoot without checking the ISO setting of my camera to find all images taken at ISO 1600!
7.) Lenses – Not all lenses are equal, always buy the best lenses you can afford and make sure you test them to make sure they are performing as they should be. Below I have categorized the focal lengths into wide, standard and telephoto to help me simply and explain their uses in the field.
Wide Angle Lenses – I generally consider wide angle lenses to be of 35mm and wider. Wide angle lenses decompress the landscape, distant objects will appear further away while placing emphasis on foreground subjects. They are great for taking in the entire scene, remember though, simplify and remove unwanted clutter from your composition.
Normal Focal Length Lenses – Normal focal length (35mm to 70mm) lenses are great all round performers. You can also buy zoom versions that offer the full 35mm to 70mm range, and are often used as a walk around lens for scouting locations while keeping weight down to a minimum. Try to find a version that offers close focusing to add even more versatility.
Telephoto Lenses – These lenses (70mm to 200mm) are great for isolating various parts of the landscape, especially useful if part of your landscape scene has some wildlife in the composition. They are great for compressing distant subjects, drawing them closer and can help make them look more imposing.
8.) Critique – With so many websites out there now that offer a place so share our photos, it’s probably a good idea to take advantage by asking others for constructive criticism. This can often be rewarding in that it offers so many different opinions, point out glaring mistakes and quite often people will merit your work. Be critical of your own work, ask yourself why you like one particular image over another, this will teach you more about what sort of lighting, compositions, subjects, etc that you prefer.
9.) Raw conversion – When you get home and view your images you have just taken that morning, don’t be in a rush to upload them to your favourite website. Take your time to view each image, when you come across an image that stands out, mark it with a star (most software allows this). Upon choosing which image to work on, take care not go over the top, it’s too easy to go over board while moving sliders around, try and listen to the image and cast your mind back to the moment you pressed the shutter, try to recall why you took that image in the first place, is the colour balance, contrast, etc the way you remember the actual scene?
Try using different raw converters, Lightroom, Capture One, as well as your camera’s native raw converter. I often find that different raw converters can offer a better base image to start from.
10.) Practice – Get out more, nothing will improve your landscape photography more than getting out there and putting what you have learned into practice!