You don’t need to be a photographer to appreciate a great landscape. For those of us who live in the United States, we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the most diverse scenery the planet has to offer. Whether it’s the sea stacks and lighthouses along our coasts or the snow-covered mountains in between, America is an incredible place for anyone to experiment with landscape photography. Here are 5 quick tips for creating better landscape photos during your next photography trip.
TIP #1: INCLUDE A FOREGROUND
LOCATION: ABIQUA FALLS, OREGON
One of the most common mistakes that landscape photographers make is falling in love with their focal point. A single element in the frame can appear so beautiful that all of the things we learned about composition seemingly vanish from our minds. The results is flat image that fails to pull you into the scene.
By including a foreground, we add a significant amount of depth to the image. In what can seem like a three-dimensional quality, foregrounds give the viewer a feeling of truly being there, creating more of an emotional response.
While the focal point in this particular photo is the waterfall, the moss-covered rocks were used to create depth. The green color helps to create a “C” shape, helping to lead the viewers eyes around the frame.
TIP #2: PRACTICE PATIENCE
LOCATION: EDISTO BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA
Ansel Adams, considered the father of landscape photography in the United States, would often wait for days to get the right cloud cover in his photographs. In many cases, the clouds in his work could actually be considered a second focal point.
While not every landscape photograph will include clouds, patience is critical. Waiting for the right clouds, the right light, the right waves or even the right wind can make or break your image.
To create this image of Edisto Beach, a 6-second shutter speed was used to capture the retreating waves that lead the viewer’s eye directly to the focal point. A passing storm provided some dramatic cloud cover which helps to add balance to the composition.
TIP #3: PACK YOUR TRIPOD
LOCATION: HECETA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE, CALIFORNIA
The difference between a snapshot and a great photograph of a scene is often based on the equipment (don’t freak out just yet). And it has almost nothing to do with the camera.
While they are perhaps the most cumbersome tool in a photographer’s arsenal, a tripod comes with two key advantages. First, they allow photographers to maximize depth of field through the use of smaller apertures. Second, slow shutter speeds become an option. So slow, in fact, that they can create a moody feel by increasing the motion blur of any water within the scene.
In this image of the Heceta Head Lighthouse along the California Coast, a 5-second exposure was used to ensure that the waves lacked detail, producing a moody color to the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to the volunteers who oversee this landmark, the fresnel lens inside the lighthouse is fully operational, adding life to the focal point of the image. The rotation of the lens was calculated to ensure timing of the exposure would capture the light coming from the lighthouse.
TIP #4: FIND THE THINGS THAT EVERYONE OVERLOOKS
LOCATION: OPAL CREEK HIKE, OREGON
Oregon, one of the most beautiful places in the world, has a lot to offer when it comes to landscape photography. From the majesty Mount Hood to the dramatic seascapes along the Pacific Coast, there is simply no shortage of “grandscapes” within its borders. But when you look a little closer, the photo ops of this state become limitless.
Like so many places in the United States, getting tunnel vision on mountains and oceans will severely limit your potential. One could easily argue that the best landscape photography comes from subjects that almost everyone overlooks.
While hiking the Opal Creek Trail, we came upon a group of old cars that had been abandoned. Sitting relatively untouched for several decades, Mother Nature was given ample time to do her thing, reducing each of them to their dilapidated state. The oxidation process had claimed so much of the metal that the original color of the vehicles was virtually unrecognizable. Moss had found a home wherever it could. These cars neglected and forgotten, but perfect subjects in so many ways.
TIP #5: ADD SCALE
LOCATION: WATERFALL, SOUTHERN ICELAND
Okay, so this footage wasn’t shot in the United States but it’s a good example of using scale to improve photography. Plus, you’ll rarely find me on the front end of a camera. Just ask my wife!
Landscapes can be big. But if nothing in the frame is of recognizable size, the image can lose most of its impact. A great way to ensure that the power of your image isn’t lost is by including an element of predictable size.
One of the most common ways to do this is simply including a human within the frame. This adds a sense of scale to the image while sending a subconscious message to the viewer that people can indeed visit the location. It can even add an aspirational sense to the photo.
Humans don’t need to be present within the frame to add scale. Rocks, trees and even animals will work. As long as the audience can easily identify the approximate size of the element, they serve the purpose.