Thursday, March 26, 2009

how to take better landscape photographs

Mendocino, California

Some of you might be thinking "seriously, Melissa? Can't everyone take a picture of a pretty view? Can we move on to something more difficult, please?" Well, yes, most of us can pick up a camera and take a picture of a lovely vista, but is it interesting? Admit it, we've all seen our fair share of travel photos that are just so-so. I think it's actually more difficult to take a typical landscape photograph and make it not-so-typical. I know I personally struggle with this - many of my landscape photographs are just kind of blah (to me, anyway). I do like this photo of Mendocino but only because of the mistakes I made - the foreground is underexposed and there is lens flare in the upper left corner - but these make the photograph more interesting. (As an aside I actually like when lens flare shows up in my photographs, hence the name of this blog. But I digress...) I would like to deliberately take better landscape photographs, especially during my next trip to Kauai (which is hopefully sooner rather than later. We'll see...)

So here are some basic tips for better landscape photos:

  1. find the light - this seems to be a consistent theme here at Lens Flare...The right light can bring about an amazing landscape photo. Advice on the Internet is consistent - the 30 minutes before and after a sunrise and/or sunset are the best light for landscape photos.
  2. Choose different vantage points - oftentimes our landscape photos are from the same vantage point that anyone and everyone else has. Change it up - kneel down, walk around. See if there's another view that not everyone's seeing.
  3. Creative compositions - remember the rule of thirds? Vary the horizon line in your photograph by placing it in the top third or bottom third. Perhaps look for interesting patterns or colors that you can focus on in your photo.
  4. Pay attention to detail - make sure you're not photographing something you would rather not be in the picture - a trash can (which happened to me in Spain...), a power line, a person running into the photo, etc.
These tips apply to any photographer using any camera, but for those of you using SLRs:
  1. Smaller aperture - the smaller the aperture the greater the depth of field. Try using f16 or f22 so your image is as sharp as possible. (Also try lower ISO settings, like 100 or 200).
  2. Use a tripod - using such a small aperture may result in a very slow shutter speed where a handheld image won't be possible (meaning it will come out blurry).
  3. Try a filter - a filter such as a polarizer creates saturated color and enhances skies. (In fact, I should do an entire lesson on filters...) I know many of you will edit your photos after the fact, but a filter allows you to see the possibilities of the landscape as you're shooting it.
  4. Wide angle lens - I would love one of these lenses for the next time I'm in Kauai. Click here for a brief primer on wide angle lenses.
La Alpujarra, Spain

Here is a different landscape photograph taken on my trip to Spain a few years back. I probably have about 8-10 shots of this village, all landscape (i.e. horizontal). This one is my favorite, though. I thought the composition turned out nicely, with the repetition of the diagonal lines in the photo (see the clouds, the mountains, and the village). The fact that the image is technically "portrait" makes it more interesting (to me).

Have a landscape photo you'd like to share? Email me (see above) or leave me a comment.