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How to Take Better Landscape Photos

Bob Books
6th June 2016

Even if landscapes aren’t your main interest as a photographer, knowing how to photograph them is a useful skill to have, whether you’re on holiday and want to capture a beautiful panorama or need an eye-catching backdrop for an upcoming photo shoot.

As you may have already guessed, there’s a lot more to landscape photography than simply aiming your camera at the scene in front of you and releasing the shutter, so we asked Nanette Wong a professional photographer who specialises in food, interior and landscape photography to share some advice on how to take better landscape photos.

Copyright: Images in this article have been provided by Nanette Wong - see more of Nanette's work by visiting her website: www.nanettewong.com 

 

Remember the basics

There are a few basic things to keep in mind when photographing landscapes, and once you start paying attention to them, your photos will be much improved.

  • Choose a strong focal point

“Make sure you have a strong focal point,” says Wong. “Oftentimes people just snap pictures of nature, but without a focal point, it can feel as if something is missing.”  

So whether it's the peak of a mountain or a small cabin, be sure to choose a focal point to highlight by placing it in an aesthetically pleasing spot. If you're not sure where to place your focal point, Wong suggests using the Rule of Thirds.

  • Position the horizon thoughtfully  

“Make sure horizons are straight, and steer away from shots that are half sky, half land,” Wong says. She points out that unless you’re splitting the photograph 50/50 for some specific reason, it’s best to try to follow the rule of thirds.

  • Think of the foreground

New landscape photographers frequently focus on the background and ignore the foreground, but adding a foreground such as rocks, trees or flowers will add depth to your photo, and can also make it more interesting.

“A lot of photos focus on dramatic, distant focal points,” says Wong. “But don't forget the foreground to tell the whole story of where you are.”

  • Consider adding people for scale

You don’t have to add people to every landscape photo you take, but sometimes, adding people or animals can add a sense of scale and help you tell a story with your photographs.

“While landscapes on their own are stunning, adding people can create dramatic effects through scale and also add life to the image,” says Wong.

 

Choose the right time of day

Although there’s no such thing as ‘bad’ light, the time of day you choose to shoot in will affect the way your photos look, and in the case of landscape photography, the softer light present early in the morning or late afternoon is often more flattering.

Whenever I travel or plan to shoot a landscape, I aim for sunrise and sunset,” says Wong. “I try to wake up early to plan a sunrise shoot when Golden Hour is in full swing and the same goes for sunsets. During these times of day the light is perfectly diffused and the colours are magical.”

She notes that high noon and early afternoon are not the greatest for shooting landscapes, as they often result in harsh shadows and blown out highlights which need a lot of editing. Another thing you should pay attention to is the weather.   

“A super sunny day doesn't always mean ideal shooting conditions,” Wong explains. “Don't be discouraged by cloudy skies as clouds can often add drama and may provide better lighting for your landscape shots.”

 

Carry the necessary equipment

When photographing landscapes, especially in low light, having a few important pieces of equipment can help you get sharp, well-lit photographs. Wong suggests starting with the following:

  • Tripod

A tripod is crucial to avoid blurry photos when shooting in low light conditions. It's also important if you want to achieve a certain look, such as making moving elements like water appear blurred and smooth. You can also shoot in the evening with a tripod and catch light trails.

  • Wide angle lens

A wide angle lens is crucial for landscapes, so you can capture the scene in all its glory. This is especially helpful if you are limited in where you can shoot, and would like to capture the whole scene. Typical lenses can only get part of it.

  • Zoom lens

A zoom lens is also important to get details that are far away. For certain sights, you can only view a scene from a certain viewpoint, and may need a zoom lens to get a closer look

  • Polarizing filter

A polarizing filter is helpful for those really sunny days when you don't want to blow out your highlights. It balances the light and reduces glare from reflective surfaces.

 

Get creative

Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to get a bit creative and play with different angles and effects that will make your photos more interesting.

“Landscape photography often involves going outside your comfort zone to hike a steep mountain, or get dirty in the water,” Wong says. “Be safe, but don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.”

“I see a lot of straight-on, eye level shots, which can get pretty boring, so think about what really stands out in the scene and then do your best to highlight specific details of that scene, whether it’s the snow capped mountain peaks or how small the rustic cabin looks compared to the looming canyons.”

To find a more interesting perspective, she suggests figuring out what features you'd like to highlight and then shooting from a lot of different angles and distances to bring it out in a unique way.

One thing you may want to avoid, though, is using extreme HDR filters. “I see a lot of people slapping on an HDR filter or other effects on their landscape photos, but I would advise against it,” says Wong. “It doesn't let the beauty of nature shine through.”