Landscape Photography

Basic techniques for taking great landscape photos

Landscape photography has the ability to take your viewers into another place without actually being there. Anybody can pick up a camera and take a photo of an interesting place, but it takes a careful and mindful photographer to take a landscape photo that is truly compelling. Most of the really impressive landscape photos that you will see have a few common elements. They have some type of foreground element, some type of framing element, and they all comply with the rule of thirds in some way…

People often enjoy good landscape photographs because of the almost magical nature of the photos to transport the viewer to the location that was photographed. Although seemingly simple to take, only photographers who are aware of some key techniques will take very good landscape photos.

If you look at a few of the really great landscape photographs, you will be able to identify a certain amount of common elements to them. There is a foreground portion, appropriate composure or framing and they will all draw on the rule of thirds one way or another.

The foreground

When you consider landscapes, they are often vast, breathtaking areas which can be awe-inspiring when you are physically present. To reproduce this effect in photography, you need to present the viewer with a sense of dimension. The best way to do this is to include an element that can be easily distinguishable in the foreground.

This way, you show your viewer the true size of the landscape and they will be able to relate to it better. One main point to remember in landscape photography is that your pictures need to be in focus from foreground to background. The way to do this is to shoot with a narrow aperture. This is also referred to as using a high f/stop.

You need to scout your landscape area first for elements which you can use as foreground elements. Consider the following example: you’re shooting a lovely vineyard located in a mountainous region. One element you can easily include is an individual grape vine. Since the vineyard will be scattered with these vines, you can frame your photo to have one or two of these vines in the foreground. Since there will be so many of them, the viewer will be able to follow the line of vines towards the distance thereby gaining a sense of understanding of the vastness of the vineyard and landscape itself.

Different photographers prefer different elements to depict as their foreground. Some other examples of this are using a car to photograph a long, winding road or a boat on a beach. These elements themselves can be the subject of the photograph as well.

Otherwise there are instances when an old metal railing is used in the foreground to photograph a big city in the background. If executed correctly, mis-matching foreground and background elements can be quite compelling. Think Central Park in New York City with grass and trees in the foreground and big buildings in the background.

Composition

Composing or framing your photograph is another way you can draw attention to where you want your viewer’s eyes to go. It adds more context to your subject. Framing elements can be objects like trees, a window or doorway. Some photographers use the technique of placing the branches of a tree on the upper part of the frame that seem to ‘point’ to the landscape you are photographing. Having framing elements in your photographs to ‘lead’ the viewer’s eyes to your subject or by surrounding your subject is usually a good technique to learn.

When framing your subjects in this manner, make sure you don’t make the mistake of drawing attention to your framing elements by not focusing correctly. Since you’re taking landscape photography, use a high f/stop to gain good focus on both your foreground and background elements. Ideally, you would want your framing elements to be a little less prominent than your subject. One sure way of doing this is to use the light creatively to render the framing elements slightly darker than the subject. Think of an archway which is slightly shadowed which leads to a large garden and castle.

The Rule of Thirds

This often misunderstood and badly used technique is practically essential in landscape photography. Because of the nature of landscape photography being so wide, a certain amount of structure is required. Achieving this structure is easy by applying the rule of thirds. The basic idea of the rule of thirds is that the frame can be divided into 3 horizontal and 3 vertical sections. The ideal locations to place the important points of your composition is where these lines meet. In landscape photography, the rule is invaluable to photographers who need to determine where to place foreground and horizon. It can either be 1/3 sky or 1/3 land.

You can get instant access to more detail at the science of landscape photography.