Landscape Photography - Paul Foley FRPS
The landscape is a subject that has attracted and inspired photographers ever since the onset of photography.
Different people will define landscape photography in different ways: wilderness areas to cultivated farmland, high mountains to flat plains, lush forests to arid deserts and sand dunes, coastal areas to industrial locations, wide panoramas to intimate details, far away beauty spots to local parklands, the spectacular to the familiar. These are all subjects of landscape photography and there is no single definition. The important thing is that it offers the photographer, the opportunity to capture our own personal response to a very wide range of environments.
Most of us have some form of landscape relatively close to where we live. We might not be lucky enough to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, but most of us will have a park, an area of common land, or a canal close by and this is all that we need to work with.
The most successful landscape images are usually those that incorporate more than merely a record of a place or scene. They also capture a sense of what it actually felt like to be there at the time, emphasising the atmosphere of the place and the mood of the moment. The wonderful variables of light, weather, time of day and time of year are constantly influencing how a place looks and feels. These conditions are forever changing, not just from season to season or day to day, but often minute by minute, and can turn the most ordinary of places into the most extraordinary. The natural world is a very transient place and photography helps us to become increasingly more sensitive to these on-going changes.
In landscape photography, it is important for us to constantly develop our ability to see and feel the natural world around us, so that we can become increasingly more sensitive to the possibilities that surround us. This is the essence of landscape photography.
One of the best known and most influential landscape photographers, Ansel Adams, is quoted as saying ‘Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer, and often the supreme disappointment’. Here is a list of tips that will hopefully help you to increase the number of pictures that you take which will capture both what you saw and what you felt at the time you were there.
- Our own eyes and legs are the most important pieces of equipment available to the landscape photographer. It is very possible to engage with the landscape with modest photographic equipment. Vision and passion come first and equipment and technical knowledge second.
- Slow down as a photographer. The longer you stay in a place the more you will discover there. You need to allow the landscape to come to you rather than chasing after i
- Take time over composing your pictures. What you choose to include and exclude in your pictures is one of the main things that you have under your control
- Get to know your camera controls so that you can operate them instinctively. This will enable you to respond immediately when you do need to capture those fleeting moments of magic.
- Use a tripod. It not only ensures that the camera remains steady but it also slows you down and makes you a more considered photographer and helps you to compose your image with more care and attention to detail. Use a tripod in combination with a cable releas
LIGHTING AND WEATHER CONDITIONS
- Consider most forms of natural light as suitable for landscape photography. Adapt your choice of subject matter to suit the kind of lighting that you have available to work with
- Photograph during the morning or evening when the lower angle of the light source, the sun, emphasises texture and form and depth. Avoid the middle of the day, if you can, when the sun is overhead and at its most harsh and uninteresting
- Use the soft and even lighting of a cloudy or overcast day for capturing the smaller details within the landscape
- Go out into the landscape when the weather is cold, foggy, stormy or showery. These kinds of conditions often provide the most evocative and exciting possibilities. It may only be for a fleeting moment, but that could be all that you need
- Be prepared to wait for the right light for your photograph or return on another day when the conditions are more suitable. Being in the right place at the right time is usually the result of research, patience and persistence; only occasionally is it down to good luck.
- Develop a good knowledge of the area that you are photographing. Returning to the same location(s) over and over again allows you to tap beneath the surface of the place, to get to know it in detail, to develop a relationship with it and to see it in all its moods.
- Discover locations close to home as this gives you the best opportunity to return there. (The distance you travel to reach your location does not determine the success of a landscape photograph.
- Keep an open mind and look out for what is there rather than what you think you should find there, or what you have seen somebody else photograph ther
- Look out for the smaller details such as trees, leaves, sand patterns, rocks and stones, water and ice. They are all elements of the landscape that offer wonderful potential.
- Select a part of the whole scene and try and emphasise a dominant feature, e.g. a tree, a rock, a barn, or something similar
- Reduce or eliminate the sky from your composition unless it is adding value to the image
- However, emphasise the sky if it is dramatic and interesting
- Include a focal point within the picture when you can - it may only need to be a small element within the overall composition.
- Keep the composition simple. Less is often more – try and leave out elements that are not essential
- Look out for interesting foreground interest. Get in close and use it boldly as it helps to give a sense of depth to your images
- Use the camera in the vertical format as well as the horizontal format. This works particularly well when including some strong foreground interest
- Look at the world through the eyes of a giraffe or a corgi dog. In other words, get up high and look down on the world or get down low and look up at the world. Most landscape images are taken approximately 5’ above the ground so try and do something different
- Look around the edges of your viewfinder/screen and try and eliminate any distracting elements from the edges
- Allow plenty of space in your compositions – do not crop too tightly.
- Study the landscape photographs of others (books and websites) and try and decide why the images work for you, or do not work for you. Take the same approach when reviewing your own results.
Find a dominant feature within the landscape that particularly appeals to you. This might be a beautiful scene, a solitary tree within the landscape, a group of trees, some fallen leaves, rocks on a beach, a waterfall or river, or something similar. See how many different images you can take of the same subject matter. Use different lenses, try varying the angles, the working distances and heights, and use different apertures to increase or reduce the amount of your composition that is in focus.
This project should assist you in discovering new and different ways of seeing the same subject and will help you to see beyond the obvious.
Find a local location that you can easily return to and become familiar with it. Give yourself a specific period of time (3, 6 or 12 months) to return to the location on a regular basis. See how many different images you can capture at this location.
Consider the following:
§ Visiting at different times of the day – before sunrise, sunrise, middle of the day, sunset and after sunset.
§ Using different lighting conditions – frontal, side and back lighting, and the soft lighting of an overcast day.
§ Visiting under different weather conditions – when it is sunny, stormy, misty, wet, frosty and even raining.
§ Using different lenses (if you have them).
§ Getting down low to take some of your images.
§ Looking for interesting foreground interest and, with a wide-angle lens, emphasising this interest and making it the main element of your composition.
§ Using differential focus so that the foreground interest is sharp and the background is out of focus and vice versa.
§ Looking for dominant features and emphasising them in the composition.
§ Looking down towards the ground and find some close-up subjects – grasses, leaves, rocks, lichens and similar details. An overcast or wet day is good for this kind of subject matter.
This project will show you how a location is constantly changing, sometimes dramatically and sometimes subtly, as a result of light, weather and time. It will also highlight that the longer you dwell in a place and re-visit it the more you will discover there.
Find a lone tree (or another dominant feature) within the landscape. Repeat the same composition but shooting it under different conditions. When shooting into the light remember to use a lens hood and give extra protection to the lens with your hand. Consider the following:
§ Take the composition at different times of the day, at regular intervals, between sunrise and sunset, e.g. every hour or every two hours.
§ Take the same composition to show it under spring, summer, autumn and winter conditions.
§ Take the same composition with a variety of different skies behind it.
This project will emphasise how the same composition will be influenced by the time of day, the time of year and the weather conditions.
Choose a close-up subject within the landscape e.g. leaves, rocks and stones, tree bark, lichens. Build up a collection of images on your chosen theme. You may need a lens that focuses to half-life size, close-up filters or extension tubes, to allow you to get close enough to your subject, depending on what you have chosen.
Working on a specific theme and building up a collection of images on this subject matter can add to your sense of direction and purpose as a photographer.
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITES
Studying the work of other landscape photographers is an excellent way of inspiring you and giving you ideas for your own photography, and many images are now available to us on the Internet
As well as the landscape images to be found on this RPS website, here are the websites of a few of my favourite landscape photographers. I hope you will enjoy browsing through them.