From sunrises, sunsets, desert ranges, majestic mountains to fields of flowers, creating beautiful landscape images can be easy at times, and sometimes difficult. There's a lot to think about when composing beautiful images. Sure, we have to determine our ISO, depth of field and exposure compensation. We also need our tripod, cable release and possibly even a filter or two. Then, we need to get our composition just right. A lot of sky? A hint of sky? Or, no sky at all?
Finding and framing up our images is a lot of work creatively and technically. However, there are a few in-camera tools that, with a touch of a few buttons and inspection, will give us more “Yes” versus “Had I only made an adjustment” moments when we get back home.
In landscape photography, these 4 in-camera tools include 1. Back button focus, 2. Bracketing, 3. Establishing composition using the combination of the viewfinder and live screen, and 4. Ensuring that the camera is level horizontally and also vertically. The Frisco Pier in Buxton, North Carolina pictured above was taken using all four of the tools highlighted below.
1. Back Button Focus
To auto focus on a subject and take a photograph, the shutter is pressed halfway until focus is set and then the shutter button is pressed. With back button focus, it's simply assigning another button (Nikon: AF-L or Canon: AF-ON as examples) as the autofocus button.
Back button focus is highly recommended for wildlife photography and moving subjects. Just press and hold the assigned button on the moving subject. Simultaneously press the shutter button when you're ready ready to shoot. As the camera continuously auto focused on and followed the movement, the subject should be in focus.
Back button focus also works great when working with landscapes. Looking at the live screen, use the back button focus to establish your focus point(s). Next, release the button since your subject isn't moving. Then, press the remote trigger (remote cable release). This helps produce clearer, sharp images, particularly in low light since there was no need to touch the camera.
The bracketing feature takes multiple shots of the same subject using different exposures. Most DSLR’s today have an automatic bracketing feature (bkt button). Bracketing allows the photographer to take 3 consecutive images using the same settings while automatically adjusting the exposure settings with each press of the shutter. This provides multiple images to choose from so you can select the one that has the desired look and feel.
In post processing, bracketed images can be blended or used in HDR photography as well.
Each camera has its own way of turning bracketing on and off. Nikon as an example has a ‘bkt’ button that is pressed and then the command dial is rotated to turn on and off. Refer to the buttons on your camera, the manual or the camera’s menu system. Canon refers to “AEB” auto exposure bracketing.
3. Combination Use of the Viewfinder and Live Screen
With landscape photography, the view is large and versatile. It may be mountain ranges with lakes, deserts or fields of flowers as far as the eye can see. By taking a look at the image through the viewfinder, it provides a more distraction-free view for looking at composition. After composition has been determined, switch to live view to finalize horizontal (and vertical) alignment, settings and focus point(s).
4. Virtual Horizon Gage
In order to determine if your camera is level, both the viewfinder and the live screen have grid lines to use as a guide. When in live view mode, by pressing the INFO button twice (Nikon) a gage will appear.
The horizontal indicator is represented by the horizontal lines that are right and left of the center bar. Tilting the camera right and left using the gage lines will help in getting the camera aligned. The color of the bar changes when level.
The center bar indicates the vertical alignment. Tilting the camera forward or a bit back will move the vertical alignment. The color of the center bar also changes when level. Note: Vertical alignment is important when photographing architecture and structures using extra wide angle lenses. If not vertically aligned, buildings, structures may appear distorted. Some distortion can be corrected in post processing.
Photo by Jeff Gamble
Landscape photography takes time, mental planning and patience. Some images can be captured the first visit. Other images, to get your desired shot, could take many trips back to the same place. It all starts at the beginning with a plan of where you want to go, a growing understanding of your camera's capabilities and refining your photographic eye.