Landscapes can be amongst the most emotive and beautiful of all photographs if shot well. The problem is that landscape photography is not easy and a bad landscape will just look like a regular snapshot rather than a crafted image. Newcomers to landscape photography will often get frustrated with their results, perhaps to the point of giving up. However, there are some quite common and easily rectified mistakes that are often made. Today we are going to take a look at five of them.
Nothing turns a potential great landscape into a snapshot easier than a crooked horizon. It’s simple to make this mistake, especially when shooting from a tripod. Bending down to the viewfinder at an angle is a chief cause of this issue but the solution is simple and effective. Virtually all modern cameras can display a virtual horizon both on the LCD and often in the viewfinder. This is basically an electronic spirit level that shows the angle of the camera relative to the horizon. It is usually found amongst the display settings of your camera and is an invaluable tool. If for some reason your camera does not have this setting, get yourself a cheap, real photographic spirit level. They are virtually infallible.
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The sky is often an integral part of a great landscape. It defines our composition and provides visual balance to the land or sea in front of us. It's also one of the easiest things to get wrong. The chief mistake is shooting in a cloudless sky or over-exposing the sky to make it lifeless.
Skies can feel lifeless when there is no definition in them. This could be a flat dull overcast sky but equally it can be a clear sky with little or no clouds. When we combine this with an exposure dedicated to the foreground, we often get washed out dull skies.
There are a couple of solutions to this. First is to shoot when the weather is giving some nice definition to the sky. This can be white fluffy clouds in the day, high cirrus clouds at dawn or dusk or dark stormy clouds at any time of day. The second and complimentary solution is to use graduated neutral density filters to hold back the exposure of the sky and add more definition.
Along with a lifeless sky, flat dull lighting can also ruin a potentially good landscape. Typical causes of this are overcast days and shooting in or around the middle of the day. An overcast day acts like a giant soft box, eliminating all shadows. This in turn removes any definition and depth from the scene.
Shooting in the middle of the day has the opposite effect to an overcast day. The strong sunlight creates harsh shadows removing and detail from the shadow areas.
The best times to shoot landscapes are during the blue and golden hours where the light is clean and provides soft detailed shadows. If you cannot shot at these times then your best option is to use a polarising filter for sunny days or shoot with black and white in mind for overcast days.
Lack of Depth
One of the defining elements of a great landscape is the way it leads your eye into and around the image. Its called depth and its often something newcomers miss when shooting. Perhaps more than any other type of photo, a landscape is trying to represent a 3 dimensional scene in a 2 dimensional image.
We can achieve depth in various ways. One of the most common is simply to shoot in great light. The golden hour mentioned above will give you beautifully defined shadows that you can use to lead the eye through the image. Another common technique is to use leading lines as a compositional tool. Here we use natural elements in the image such as a road or a line or rocks to pull the viewer eye through the shot and towards the point of interest.
No Point of Interest
Last but not least is the aforementioned point of interest. A beautiful scene can fool us into believing it will make a great shot. When we look at a scene our eyes have the advantage of being able to look around at all the elements in front and surrounding that scene. When we translate that to an image our viewers lose that ability. They have to look at our two dimensional representation of that scene. For this reason having a point of interest, a focal subject is vital to a good landscape. This might be a small cottage in the distance or a large hay bale in the foreground. Whatever it is, there needs to be something the eye will end up on as it journeys through the shot. That something must be interesting, beautifully lit and hopefully tell the story of the shot.
Shooting landscapes is a wonderful genre of photography. What could be better than standing in beautiful light shooting a stunning scene? Sometimes however the results are not as good as the expectations. By checking for the five issues we have mentioned here, you should be a able to see what is going to work and what is not.