“Any landscape is a condition of the spirit.” — Henri Frederic Amiel
Landscape photography is a popular category among professional and amateur photographers alike. It might be because the beauty of a landscape — its large views, open skies, and gorgeous vistas — tugs at even the coldest of heart strings. The difficulty comes in capturing what is special about seeing a landscape, into a stunning photograph. In our online landscapes gallery we’ve curated a few pictures that were truly successful in capturing the emotional impact, the visual grandeur, and that very special quality of landscape photography. And below, we’ve listed a few tricks of the trade and helpful tips on taking a memorable landscape photograph.
In this wonderful piece by National Geographic photographer, Robert Caputo, he discusses the phenomenon of experiencing a beautiful landscape and the disappointing (and yet all too familiar) result of returning home to develop a flat photograph. So what gives? Caputo writes: “When we look at a landscape, our eyes travel over it and selectively focus on the elements that we find appealing. Our field of vision encompasses a great deal of the scene, but our eyes and brains have the ability to ignore all except the most alluring details. Lenses and sensors or film cannot do this by themselves. They need help.”
Spending time and studying the location you are photographing is the biggest asset you have as a photographer, aside from expertise (and maybe a little gear). Understanding directional focus, where the sun will be rising and setting, and how that affects your landscape will do wonders for the results of your picture. While your eye may settle on the uneven light of a deep canyon without calling out the big difference in light balance, it will be glaring in a photograph. So know your light sources and study your location for the best composition, angles, and times of day.
The Subjects of Landscape Photography
This may seem obvious, but think about what elements you are photographing and focus on those. For example, the personality of a rushing trout stream versus a slow-moving river. The reflections that take place, and the mood it generates in a picture. Whether it is a forest, a plain, or a prairie, think about the mood of the photo — the personality of the landscape — and how to best translate that visually. Landscape photography “subjects” generate points of interest and make photos interesting and with a clear focus.
Points of Interest
If a river represents an easy or obvious point of interest, a plain or prairie will be more difficult because the wide open space in the picture lacks a singular point to focus on, or work a composition around. In forests, think about a trail winding through a thicket, an opening in the tree canopy, or a mangled or dead stump and if you can generate interest there. Deserts, like prairies can be difficult, but they are moody environments: sometimes tranquil, other times harsh. Think about incorporating the sun, heat, or colors that enhance what people associate about a desert and lean into that notion. Similarly, whether you are photographing a coast line, a mountain peak, or the trailhead in your small town, think about what elements embody the character of the landscape and try to photograph those. Caputo’s article goes into great detail on this idea, but for the everyday photographer, think about points of interest and personality and send the viewer’s (and your own) focus there.
The techniques, gear, and technical tricks of photography are seemingly endless, so rather than list them all here, we’ve found this wonderful article which has 85 technical tricks regarding landscape photography. Lenses, light, tripods, shooting modes, camera settings: everything you need to know about how to photograph a landscape from the technical side is here.