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As a nature photographer, your goal is to capture the beauty through the camera lens and have it convey the beauty you see with your naked eye. Easier said than done. Most people look through their lens, snap a picture, and are disappointed with what they see on the display. It takes the special eye of a nature photographer to match image with reality.
But landscape photography doesn’t limit you to trees, butterflies, and mountain tops. It often depicts nature in its unsullied state, include industrial settings, urban and rural areas, and man-made features.
And while each photographer has his own reason or story-telling approach, it all boils down to sharing your personal experience and observation of the great outdoors.
As you’ve likely figured out, it’s not as simple as whipping out a camera and pressing a button. If it were, everyone’s photos would be stellar. But before we get into all that, you need to define all that is landscape photography.
What Is Landscape Photography?
Landscape photography requires different camera settings than you would normally use in portrait, street, and sports photography. After all, it often deals with the vast and countless details, and so you’ll have to capture as many details as possible at a high resolution.
Plus, landscape photographers have to deal with the intermittent weather condition, dynamic lighting, and natural elements that can add interest and drama to their photos, although they have to know how to rein in these factors so they won’t work against them. After all, without arming yourself with the fundamentals, you’ll be plagued by countless problems such as a glare, under-exposure, over-exposure, haze, and color aberration.
To succeed in landscape photography, or any niche photography for that matter, you have to have a strong foundation of critical knowledge. That means you should learn the basic camera settings and how each of them impact one another.
While it’s true that landscape photography involves investing in high-quality gears and accessories, you don’t always have to pick the most expensive brands. In fact, a good number of mid-range products can replicate the quality some of the priciest brands on the market.
Also remember that even the best cameras, gears, and accessories cannot compensate for the lack of understanding of camera settings and compositions, which are the backbone of any stunning photo. To that end, before we get to any equipment at all, you’ll have to get familiar with some basics. Starting with some tips for nature photos, in particular.
Tips to Prevent Poor Quality Nature Photos
It might seem simple to point, shoot, and take a beautiful nature photo, but as we said, it’s not that simple. These tips can help you take beautiful nature photographs without sacrificing your photography style.
Do focus on the horizon
If it’s crooked, the entire photo looks strange. Be sure your horizon shots are lined up. In fact, try getting a tripod for these. That’s a great way to ensure your photos are even. A crooked horizon looks unnatural and slightly off-balance, which can make people focus only on that rather than on the photograph itself.
Leaving people feeling good about a photo is what makes a great photo. Leaving them feeling as if something is not quite right isn’t the impression you want them walking away with.
Don’t stand in one place
Move around when you take nature photos. You can see where you’re standing what something looks like, but do you know how much more spectacular something can look in a photo from a different angle?
Try shooting up, down, or from the side. Get on top of something, lie down on the ground, or kneel until you find that sweet spot. It might be that the sweet spot is right where you’re standing, but it might be that there’s another area that’s just a bit more interesting.
Do find a focal point
It’s not always easy to do this when you’re photographing the sky or the clouds, but it’s almost always obvious when a photographer doesn’t have a focal point in a picture. Try finding a cloud, a point on the horizon, or some small area to focus on so that the rest of your photo looks like it’s in tune. You don’t need to center your focal point, but you do need one, so your photos appear more comprehensive and in-line.
Don’t forget to find dimension
Your photos must have a depth to appear artistic. If you don’t have something in the foreground, the mid-ground, and the background, you’re risking your shot.
In short, there is no depth, which can cause the photo to appear flat and unwelcoming. A beautiful shot requires landscape composition, or it’s all wrong. Be sure you’re always in a place where you can apply this rule as you see fit.
Do use your eye
You might not be a professional photographer, but you do have the eye to spot a beautiful photo based on the surrounding scenery. It might be a moment when you realize the light isn’t perfect for a traditionally beautiful shot, but it’s just perfect for a shot that’s a bit softer and more romantic.
You might also find a shot that’s harsh and bold is just what you were looking for to bring about certain feelings of awareness and interest to a shot.
Don’t worry so much about your equipment
You don’t need the latest, the greatest, or the most expensive camera, lenses, or other accessories to take the most beautiful photos — you need only have the right shot. And sometimes the right shot comes right from your phone, but sometimes it comes from having the right equipment on hand.
Whatever you’re focusing on, don’t always make it about having the right equipment. Make it about having the right eye for a good photo. Use your lighting, your angles, and your gut instinct to feel out a photo and make the most of it.
Do know you can take photos any time of day
It’s easy to assume that the “golden hour” which are the sunrise or sunset photos, make the most beautiful nature photos, but that’s a general misconception. There are nature photographs taken all hours of the day and night, and that timing and lighting are just perfect if it suits your needs.
You can use filters and different exposures to be sure you’re getting what you want, and to eliminate any imperfections in your photos if they appear.
Don’t forget the background
We talked a little about remembering to focus on a focal point in your nature photos, but don’t forget to focus on the background as well. That’s important because it means you get to keep it uncluttered and free of elements that distract from the main point of the photo.
That’s most common when your lighting causes the backlight to make background objects appear to run together. You want to be careful you’re not making this mistake when shooting.
Great Equipment to Use for Landscape Photos
While it’s true that your eye is what makes the shot personal, good equipment doesn’t hurt. Here are some options you might want to consider.
While you may also use a full-frame mirrorless camera for your landscape photography, DSLR models have one notable advantage: their more rugged and weatherproof design makes them ideal for outdoor settings. That’s especially true for DSLRs made of composite magnesium as opposed to their plastic-bodied versions.
And since you can’t predict the weather, when investing in equipment, make sure it’s high quality. You want your equipment to last in any environment you want to shoot. So, when buying a DSLR, be sure to also buy proper protection for your equipment.
Contrary to popular belief, the priciest lenses don’t necessarily mean the best quality. In fact, some mid-range products, even a few cheap brands, can deliver impressive results and so instead of the price tag focus on finding the lens that offers maximum sharpness.
A wide-angle lens is the staple accessory of any landscape photographer because their short focal length allows you to fit more of the scenery into your photograph. Most landscape images we see today have been created with focal lengths in the 16 to 35mm range.
While primes, which come in a set, can provide a slightly sharper image, most landscape photographers still prefer a wide lens because of their convenience. However, a few would still have a strong preference for primes, i.e., fixed focal length, because of two main reasons: they force the user to work around and see the composition with his own eyes, and they make the image appear more personal.
But if you want to bring your scenery to the next level, invest in a good telephoto zoom, which is the complete opposite of a wide-angle lens. In a nutshell, it helps you isolate small parts of a scene.
Because speed is often not an issue for landscape photography, 70 to 200mm f/4 models would suffice. Another bonus: They’re cheaper and lighter than 70 to 200mm f/2.8 models.
And remember — start small — you don’t need everything at once.
Filters have a wide range of uses, which can take your photos to the next level. For landscape photography, you may want to invest in these accessories: Polarized filters cut out glare and reflections, GND filters reduce the stark contrast between the landscape and sky, and ND filters reduce shutter speeds for long exposure shots.
When looking for a tripod, it should meet these three non-negotiable criteria: solid, sturdy, and lightweight.
Of course, other things you have to look for in a tripod should include versatility (it should allow you to shoot both portrait and landscape), stability (without its center column extended or, better yet, without it), and convenience (it should be eye level to save your back from bending all day long to see through your camera).
This accessory is particularly helpful when shooting longer landscape exposures. When you touch your camera, it causes minute vibrations that may blur your images. While your camera’s self-timer mode can help solve this problem, this inevitably prevents you from timing your shots.
To eliminate vibrations without relinquishing your control over when the shutter fires, use a cable release, which is also referred to as a shutter remote.
Ball head and L-bracket
When choosing a head, make sure that it’s heavier than your camera and lens to minimize vibrations from the wind. For additional stability, invest in a high-quality L-bracket, which allows you to shoot vertically and horizontally with ease.
While you might be tempted to skimp on your tripod, ball head, and L-bracket, remember that investing in high-quality products will help you save money in the long run because they can often last more than a decade.
Other important accessories for landscape photography
Aside from your kit, make sure that you also invest in an ergonomically designed backpack (your back will thank you for it), rugged apparel to help you work in harsh environments, and a good pair of shoes.
You may also want to carry an extra media card and an extra battery for your camera and other devices.
Amateur vs. Pro
You might be just starting out, but you want to hit the ground running. So, think like a pro.
First consider location. A great location is one of the keys to great landscape photography. In fact, some professional photographers are not comfortable sharing their list of locations because they view this as “sensitive data.”
Another thing that separates professionals from newbies is their good grasp of composition, which is the placement or arrangement of visual elements, which we touched on above.
Here’s more that separates the best from the rest:
- JPEG vs. raw: JPEG’s file size is about five times smaller than raw, which requires a special software to get the most out of your raw images.
- Your camera’s ISO, shutter, and aperture are the fundamental camera settings, which cannot replace auto modes.
- Shutter speed is the length of time a camera shutter opens, allowing the light to enter its sensor. Slow shutter speeds allow more light to enter, making them ideal for the low-light environment, while fast shutter speeds freeze motion.
- In landscape photography, a good rule of thumb is to use a slow shutter speed unless you want to freeze the motion of an animal or running water.
- On the other hand, fast shutter speeds are used when there is motion, or you’re in motion (on a moving boat or in a car).
- Aperture (it appears like a hole within a lens), meanwhile, is used to control the depth of field and so if it is narrowed the depth of field becomes large, and when widened the depth of field becomes small.
- And lastly, ISO is used to brighten an image if you cannot use a wider aperture or a longer shutter speed. A lower number represents a darker photo, while a higher number means a brighter image.
- Take note that one of the challenges in landscape photography is the sky’s tendency to look overexposed or its hazy appearance, which Adobe Lightroom can correct.
- These are some “flaws” that post-processing apps can address: color aberrations, lens flare, and oversaturation.
Bringing Beauty to Film
Landscape or nature photography involves incessant learning, practice, and knowledge to get what you need from the shot. What you’re doing when you shoot nature scenes is personal, and you must know your personal goal before you begin shooting.
Remember, your eye is the absolute most important aspect of any shot. Three photographers can shoot the same nature scene standing side by side with one another at the exact same time, and all three of them will present photos that are completely different and absolutely unique.
It depends on what you see, what vision you have, and what you want to get out of your photo. You can use all the tips and tricks you know about nature photography, but none will work if you don’t know what result you want from the photo and the reaction you’re hoping to achieve.
So keep growing, keep learning, and keep practicing those shots. Soon enough you’ll get to where you want to be.
Do you have any photography tips to share? What is your favorite landscape or nature element to shoot? Let us know in the comments!