When I was a student at the Maryland Institute, College of Art I attended a class on color and my first assignment was landscape photography. I wasn’t then nor am I now a serious landscape photographer but as a serious student developed a series of guiding principles on the “what” and “how” for photographing landscapes that I still follow today. These four principles are not cast in concrete and are presented here only as guidelines for your own explorations. You can use’em or lose’em, they are:
1. Photograph locally
While it may be a gross oversimplification to say that anybody can make a great photograph in Monument Valley the truth is that that the art of landscape photography often seems to get confused with the real estate business because of it’s emphasis on location, location, location. When I completed that Maryland Institute assignment oh-so-long ago, it’s subtext was being able to photograph landscapes “that I could walk to from my house.” Since I lived in Baltimore City, the teacher and my fellow students asked to see my slides again after I announced the subtitle. That’s just the kind of affect you want to have on whoever your own audience may be-”can I see it again?”
Tip: Each weekday and some weekends-no matter the weather-I take a three-mile walk and usually take along a camera because I never what I might want to photograph. Using these images I produced a presentation called “Right in Your Own Backyard” showing many of the photographs made on these
walks and today’s audiences, as they did back then, sometimes ask to see them again.
2. Use a wide angle lens
There is no “magic bullet” or perfect lens for photographing landscapes but I find that wide-angle lenses produces a dynamic perspective especially in those situations where you can’t back up enough up to capture those wide vistas.
Angle of view describes the angular extent of a given scene that can imaged by a lens and is often interchangeably used with the more general term of field-of-view. So-called “normal” lenses generally cover an angle of view of between 50 and 25 degrees. A wide-angle lens’ focal length is shorter than a
normal lens and its field of view typically covers between 100 and 60 degrees. Super wide-angle lenses can cover up to 180 degrees. I like using the Carl Zeiss 21mm Biogon T* f/2.8 manual focus lens for landscape
photography because it that along with extremely sharp image detail and low distortion it provides a wider angle of view (90 degrees) than a 28mm lens. (It’s available in several different digital SLR mounts.)
Tip: Be sure to use a lens hood! (See Podcast #46) Capturing large chunks of sky in your photographs increases the chance of flare caused by the front lens element being struck directly with light from the sun that can create the traditional flare artifacts on film but can also reduce contrast and affect apparent sharpness. Get a lens hood for all your lenses; it’s cheap insurance and will protect the front element of the lens from being damaged too.
3. Create maximum depth-of-field
When focusing a lens, it focuses on a specific subject at a specific place and all subjects at that same distance are critically sharp. Objects that are not at the same distance are theoretically not as sharp but there is a range of acceptable sharpness that is referred to as depth-of-field. Increasing the depth of field increases the overall level of apparent sharpness in an image. Depth of field varies depending on camera type, aperture, and focusing distance and my personal rule for landscapes was to always use the smallest smallest possible aperture to produce the great amount of depth-of-field.
Tip: Depending on the ISO chosen you may have to use a tripod to steady your camera because of the slow shutter speeds produced by small apertures. Working with a tripod enforces a slower more deliberate approach to composing the images, so a side benefit is that the composition of your image may be a little stronger as a result.
4. Saturate the colors
In the old film days it was easy. Just load your camera with Fuji Velvia. These days SLRs such as Canon’s offer Picture Styles (other brands have similar features with different names) that punch up the contrast and increase saturation on JPEG files. An easy way to increase the saturation of your image after it’s been digitized is by using Adobe Photoshop’s Saturation command that is found in the captured Adjustments > Hue/Saturation menu tree. Even slight increases in saturation will produce dramatic results. RAW shooters can use the Saturation slider found in Adobe Camera RAW.
This post sponsored by X-Rite Color and the ColorChecker Passport