Add Impact To Your​​​​​​​ Language
Digital Photographer|Issue 205

Discover how to improve your scenic shots with Mark Bauer’s expert guide to perfecting your photos.

Mark Bauer

Landscape photography tends to look far easier than it is – and we can often return from a shoot in a stunning location somewhat disappointed with what we actually managed to capture. Dedicated landscape photographers know that they must constantly revisit a scene, sometimes several times over a number of years, in order to get the very best shot possible of that particular location. Over the next few pages, you will discover the techniques that Mark Bauer uses to ensure he gets the very best from a location.

Work with light

Light is the raw material of photography, which shapes and defines the landscape

As a landscape photographer, you need an understanding of the nuances of different lighting conditions and how they can affect your chosen subject. The main factors to consider are the direction and quality of light, as these shape the subject and create the mood of the image. To successfully shoot landscapes, you need to know what will best suit your subject and then plan accordingly.

Rural landscapes, particularly those with ranges of hills or mountains, really benefit from low side lighting, which reveals shape and texture, as well as adding depth; architectural subjects and coastal scenes with foreground interest also often look good in this light.

Backlighting can be very dramatic, with shadows racing towards the camera, emphasising shape and form. It works especially well with compositions based around bold, graphic subjects and is well suited to woodland scenes; you can also try silhouetting the main subject.

Front lighting, producing shadows that fall away from the camera, can make a scene appear flat and dull. However, with the sun low in the sky, it can provide excellent colour saturation; look for colourful subjects, or those that will reflect the natural warm tones of the sun, such as sandstone cliffs.

The least photogenic light is strong, overhead lighting, with high contrast and harsh shadows. If shooting in these conditions, colourful, structural subjects can work well, as can monochrome images.

The quality of light really means its intensity and colour temperature. The factors that determine this are the time of day, season and weather. So the colour temperature is warm at the beginning and end of the day and cool at twilight; the light is harsher in summer when the sun is high in the sky, and there is greater clarity in winter when there is more moisture in the atmosphere.

However, to achieve the most eye-catching results, it’s best to try and shoot ‘on the edge’ – during the transition from one state to another. For example, this can be the transition from night to day, from one season to another, from calm to stormy weather and so on. These moments can make for very powerful images indeed.

Compose like a pro

We examine what makes some images just jump off the page

It’s the fine details that elevate a good composition to a great one. The main aims of composition are to arrange the elements in the frame to create a balance and, crucially, to give the impression of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface.

Most photographers quickly understand the concept of the rule of thirds and the golden section as ways of achieving harmony. Using leading lines to guide the eye around the composition, and making use of foreground interest to create the illusion of depth, also soon become second nature.

More complex – but critically important – is the concept of ‘visual balance’. Visual balance is comparable to physical balance. If we place two objects of equal weight on a seesaw, they need to be equidistant from the fulcrum to achieve balance. Translated to visual balance, this creates symmetry – harmonious, but perhaps somewhat static. With objects of different weights, the lighter object needs to be further away from the fulcrum in order to balance them. In visual terms, this creates asymmetric balance, usually perceived as more dynamic.

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