HOW TO SHOOT CLASSIC LANDSCAPES
Digital Camera World|December 2021
Arm yourself with the skills and techniques you need to become a master of shooting the great outdoors
Jon Adams and Andrew James
The landscape provides a rich, varied and everchanging subject for the keen photographer. A typical approach to capturing the natural beauty of the great outdoors is to frame up with a wide-angle lens – anything from 16mm to 35mm is generally regarded as the focal length zone for shooting classic landscapes. But while a wide-angle lens means you fit more of a scene into your frame, this often causes extra compositional headaches that need to be overcome.

Over the next 12 pages, we’ll delve deep into the best approaches for shooting stunning landscapes. We’ll show how bringing together the art of designing your image, shooting at the optimum time, and using tried-and trusted techniques to make sure your scenics technically hit the mark will ensure you’re never disappointed with your efforts. And we’ll touch on the other essential part of modern digital photography – polishing up those raw files to give every landscape photo you take maximum quality and visual impact.

While landscapes can be taken all year round, as autumn turns to winter, the shapes, structures and textures of the countryside become even more apparent. With the daylight hours shortening, too, sunrise and sunset also happen at a more civilised hour; so if you’re feeling inspired, grab your kit bag, put on your walking boots and waterproofs, and head for the hills.

1 Building blocks

The basics of classic scenics

Now you know what a classic landscape is, discover how to ‘work’ the scene and successfully combine the elements

You can’t just point your camera in the direction of a great scene and expect the results to look impressive. The key components of an outstanding landscape image can be broken down into four key pillars: the building blocks that make your photo stand out. Each of these adds its own important element; combined, they take your shots from being a snap of what’s there to a carefully constructed fine-art landscape.

1 Composition

When you have a wide-angle lens on your camera, a great foreground is essential in your classic landscape. Whether it’s something prominent like a large boulder, or more subtle textures leading you into the frame, the foreground is the base on which you build the design of your image.

2 Timing

You’ll never take your best images in perfect sunny weather or in the middle of the day. For a moody image with the best light, it’s important to be out shooting early and late, or when the weather is more unpredictable. This is when you’ll get the best conditions to accentuate the shapes within the scene, provide interesting skies, and give your composition an injection of drama.

3 Depth and sharpness

A classic landscape has depth, and is as sharp as possible from the foreground to the far distance. This sharpness allows you to capture all the interesting details and textures within the scene with absolute clarity, giving the viewer the sense that they could almost step into the photograph.

4 Movement

Admittedly not every classic landscape shot has to have movement, but when you can include it – perhaps as water flowing down a hillside, waving wheat in a rural field, or clouds scudding across the sky – it acts as the softer foil to the sharper edges of the land. You’ll need slower shutter speeds, though, from 1/15 sec to several seconds.

PRO ADVICE THE BASIC EQUIPMENT YOU NEED

Keeping your kit bag as light as possible is the best approach for a landscaper who wants to chase the light: not every great shot is going to be found 10 yards from the car park. A wide-angle zoom lens, a cable release and a sturdy tripod, for when the light is low, are all you need to carry.

Other useful accessories include a few lens filters, a torch in case it gets dark on you, and some wet-weather clothing for when the weather forecast gets it wrong.

Wide-angle lens

Prime or zoom, a wide-angle lens is a must. Remember, if your camera has a crop factor, you’ll need to take that into account. Ideally you want something around 16mm in full-frame terms. You may get some wide-angle distortion, but this can easily be corrected when you edit your image later.

Tripod

Your tripod and head combo needs to be sturdy, but light enough to carry. Carbon-fibre options are more expensive than aluminium, but give a good stability-to-weight ratio. A ball head is preferred by many landscapers: it allows you to position your camera quickly, and is lighter than a three-way head.

Lens filters

Some filters can be replicated in post-processing, but polarisers and ND filters cannot. A polariser is great for removing glare and intensifying colour saturation, while neutral-density (ND) filters in different strengths allow you to use slow shutter speeds and create movement in your shots.

Design your landscape

The classic design elements in this Scottish scenic start with the pin-sharp foreground rock, while the flow of the water leads the eye effortlessly through the midground detail to the pyramidal shape of the Buachaille that dominates the frame.

Of course, the careful composition doesn’t do all the work: the atmosphere of the shot is augmented by the warm lighting from a low sun, while dramatic storm clouds add texture and interest to the sky.

2 Find classic foregrounds

Position detail up-front

Discover the types of foreground that are tried and tested, and how to make the most of the first thing your viewer sees

Finding a great view is often the best starting point for a classic scenic shot, but the view itself isn’t enough to be a solid landscape image. When you come across a pleasing vista, think of it as the background. This is the part of your shot where the viewer’s eye will ultimately rest – but to lead them through to this, you need something up-front to draw them in. And when we say “up-front”, we mean it! If you’re using a wide or ultra-wide lens, you want your foreground to dominate the bottom third of the frame, and that often means getting your lens really close to it. And don’t rule out vertical framing, as it can give you a great foreground and a great sky.

PRO TECHNIQUE

USE TRANSFORM CROPPING

No matter where you place your lens, you can’t always get the perfect arrangement of shapes in the frame to get the ideal composition. In Photoshop, though, you can subtly distort the image by pulling out the corner handles in Free Transform mode. This can allow you to fine-tune your composition by enlarging or reshaping your foreground interest to suit the space in the frame.

Press Ctrl+A (Cmd+A in macOS) to select the whole frame, then press Ctrl/ Cmd+T to start Free Transform mode. Now hold Ctrl/Cmd and drag out the corners to improve the use of space. You can also use this technique to level horizons or straighten up wonky buildings. Press Return when you’re finished.

Seek out different types of foreground

Once you’ve established your background view, these are the three main foreground elements to search for to lock your shot together

1 Anchors

Solid, distinctive objects with plenty of detail make great, classic foregrounds. Look at the ground around you for shapes and structures that complement your background view. Rugged boulders, colourful wildflowers and gnarly tree stumps are all good contenders. A quick search to the left and right may reveal several different foregrounds that can set up your shot.

2 Textures

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