As with the camera settings, I could write (and maybe will in the future) a whole guide on composition techniques. If you’re unsure what I mean, composition is all about where you place objects and patterns within the frame when you are photographing them. There are a few important compositional rules that you should know, but later on when you get more experience, you will also get to learn when to break these rules. I won’t go into that here in this beginners guide, I will briefly discuss just two of the rules, which should be enough to get you started in landscape photography. The first one is the rule of thirds. If you imagine your frame divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically you get a kind of grid on the screen. See below:
Now if you were photographing a landscape your aim would be to put the horizon on one of the horizontal lines and your main point of interest somewhere around one of the points where the lines intersect. This should make for a stronger image as these are the areas that your eyes naturally travel to.
The second rule is one of leading lines (or lead in lines). The idea here is to have lines within your images that pull your eyes toward a subject or around the frame. Although not a great image, this is an example where the pathway is a leading line up to the tree. This technique encourages the viewers eyes to see the whole image and brings him or her to the subject.
Here is another example where the tree line and the reflection and the clouds all lead into the frame toward the bright sun.
There are many lens manufacturers out there and to a large extent the lens you choose will be dependent on what fits onto your camera. Each camera manufacturer, and sometimes model, will have a different lens fitting, so make sure whatever lens you buy will fit your camera. (Although you can buy adaptors). Most landscape photographers will use wide or super wide angle lenses most of the time as this will give you the angle to capture a sweeping panorama. Though on occasion you may want to focus right in on a small section of the landscape and in those instances you may want a longer telephoto. So, I will tell you what lenses I take out with me to cover the focal ranges.
My first lens is a 16-35mm super wide angle. This allows me to capture the widest possible scene in front of me.
My next lens is the more versatile 24-105mm, which is a standard focal length. This lens I don’t use so much for landscapes but it gives me an inbetween option.
My final lens, to complete my set of three is the 70-200mm telephoto which allows me to zoom in on intimate parts of a landscape.
So you can see, I have focal lengths covered from 16mm right up to 200mm. For the most part I will stay at the wider end but it’s good to have the flexibility.
One final lens that I have recently acquired and looking forward to trying out is a 15mm fish-eye lens. This is a prime lens, in that the focal length is set and cannot be moved and a fish-eye so it can give me that interesting, warped fish-eye perspective. I can’t wait to get it out into the field.
When choosing lenses for yourself something to consider is the maximum aperture of the lens. I talk more about apertures later on in this guide. The more expensive (bigger and heavier) lenses have a maximum aperture of f2.8 and this is great if you are a wildlife photographer or sports photographer trying to capture fast images in lower light levels, but as a landscape photographer you will most likeley be shooting at smaller apertures, around somewhere between f8—f16, so you can decide for yourself whether these faster lenses are for you. Again, much of your choice will depend on budget.
Other Equipment Other equipment you want to use for landscape photography will vary depending on what you want to capture. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t go out with just a working camera and lens and capture some amazing images. The image below was taken handheld, in the middle of a snowy winters day, with just camera and wide lens.
But, if you really want to delve into landscape photography and experiment with the likes of astrophotography, long exposures or low light photography then there are a few bits of equipment that might help. First of all, a tripod. A good sturdy, light-weight travel tripod to help keep the camera still is especially useful when photographing early in the morning or later in the day when the light is fading. In order to get correct exposures you will need to slow down the shutter speed so handheld won’t always be an option. It will also allow you to purposely slow the shutter speed down in order to capture that milky water look when photographing waterfalls, rivers or seascapes.
The image above was taken at one of my favourite spots, Daymer Bay in Cornwall, at around 9pm so the light was fading and I wanted to capture the smooth water and cloud effect. This wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod. One other quick tip for using tripods on sand, take 3 old compact discs and put them under the feet to stop them sinking into the sand. Being able to capture the smooth, milky water and cloud effect becomes trickier earlier in the day when there is a lot of light and so to get this effect my next suggested piece of equipment is filters. I use Lee filters and have a big stopper (10 stops) and little stopper (6 stops) which basically cut out that many stops of light to allow you to slow the shutter speed down sufficiently. The shot below was taken at about 10am so there was a lot of light round but with the use of a 6 stop filter I was able to slow the shutter to give me the milky effect in the water.
Other filters that may come in handy are the polarising filter which can help reduce reflections in water and make your colours pop a bit more and graduated filters which are darker on one end so you can use them to darken a bright sky and balance the exposure of the whole image. The graduated filters usually come in a soft, medium or hard graduation, meaning the change from light to dark is more or less graduated. You also have the option of square filters that fit into a holder that attaches to the front of your lens, or screw on filters that attach to the lens directly. You will need to experiment with these yourself to decide what you like. The last piece of equipment I will talk about here is a shutter release cable or remote control. When you are set up on a tripod for a long exposure shot it is better then not to touch the camera to release the shutter as that can introduce a bit of camera shake. So by attaching a cable release or using a remote control you can release the shutter with no hands on.
It goes without saying that bags, lens wipes, spare batteries, spare SD cards, torches, cloths, etc. will also be useful.
I also use an L Bracket, similar to the one shown below, which allows me to mount my camera on my tripod in either landscape or portrait orientation.
A question I sometimes get asked is what is the difference between a limted, special or exclusive edition print and any other print?
There is often the assumption that other prints, often called Open Edition prints will be of a lesser quality to the Limited, Special or Exclusive Edition prints. This is not so. All of my prints are printed on the same, museum quality paper, using the same inks and the same printer. The only real difference is that my Limited, Special and Exclusive Edition prints will only ever be printed a specified number of times, making them more valuable than an Open Edition print.
When a photographer, or any other artist, limits the number of prints, some will limit them to a certain number of each size, whereas others, like myself will have an overall number limit regardless of size. I will print each copy to order. So, for my Limited Edition prints I will print a total of 50 copies as and when they are ordered. My Special Edition prints will have only 25 copies and my Exclusive Edition just 10, therefore making them more sought after. When you buy a Limited, Special or Exclusive Edition print from me you will also recieve a signed and numbered certificate of authenticity.
Whilst I will limit the number of certified copies, for each image there will also be one or two artist’s proofs, usually printed at the smallest available size, although occassionally these may be printed bigger. These copies will only ever be sold once the edition print run is sold out. I will never create more copies regardless of any demand. I want my images to be special.
When it comes to pricing, some photographers will handle things slightly differently and as an edition print run starts to sell out will increase the price of the prints. I don’t do this. I believe that my editions are priced fairly and represent a true value based on the work put in. All prints of an image in an edition run will have the same price throughout. The only variance on this may be when the dition is sold out and the artist’s proofs become available.
None of these factors are set in stone and some photographers handle things differently, but, rightly or wrongly, this is how I like to do things.
Other Prints, or Open Edition Prints
As I mentioned above, my other prints, which can be found in my Other Works and Nature – Flora & Fauna galleries are printed in exactly the same way as my limited, special and Exclusive Edition prints. The only difference is that there is no restriction on the number of prints that can be created for these. These will also include a signed certificate of authenticity, but they are not numbered.
For obvious reasons, each of the images available on my website are available as either an Open Edition or a Limited, Special or Exclusive Edition, but not both.
It is true to say that you can capture quality images on just about any camera these days. From a small point and shoot, to your mobile phone, you will be able to capture a decent quality image. However, if you want to really capture the highest quality images you will need to invest in a good quality DSLR or mirrorless camera. When looking at cameras for landscape photography you won’t need to worry about things such as frame rate (the number of frames a camera can capture in a second), like say sports or wildlife photographers would need, and you don’t need to worry too much about the most sophisticated Auto Focus system. What you will need to look for are the number of megapixels. The higher the better, will give you the freedom to print your images as large as possible, as well as a good dynamic range. This is how well the camera copes with highlights and shadows to help cope with high contrast images at dawn and dusk for instance. You might also want to look at weather sealing for your camera body. Today’s consumer cameras offer high quality images, but they will lack some of the build quality of the higher end professional cameras. As a landscape photographer you will naturally be outdoors a lot and you might face some extreme weather so a good quality weather sealed camera body may be high on your wish list. Many landscape photographers also like to use the live view option on the back of the camera to compose and fine tune their shots so you may want to add this to your list of desirable features. One last consideration to make is full frame or cropped sensor. I switched to a full frame from cropped a few years ago and wouldn’t go back. In terms of image quality and dynamic range I don’t think the cropped sensors can compete for image quality. Look out for a future blog post on the difference between full frame and cropped sensors. So what do I use? I use a Canon camera, just because I always have and I know how they operate and don’t want to change now. The model I use is a 5D MkIV. This gives me all of the above considerations including the excellent weather sealing. Another option to the chunky, sometimes heavy DSLR’s are the modern mirrorless cameras. Personally, I am yet to try one out, but I have heard good things about the Sony’s, with the A7R IV being the latest model. Mirrorless cameras tend to be a bit smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts. Whatever camera body you choose will depend largely on your budget but as long as you bear these tips in mind, you shouldn’t go far wrong. My best advice though would be to try them, if you can, and make your own comparison.