"Top Ten Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photography"

Landscape photography was the reason I bought my first SLR camera. Here I have put together some of the lessons that I have learnt over the years. With any luck you will find them useful tips and not waste as much film as I have over the years.
1. Use a Tripod.
For most landscape photographs you want the image to be sharp and in focus from the front to the back of the image. That means using a small aperture to get the maximum depth of field, leading to a longer exposure time. Holding a camera steady for an exposure longer than one thirtieth of a second is pretty difficult, which is where a tripod come into its own.

Putting your camera on a tripod means that you can use small apertures without worrying about the length of exposure. It also means that your camera is steady when you use an awkward angle of view. Landscape shots sometimes need you to get down low or hold the camera for a portrait image and that isn’t always easy to do without introducing some camera shake.

2. Use a Tripod.
Yes I know this is the same as the first tip, but it is so important it is worth mentioning twice. Here are a few more reasons why a tripod will help.

Setting up a tripod takes time and that makes you slow down and think about your composition, rather than just snapping away. It gives you time to frame your image and make sure you are happy with everything in the picture. If you’re not you can leave your composition as it is and go and move whatever you don’t like, be it crisp packet or unwanted branch. If you follow some of the other tips below this will also make you take your time. Filters need to be set up and positioned on the lense. Using a tripod makes this easier and in the case of Neutral Density Graduated filters positioning the ND part of the filter is much easier when the camera is stationery.

Mounting your camera on a tripod keeps it in the same place, so once you have composed your picture you can take the same shot several times. If you are using a digital camera you can review the image captured and adjust the exposure or filter arrangement as necessary. For film users this also makes bracketing using different exposures much easier.

3. Get Some Filters.
The range of filters you can buy is huge, but the two you can’t do without are a circular polariser and a set of Neutral Density Graduated filters (or ND grads for short). A circular polariser adds contrast to the sky and reduces the reflection off everything else, with the result of saturating the colours. Basically its like putting polaroid sunglasses over your camera lense without such a dramatic reduction in the light (example picture).

There is a description of what ND grads do in the ‘photography for dummies’ section, but they really are essential. As mentioned above positioning them correctly needs care so having a camera steady on a tripod makes life easier.

If you use film it is well worth considering some ‘warm up’ colour correction filters. 81A, 81B and 81C will remove the blue colour caste that occurs in certain light conditions. I find them especially useful in woodland where you are shooting in the shade (see the item on colour temperature in photopgraphy for dummies). They are not so essential for digital users because you can always adjust the colour temperature setting on your camera or later if you shoot RAW images.

I must admit I have several other filters that I bought years ago and have hardly ever used them. So I would advise not to spend your money until you know you need them.

4. Use a Cable Release.
A manual or remote release for your camera’s shutter is essential in my opinion. A cable release allows you to take a photograph without touching the camera. This removes any risk of camera movement while the exposure is made. If you couple this with using mirror lock up you can eliminate two major causes of camera shake.

The other advantage of a cable release is that it gives you freedom to position yourself strategically for your photograph. I have stood to one side of my camera to act as a wind break, acted as a sunshade on the lens and ducked down low to keep my shadow out of the picture. If you don’t have a cable release (or it is in another bag!) use the auto timer on your camera.

5. Maximise Your Opportunities.
I often wonder what the relative proportions of technical ability, skill at composition and being in the right location make up the ingredients for a great image. Usually I come to the conclusion that being in the right place at the right time is near enough 100%. So the bottom line is that you need to get out and about in the right places at the right time of day.

Once you are out and about don’t just look for views then an there, think what would make good photos at other times of the day or in different weather conditions. Where will the sun be in late afternoon and how will that change the scene?

The other aspect of this tip is always take your camera with you. I have been out on the most unpromising days when I have thought ‘I won’t bother lugging that around’ only to find I have missed a great shot because the weather has changed. You know what they say about the British weather – if you don’t like it wait ten minutes.

6. Watch the Weather.
Its been said that Britain has the worst weather in the world. An alternative view might be that we have the best weather because we get so much variety. Most good landscape photographs include some aspect of the weather, so it pays to know what the weather is going to do.

That can vary from the very basic fact that it is going to stop raining later so you can get out with your camera to the more sophisticated anticipation of the right weather conditions for a particular shot. So if its going to be a clear and still in the morning with low lying mist, where will you get a good moody photograph? (example).

If you really want to get into this try your hand at predicting when there is going to be a great sunset. In theory if you work backwards from ‘red sky at night’ you should be able to predict a sunset by seeing what the approaching weather conditions are.

7. Use Different Lenses.
Unfortunately this probably involves spending money, but it is worth it. Most SLRs will come equipped with a standard telephoto lense with a focal length of 28mm up through to about 90mm (or 17- XX on digital cameras). These are great lenses which give you a little bit of wide angle capability at the 28mm end but the ability to zoom in on smaller areas at the other end.

If you haven’t bought your equipment yet it may be worth considering buying only the camera body and then selecting a 28-200mm or 28-300mm lense to start with. This will cost more but give you some great flexibility right from the start.

Otherwise a wide angle lense is a must for landscape photography. It will let you capture big open views and include lots of interesting foreground while still including the wider scene beyond. The other lense that I use a lot is a 75-300mm telephoto. Closer in it lets you frame more detailed shots and at a distance you can pick out elements of the landscape that you want to isolate.

If you want to see the vareity of images you can capture using different lenses take a look at the comments with the photographs in the Galleries.

8. Get To Know Your Camera.
Most modern cameras are pretty complicated pieces of equipment. They are packed with all sorts of settings and functions which you’ll possibly never use (or that might just be me). Probably one thing you need to be aware of, which is not an option on one of the dials, is how much of the final image you see through the viewfinder.

The instruction manual will probably tell you the percentage of the frame that you will see through the viewfinder, usually in the 90 to 100% range. All this means is that when you have framed your shot through the viewfinder the final image will have a band of ‘extra’ photo all around the edge. This can be signifciant if you are carefully trying to leave something out of a shot, only to find that its still there. Once you know how much ‘extra’ you will get you can just make your image in the viewfinder that little bit smaller to compensate.

If you use a digital camera, especially if you have recently converted from film, remember the flexibility that you have. You can probably switch from colour to black and white and more importantly you can change the ISO setting for each individual shot. You can also take as many photographs as you like (memory card permitting), so experiment.

9. Think About Composition.
Compositon is an entire subject on its own and I am certainly not going to fit it into a couple of paragraphs. There are standard compositon rules like the rule of thirds, which is a great standard fall back. Also try using lead lines to take you through the picture. But when you are taking a photograph ask yourself questions. What is the focal point of the image? Is this a big wide open landscape or should it be more intimate? Why are you taking this photo and what attracted you to it in the first place?

The other thing to consider is where you are standing. Is it the best viewpoint or would twenty yards to the right be better? Is there anything close by that might add to the foreground? If I wait five minutes will the light and shade be better?

Once you are happy and have your compositon, check what is in the shot carefully. There may be something that you don’t want and you could move, such as a fallen branch.

10. Enter Competitions and Exhibitions.
Entering photograhic competitions and exhibitions is a great way to improve your photography because you have to be so critical of your own work. Its human nature to have an emotional attachment to your own photographs because you have invested time and effort in them. You will have favourites of your own because they mean more to you than just a photograph, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are great photos. Think about photographs of your children or pets – they are interesting to you, but to most other people they probably are not.

When you have to pick images that other people will see and judge they will be looking at them with a neutral pair of eyes, so your pictures need to be up to scratch. They need to be good technically, exposed correctly and in sharp focus with no blurring. The composition needs to be strong and interesting, and maybe just have that extra something.

And if you really want to stretch yourself trying picking photgraphs for a website!