The “OMG Space Is Cool” geek club is still recovering from spending the entire holiday weekend working on some kind of warp field hypothesis instead of sleeping so they’re all wrecked and in no condition speak coherently, let alone drive the DeLorean at a high rate of speed. Since I’m just a bird, I can’t drive it myself so I decided to meet you folks halfway and let you get a glimpse of how I see the world by talking about landscape photography.
Landscape photography makes the thing that is usually the backdrop the star in a photo. Now, most people, when they try to take a quick snapshot of something they think looks really great, get back home to see that the photo they took doesn’t quite match up with the scene they remember. There are many reasons for this but the primary one is this: human eyeballs and camera lenses aren’t the same. I’m sure that one of the geeks could explain this better but that’s the crux of it: your eye and the camera’s lens don’t work the same.
Now, if you’ve ever had the disappointment of taking what you thought was a great landscape photo only to see that it came out not at all like what you wanted, then this post is for you.
First things first, you’ll want to make certain that the camera is absolutely stable. That means using a tripod or bracing the camera on something that will not move. You humans tend to wriggle a lot even when you think you’re being perfectly still. This is the result of evolving from creatures less awesome than the dinosaur so there’s really not much help for it. Landscape photos also tend to take one off the beaten path, as it were, so chances are that you’re hiking or have been driving for a while and are probably a little winded. So, stabilize the camera. That’s step one.
Step two is to consider your composition. What is it that is interesting about the landscape stretching before you? Is it the mountains in the distance? The way that the grass in the field is moving? The pristine perfection of the scene interrupted only by a single-lane asphalt strip? Find the primary subject of your photo and make certain it’s clear. In portraits, the primary subject is the person you’re taking a picture of. In landscapes, it’s the particular segment of the vista you want to capture and share. Also, don’t be afraid to get dirty or a little silly with perspectives. How do the trees look from the point-of-view of a grasshopper on the ground? How does the field look from the point-of-view of my brother-in-law up in the tree over yonder? As long as you’re being careful, have fun with perspective! The point-of-view can be what makes your photo really unique.
Step three is to take the thing off auto-mode. Yeah, auto-modes are great for a lot of things but they’re kind of like those little wheels you put on kid’s bikes — eventually, they need to come off. So, set your camera on manual and get ready to fiddle with things. Don’t be afraid to experiment a bit, either. Now, if you’re doing landscapes, you’ll want a pretty fair depth-of-field. You get this by using a smaller aperture (the bigger the number, the smaller the aperture). This means that there will be less of an opening for the light to come through so you’ll have to balance this a bit by dialing up the ISO or by decreasing the shutter speed so that the shutter is open for longer (another reason you’ll need to be certain that the camera is completely immobilized).
Once you’ve gotten used to manually adjusting the settings on your camera, you’ll find it easier to take great photos — not just of landscapes, but of anything. And, while you shouldn’t get too hung up in thinking you can fix “everything” in post-production (Photoshop for most of you), don’t be afraid to set up scenes and shots that will let you experiment with HDR techniques (taking the same exact image in multiple resolutions and comping the images together. We’ll go over that in a future post).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eavesdrop on the geeks and see if we’re ever going to finish our trek through time.
– da Bird