Tips on shooting good landscape

Introduction

The question rose on dpreview a few days ago “How to shoot sunsets?” and resulted in a very interesting thread of 42 posts.

In this article I will try, once more, to summarize this thread while also introducing to it some of my personal knowledge since I’m quite a landscape photography lover.

N.B.: I have changed the title from sunset to landscape since most probably the original poster meant “shooting landscape at sunset”

General Tips

NEVER be in a hurry: I think this is the best piece of advice I can give after 4 years. I used to mix going to shoot with going for a walk with friends or something like that! Walking from place to place taking snapshots and came back home with around 50 pictures and 0 keepers.
Well now this has changed when I really want to go shoot I go to just ONE place, spend 2 to 3 hours there and take at most 6 shots. I go scout the area take test shots, decide on the shots I want and then wait for the best time to take those shots.
Get yourself a good tripod: No need to even think about landscape photography if you don’t have a tripod. A good sturdy tripodLike Manfrotto or Gitzo just to name a few would be ideal, but if you are not sure yet about how serious you are about landscape photography you can always start with any tripod, but you need one.

Camera Settings

Set your camera to its lowest ISO speed Since we are going to be using a tripod anyway, no need to boost your ISO speed, just set it to the lowest value possible because this will give you the cleanest picture your digital camera can give you.
Enable Mirror Lockup and Timer For landscape photography high shutter speeds are not a most, but a sharp image is. So, unless you already have a cable release for your camera, enable both mirror lockup and timer on your camera to minimize camera shake as much as possible.
If possible shoot RAW: RAW is much more flexible in editing afterwards, and since in landscape photography exposure is really crucial. Shooting RAW might often save the day.
Choose a warm White Balance: Set your digital camera’s white balance to “daylight”, “shade”, or to manual with a color temperature between 7000k-8000k.
Setting the digital camera’s white balance to “Auto” or “Sunset” will make the camera wanting to eliminate red/orange/yellow from the picture trying to make it whiteAnother advantage of shooting RAW is that you will be able to tweak the white balance during the post processing
Set a small aperture To get the greatest depth of field possible, you should set your lens to a small aperture. Usually speaking I’ll take the smallest aperture possible without risk of diffractionThis value will defer from lens to lens

Timing

The best time for shooting landscapes well known in the photography world as “Golden Hours”. We experience twice the golden hours in a day at dawn and at dusk.
Golden Hour The golden hour is said to be 30 minutes before sunset till 45 minutes after sunset or 45 minutes before sunrise till 30 minutes after sunrise. However Ken Rockwell in his article “The importance of timing” claims that the best time time to shoot is at exactly 30 minutes after sunsetBut then he adds that light changes with location and seasons while others says that 10 to 15 minutes after sunset will yield “vivid red” effect.

Composition

Remember it is landscape: So don’t turn it into a skyspace make sure to introduce a piece of land in your shot.
Locate a nice cloud formation: Usually speaking clear skies with no clouds looks pretty dull in pictures. So try to compose your shot with a nice cloud formation.
If there is no clouds, compose your image with very little or no sky.
Find an interesting foreground: Most of the the landscape shots that makes you go wow convey in their foreground a main point of interest, a focal point for the eye to “rest” on.
As an alternative one could also go for a silhouette shot.
Study pictures you liked: Composition is not the easiest subject to cover in photography. However a good place to get started is to study the picture you liked and try to apply your conclusion on the field.
Experiment with slow shutter speeds Since your camera will be well secured on a tripod, there is no reason why not trying to get a shot at low shutter speeds. You could end up with nice effects specially if your composition includes water falls or sea, the slow shutter speed will give a silky effect to the water.

Metering

A big challenge for most of us, we got the image, we know what we want/like to shoot but where to meter? This is the technique I use

The camera set to spot/partial metering and to aperture priority (Av) I stop down to the requested aperture (typically f/9.0 f/22 range) & I take 3 readings
The dusky sky: Take the reading next to the sun, but make sure not to include any part of the sun.
The midground: Typically the midground will be 1.5 to 2 stops darker than the sky, you can meter anywhere in the midground.
The foreground: Typically the foreground will be 3 to 4 stops darker than the sky, meter on the interesting foreground we previously discussed.
Memorize all these readings or note them down.

Focus

An even BIGGER challenge than metering is where to focus.
For this you have 2 choices
Hyper focal distance: Most of professional will tell you to use hyper focal distance
My simple technique: For me I prefer to keep things as simple as possible and I don’t want to go over the hassle of doing calculations on the field so this is what I do, and it works for me.
I focus on the closest object in the foreground, recompose my image to the requested composition and tweak the focus manually towards infinity until that object becomes slightly out of focus. If i don’t have an object in the foreground I typically just focus at 1/3 of the frame.

Taking the shot

OK what to do now?
Remember that your camera is now secured on a TRIPOD and composed for the shot you want.
- Put your camera in timer mode
- Enable mirror lockup on your camera (if you have it)
- Switch your camera from Av to Manual
- Take 3 shots once for each reading you did before if you have a ND grad filter you will need to take only one shot

The Merger

Once you are home you will need to spend time on Photoshop, or any other photo editing tool you use, to merge these 3 shots together it can be done through different methods the best, I think, is HDR, however I’m too used to the layer masks and too lazy to change

Conclusion

The tips and technique described in this article are not necessarily the best and surely not the only ones available but I’ve been successfully using most of them for the past 4 years.

Hope this helps

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