What setup is good for landscape shots?

Started Sep 19, 2013 | Questions thread
Mark Scott Abeln
Mark Scott Abeln Forum Pro • Posts: 11,141
Re: What setup is good for landscape shots?

Well lots of people have already given you advice about gear and camera settings, so I'd rather try to convince you to look look at the more general principles of landscape photography, which are similar to realistic landscape drawing and painting.

What is interesting about the scene? Is it a particular subject? If so, then perhaps you should zoom in on that subject, and not show uninteresting clutter.

Be aware that if you are only going to make a small print or only display images on a small screen then you probably ought to zoom in and isolate your subject even more.

If you want to use a wide angle lens to show the whole scene, you have to consider if the whole scene is interesting. Is the sky and ground interesting? Is it ok that distant objects become much smaller in size?

Because of the nature of photography, ordinary subjects tend to look boring in a photograph, while epic subjects tend to look ordinary. This is similar to the phenomenon of 'Hollywood Ugly' - truly beautiful subjects are used because they look normal on screen while normally good looking people don't look so good. Very many landscape snapshot are not pleasing because of this principle - it took me more than a year of serious shooting before I was able to get a decent percentage of keepers.

Looking at large numbers of excellent landscapes, it becomes apparent that few are shot during midday under clear weather conditions. Rather, most epic landscapes tend to be taken either during unusual weather or around sunrise or sunset. Long shadows and pleasing orange and blue colors are found when the sun is low in the sky.

Try to avoid shooting into the sun to avoid excessive over or under exposure and loss of color -- the typical exception being at sunset. If you do shoot at midday, having the sun at your back is often recommended, to avoid harsh shadows. Early and late in the day, having the sun at about 45-90 degrees more or less off to the side can be quite pleasing because of the contrast of colors and long shadows.

Your camera's automatic white balance function may harm your capture of interesting color. For this reason, many photographers will keep their camera set on the 'Daylight' preset on sunny days throughout the entire day, including sunrise and sunset. Be aware that the color of daylight is somewhat different according to latitude and altitude, so some experimentation might be needed. Of course, if your subject is completely in shade then you might want to adjust it.

Having a person in the foreground, facing the camera, is fine for a family photo album, but probably doesn't work for a pure landscape photo. However, having a person within a scene, interacting with it, can be quite excellent and often desirable.

If you are shooting during an overcast day, you may find that the sky is featureless white in your photos, while foreground objects are very dark and colorless. One strategy is to avoid having the sky in your photo at all - and this will give you a really nice, soft light; alternatively, you can heavily post-process your images on the computer, bringing out the texture and color in sky, while brightening and saturating the foreground.

 Mark Scott Abeln's gear list:Mark Scott Abeln's gear list
Nikon D200 Nikon D7000 Nikon D750 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm F1.8G Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D +2 more
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