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Nature can not leave a man indifferent. When you are on a hike high in the mountains, watching clouds float beneath you, or simply rolling along the highway just before sunrise, breathing fresh air and watching how dark and silky skies are slowly taken over by golden rays of rising sun, you just cant feel down. Whatever problems you have, this sense of purity and freshness simply makes everything else unimportant. And that is the true power of nature. And whats even better, people have tendency to reproduce greatness - through music, literature, painting, photography and other means. In this book we shall learn how to reproduce greatness of nature by means of a photo camera. In other words - well learn how to take cool pics of trees and stuff.


Landscape photography has a long history, and is one of the oldest genres. And still, today it is a passion of both beginners and professional photographers. For some, it can seem to be one of the easiest genres - really, what difficulty can be in going into the fields and making a couple of shots off hands? Yes, thats true. And if youre lucky enough, you can even get a really amazing photo with little effort. But in fact, the chances are 1 to 1000. And just like winning a lottery does not make you a good businessman, having one cool landscape photo does not make you a good landscape photographer. For the trick is, Mother Nature does not care about your intentions. The sun rises early in the morning, rainfall has no schedule, and the cloudscapes are not selected weekly by some heavenly world-interface designers. Everything is unpredictable, and you, as a photographer, must know Natures laws, obey them and take advantage of them when possible. If you want to become a really good landscape photographer, forget about sleeping till 10 A.M., riding asphalted roads and wearing exclusive designers clothes. Get ready for aching feet, dirt, dust, patience and non-obligatory reward in the end. If you are ready, lets start with the basics first!


In fact, landscape photographers arsenal can be not extremely huge. Youll need a camera, a preferably wide-angle lens, and a tripod. A telephoto lens will also be a good bonus. While everything is clear with a camera and a wide-angle lens, you might wonder, why would you need a tripod when light is good enough? The fact is, for landscape photos, you will usually need the whole frame to be sharp, and lenses tend to lose sharpness at corners. The cure for this is actually higher f values - closed aperture improves sharpness at corners, as well as widens depth of field, but results in longer shutter speeds. Thats why you will need a stable camera to avoid handshake. A telephoto lens will let you be more selective regarding the subject, and will also allow you to have really great perspectives:


Also, having a remote shutter trigger and some optical filters will be really handy (well talk about filters somewhat later). Remote controls are mostly cheap, and can cost you as low as $1.5 on eBay.

While you can save money on a remote control, I dont recommend doing this when choosing a tripod. It has to be really stable and lightweight, for you will have to carry it on foot for miles from time to time, along with all the other equipment, and this is where every 100 grams make a difference. It does not mean that you have to rush for the most expensive tripod you find, but take your time and compare the market, and choose the one which suits you best.


Camera settings
There are no perfect settings which you can use for every situation. Every time you make a shot, you must understand the reasons behind selecting aperture, shutter speed and ISO. But, if somebody asks me, pointing a gun at my face, What are the correct settings for a landscape photo?!, I will mumble something like Emm, you just turn that dial in your camera to the Av, set the aperture to f/11, ISO to 100, and exposure metering to Evaluative, and thats pretty much it. This will save my life, but wont guarantee a good photo. So lets see how it works instead of looking for a universal rule. ISO The lower - the better. Lower values result in less noise, and noise can be a big trouble, especially in the skies - for they do not have any texture and all imperfections are easy to notice. So set it to 100 and forget about it. You do have a tripod, right? Camera Mode, Aperture Setting The most suitable mode for landscapes is aperture priority mode (A in Nikon, Av in Canon), for it allows us to control the aperture setting, while the shutter speed is set automatically by the camera. Lens tests show that most optics have best sharpness at frame corners at f/8.0 or higher. Id rather go for 11 or 16. But one more thing - even more important, is the depth of field. In most cases, we want it to be as high as possible to get everything sharp - both background and foreground.


Open apertures are also used in landscape photography, and yes, it looks great, too:

Exposure metering mode. There are 4 exposure metering modes - evaluative (matrix), center-weighted average, partial and spot metering. They might have slightly different names in different cameras, but the icons are pretty much the same In two words, these modes affect, how big is the area, at which camera looks to meter light intensity. Usually landscape photos vary considerably in light intensity throughout the frame - so the most common will be the evaluative metering mode - it measures the whole frame for its light and dark areas and tries to set an exposure which will be most appropriate to keep both shadows and highlights properly exposed. Troubles begin when the contrast of the scene is too high, or light and dark areas are distributed unequally - then you will need to manually adjust exposure compensation. So, to make a photo of a snowy landscape for


instance, you will need to set exposure compensation of about +1 stop, because a camera will think that the image is too bright and will, as a result, tend to underexpose it. But the truth is, the image is really brighter than average.

Shutter speed. Just like ISO, it is not that vital for landscapes, assuming we have a camera on a tripod and dont want any special cool effects with motion blurring and freezing. So lets leave that to the cameras exposure meter as yet.


Making Your Camera Stable

Using a tripod ensures that your camera will be steady, but there are some factors which still may give a camera slight shake - namely you, when you press the shutter button, and the movement of a mirror in a SLR camera. Thats why it is a good thing to do to use a remote control to avoid contact with a camera. If you dont have one, you can still use the cameras shutter release timer, but Id still recommend getting a remote control - constant usage of a timer will soon become really annoying. It would be also smart to use the Mirror lockup function of your camera - it minimizes the shake by making a pause between the mirror going up and actually exposing the frame. You will need to look though you cameras menu and settings to see if you have it available. Oh, by the way, have you read the cameras manual?


Its all up to you, and you just have to experiment, trying different angles, focal lengths etc. But there are certain things which are worth mentioning: pay attention to the horizon line - in most cases it is best to place it at of the frame, not in the middle, leaving more space either for land or sky, depending on which of them you find more important and interesting. But as always, be creative and break the rules you can try leaving a tiny line of a land, filling 90% of the frame with sky, or place the horizon in the middle to get some stunning symmetry.

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Try to get some objects in the foreground to convey the scale of the scene. You can feel dizzy when watching the massive mountains live, but you can be frustrated seeing them on a photo, because a photograph just doesnt reflect the true splendour of the view. This is because we have nothing to compare in the frame - but if you have a relatively small object in the foreground - a rock, or maybe even a house (which is small compared to the ridge), the background then looks majestically massive.

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Keeping in mind the rule of thirds has never been a bad idea, and perfectly composed shots that follow the rules will most probably look great. So, being too much engaged in breaking the rules, dont forget to have some classic shots as well.

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Vertical compositions are often underrated by landscape photographers, but sometimes a portrait orientation can give your photo some extra charm.

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Looking for interesting geometry is also a good skill for a landscape photographer. Roads, rivers, fences can make fantastic lines and curves, and getting them in a photo will be a smart thing to do.

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Time of Day
Landscape photography is all about waiting and exploring. When on location, the best option is to watch the light from dawn to dusk - keep that in mind when planning your trip. In early hours, as well as at sunset, the light changes very quickly, and you literally can make 10 absolutely different photos in half an hour without changing anything yourself. A great thing about mornings is a fascinating mist over meadows, fields and lakes. It looks surreal and will give your photograph the wow factor, because that is not what you see every day when living in a city.

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While you can imagine how lighting will behave at a specific time of day, you can not predict how the sky will look like. It can be more or less picturesque, but catching a truly awesome cloudscape takes a lot of luck, or a lot of waiting. You must decide on which of them to bet when planning your journey, for it can take days or weeks to get the perfect shot. Id say it makes sense when you have a very specific goal - e.g. shooting some landmark the way no one has done before, and you have several days to try everything possible on one location. (Instead of weeklong waiting, some prefer manipulating photos in Photoshop, taking a sky from one photo, and land from another).

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Using Filters
There are many types of filters which you can use to get the most out of your landscape photographs, from protective to special effects filters. But the two most important are neutral density (ND) filters, and polarizing filters. Polarizing filter is used to enhance the contrast of the sky and clouds, and to get rid of the glares on water and other reflective surfaces.

A polarizer was used in the second image. Notice how contrast between the sky and the clouds has increased.

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ND filters are used to reduce exposure. In other words, they make the scene darker to let you increase the shutter speed. This is useful for blurring water and clouds. ND filters have different intensity, which determines, how much aperture stops it will eat - 2x filter reduces exposure by one stop, 4x - by two stops etc. So, if you have a properly exposed photo at ISO 100, f/8.0 and speed of 1/250 sec, using a 4x ND filter will make you set ISO 100, f/8.0 and speed of 1/60 sec to get a similar photo. You can get a much darker filter, 200x, for example, to have really long exposures even in daylight.

In this photo we had a shutter speed of nearly 1 second which was enough to give the waves some nice blur.

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Getting the exposure right can at times be challenging due to high contrast between the land and the skies. If the contrast is too high, and you just cant get both of them exposed properly, the only thing you can do is use a bracketing function of your camera and then combine one photo from several in Photoshop.

Bracketing can still be useful in all other cases, and it will be a good idea to get three shots with 1 stop advancement just to make sure that you have something to choose from, for cameras LCD screen is a known liar, and histogram can be sometimes misleading, too.

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I dont think it is possible to get all information about landscape photography on 10 or even 100 pages, but these clues might help you in making your first steps, submerging into the abyss of landscape photography ever deeper. Anyway, experience is gained in the fields, not in front of a computer. So go on, pack your stuff, jump into your Wrangler and go meet the sunrise in a tent!

George Bailey is a photographer and editor of, who focuses on both studio and outdoor photography, always seeking interesting and creative shooting and retouching techniques.

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