Thursday, July 10, 2014

10 Tips For Landscape Photography

Over the past year or so, I’ve been putting a lot of effort into improving my landscape and nature photography. The rewards are many. For one thing, photography helps me document places and experiences that are important to me. The more successful my photographs, the more I feel viewers are inspired to go check out what I’ve photographed, or even another wilderness space that might be more convenient to them. The inverse is that bad photographs “undersell” what are sometimes beautiful spaces that are simply photographed in poor light, with poor technique, or both. Lastly, landscape photography inspires me to seek out maximum beauty, like making the absurd decision to break camp at 4 AM to catch the sunrise on a mountain overlook. I've also hiked with a headlamp in an unfamiliar forest well after dark because I wanted to stick around that wild, cascading, backcountry waterfall to photograph in the last golden hour of sunset. I’m convinced witnessing this beauty makes me a happier, healthier human being. So, here are some quick tips to improve your landscape photography, whatever your motivation:

  1. Plan your hiking routes to maximize sunrise and sunset near beautiful features – these are the best times of day to photograph. 
  2. Always bring a tripod or support of some sort – otherwise you have limited your “vocabulary” by about 90%. 
  3. Ground your wide-angle shots with a strong foreground element – a rock, a fallen tree, a patch of wildflowers, etc. This brings the viewers eye "into" your composition.
  4. Shoot the same feature from at least three different angles/perspectives. You’ll rarely find your first composition choice to be the best. 
  5. Pay attention to the ENTIRE FRAME, “crop out” what is not essential. 
  6. Take multiple exposures and learn to use HDR; it will change your photography for the better (and it doesn’t have to look a fake, glowing-neon Franken-photo.) 
  7. Go “small and detailed” in midday sun rather than “wide and sweeping.” Look for a beautiful pattern in the bark in a tree, or the reflection in a single ripple of water. 
  8. Ditch the “dedicated” photography backpack – use a pack made for hiking and store your camera in a small neoprene case or "camera glove"  (or just wrap in a t-shirt). Place this inside a… 
  9. Dry bag. Always bring a dry bag in case of unexpected downpour. (I use a 5 liter ultralight Outdoor Research bag for a Canon SLR with a 17-40L lens). A dry bag can also help cushion your camera because you can trap air inside, kind of like a balloon. 
  10. Clean your lenses OFTEN! Bring alcohol wipes and a microfiber cloth so that your otherwise perfect shot is not ruined by smudges, spots, and dirt.
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