Take The Shot – Landscape Photography

“Take the shot” ordered M (Judy Dench) in the action packed spy thriller Skyfall, as James Bond grappled furiously on the top of a train bound to nowhere. Faced with a direct mandate and a series of head wrecking options, wind speed, distance from rifle, threat to life. Unusually not desk-bound Miss Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) not only had to steady her nerves, slow down her breathing, frame the shot with break-neck precision, but also pull the trigger before the ultimate deadline, the train disappeared into the tunnel 50 yards away. And she fluffed the shot.

Taking a shot in the photographic realm can be just the same. Encroaching deadlines, the need to get it right, finding the right shutter speed exposure and lens choice. You can soon get lost in the metaphoric tunnel of thought, or rather too much of it. Analysis paralysis. The nagging incessant questions:

What to include? What to leave out?

The landscape can be so challenging and sometimes having no deadline pressure is worse, because procrastination and dissatisfaction set in. The need to take the perfect shot is a hard task to master.

It’s time to simplify the process. Here are a few pointers for shooting landscapes that can streamline the process so you don’t become overwhelmed with all the options. Plus you don’t have to juggle shooting someone on a 150 mph train. It’s the basics for now.

Accentuate The Foreground

One reason to pronounce elements in the foreground is because the foreground leads the viewer’s eye directly into the frame. It also creates a sense of separation in a 2D format and if used correctly it can add depth, scale and space, making your shot appear three dimensional. You can place rocks, shrubs, or even the tide if you are on a beach in the foreground. Frame it so the image leads to something significant (or insignificant) in the background, a mountain range, a pier, a lighthouse, someone walking in the distance.

Framing an element in the foreground correctly creates a roadmap, which can unwind in an aesthetically pleasing manner to something in the background. Key lens choices if you are shooting with a full frame camera is between 24-28mm. You want wide, but not ultra-wide. A wider lens allows you to include more of the foreground, but go too wide and the background will become insignificant (note: you may also want to do this when the shot or subject matter calls for it).

How much foreground you choose to include in your composition is up to you. Remember the rule of thirds? Well it’s there to be ignored, but you can start with the old classics of using a 1/3 of the sky and 2/3 of the landscape. But remember, use it at your own peril. You want to stand out from all the rest.

Tip: One way to exploit the full potential of the elements present in the foreground is by switching to portrait orientation.

Contrast

Not the traditional between black and white or the brightness range of the image but rather the color. How about placing some bronze rocks, green grass, or brownish orange stones in the foreground and juxtapose this against a blood red sky, a deep orange sunset, or a barren mountain range? Look around at what’s at your disposal, choose wisely, remember it’s you who decides what to put in the frame.

If you don’t have any contrasting colors, or if you can’t find the rustic tones you are looking for, remember there’s Photoshop. Use it to select and enhance the tones you are looking for. Change a flat lifeless image, into a vivid melancholic ethereal tapestry. Shoot in RAW format and you will have more options to adjust parameters with your image editor.

The most important thing about shooting in RAW is getting the right exposure. This will allow you to create the best images. Don’t just rely on the cameras light meter. Use the histogram to check you aren’t clipping the highlights or under exposing. That way you will get a broader range of tones to work with from the outset, and this will give you more options with post production editing.

Obviously there is more to take a great photograph than just sorting out the foreground. It is one component in a vast canvas, but if you start off with too much theory and without practice, your canvas could permanently draw a blank.

Read next: Selection of the best stock photos

Jonny Mairs

Jonny Mairs works as a freelance photographer. He has shot people, landscapes and even treadmills. He believes no subject is off limits whenever it comes to creative digital photography.

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