Truth of Landscape Photography
Oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, green meadows, sand dunes, forests : every part and parcel of nature is a common subject of interest among people. Some may wish to take a hike; others may fancy flying to nature at once. Indubitably, nature entices all of us with her every manifestation. That’s why down the ages, people have wandered about, exploring the wilderness and tried to capture it in the form of poetry or visual arts. Thus Landscape Photography (including waterscape and woodland) is one particular way to cherish and to pay tribute to our beautiful Mother Nature.
The very first reaction when someone sees a picture of mountains or some famous lake & waterfall is wow, lovely place, amazing, speechless, etc. Nowadays, we like and share those found on various social networking websites, unaware most of the time, if it is really landscape photography or rather just a representation of nature, that a smart phone or a compact camera could easily produce. People are mostly impressed by the place not by photography so people react quickly but the job of landscape photographer is to leave an impression by their picture not by the place which has been shot. Since social networks emerged, doors have opened for the sharing, learning and following of artists. At the same time, the field has become more challenging with more possibilities ! Patience, unending learning & experimenting and commercializing yourself is the best way to make it through. Only follow the artists you think you can learn from.
Photography can be a medium for documentation, evidence, memory, news, promotion or for any social or commercial purpose. But Landscape Photography is an imaginative and creative art. It is about rendering the feeling of a particular moment in time, sharing the vision of the scenery captured.
The way people perceive and appreciate photography depends on each individual’s level of knowledge and interpretation. There are few people on the web, as compared to those connoisseurs, who can really tell the difference between simple record and true landscape picture. Most of them are those who devoted their life to landscape photography or those who have an artistic soul. For the majority of the people it is just a visual pleasure. Only landscape photographers can recognize the hard work behind it, with its technical aspects as well as the artist’s vision. Travelling wilderness and shooting what appears in your lens is not landscape photography. It is just an instant image, a record of the place visited. If you are really into this discipline then any place travelled becomes less of a vacation trip and more of a field work, requiring a lot of time and patience to get the perfect conditions to create art with a little twist of luck. But you don’t need to be in the most famous places to shoot. A simple dead log covered with algae and bushes around or a small river channel can be a fine subject, if it is technically sound and artistically well taken.
Let’s talk now about the very basics and essential aspects of landscape/waterscape/woodland photography :
On the field
Once you have reached your desired shooting spot, first open your mind and visualize before releasing your shutter. You should know the result you want to achieve. Take a look around and try to understand lighting conditions and color cast of field.
Work on small aperture to get sharpness until the horizon, use depth of field preview to know about widest aperture possible and live preview to see what is in focus and to enlarge the focal area. Shoot in Raw file format and take control over your exposure by shooting in Manual or Aperture Priority. Most of the cases, slow shutter work produces better result with land, water and sky. Composition is the key factor, to create good photographs in landscape photography. To compose is to arrange elements of nature by putting them in a nice order inside the frame according to the visual path you want to display. Use natural props around you, like leaf, dead log, rock or lonely tree. Note that for composition, you need to follow some rules. You better keep them in mind because it will help you to enlarge your vision and break them in an effective way afterwards. Remember that every part of the photograph is important. Good composition doesn’t mean to place the most important element or subject in the center. Avoid also starting the visual path from the corner. Take your time to understand the world around you and play friendly with it. Patience is indeed the best asset I have learned from photography.
Here some simple and productive composition rules :
• Rule of third
• The golden rule
• Leading lines
• Foreground elements
• Foreground space
• Foreground, mid and background
• Natural frame
• Look for geometric shape
• Shape based composition
• Space based composition
• Illusion of depth
• Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines
• Group the subject inside the frame
• Center of interest
• Look for dramatic clouds and fog to create mood
‘I will explain each rule by giving definition and examples, in my upcoming blog.’
Use of Filters
The concept of using filters is just like using sunglasses in harsh sunlight to protect your eyes. Filters are essential to control unwanted wave length, tonal contrast, light coming from sun, to balance exposure and to boost up the true color cast invisible through our eyes and through camera.
In the market, there are lots of filters available. But I suggest you not to use poor brands and color filters. Lee, Singh-Ray, Cokin, Hoya are few examples of good brands.
If you want to play very soft on nature use polarizer and graduate filters to bring out the actual scene. You will find these filters both in circular and rectangular shapes. To fit them onto your lens use holder and/or adaptor rings.
Different filters can be used at once. But to get started, you just need a polarizer whether circular or linear. While linear has strong effects and is cheaper than circular one, the latter works better. Make sure that your camera is facing the light source at 90 degrees to get the best results. Polarizer filter reduces haze, removes reflective highlights and saturates colors. It helps to get details and deep blue from the washed out sky. In the case of waterscape it brings out details from foreground and from shallow water.
As for graduated Neutral Density filters, they will help you to balance background and foreground exposure, to get smoothness, rich color tones and details on foreground, to achieve depth of field with proper shades and highlights on the horizon and midground as well as dig out details on an overcast day. For ND grad, you have to slide the filter to the holder that fit onto the lens. ND grad has two parts, one half clear and a dark one. The clear part allows light to pass through when the dark one holds it. Graduated filters are whether soft-edged or hard-edged. Hard-edged produces an abrupt transition from light to dark, while soft-edged offers a smooth one. In general, hard-edged filter is used for deep horizons, mountains or for hard transition between sky and foreground. As for soft-edged, it gives a good result on irregular horizon or on a foggy day. There is no unique definition on what is ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. So experience on field to know about filter’s effect in different weather conditions and through different lenses’ use.
ND B+W also blocks the light without leaving color cast. But to get started and to get the best results on nature the king filter remains Polarizer. Depending on the conditions of the shooting spot, we sometimes have to use a couple of filters all together to get a fine result. I would personally recommend Lee and Singh-ray. Filter manufacturers like Lee offers Neutral Density filters with 0.3, 0.6 or 0.9 stops while Singh-ray offers 1, 2, 3 or 4 stops whether hard or soft-edged.
In my up-coming blog, I will explain more about filters and their use. Here already a short list of some essential filters and tools to shoot landscapes, waterscapes and woodland :
● Circular Polarizer
● Graduated Neutral Density
-Soft-edged 2/0.3 and 3/0.6 stops
-Hard-edged of 2/0.3 and 3/0.6 stops
● Adapter ring and filter holder
● Shutter release cable
● Steady tripod
and don’t forget to throw your UV filter away !
Know precisely what type of lens you are using and its circumference so that you can set circular filters to your lens or use step-up and step-down rings. While using graduated filters you will need a holder. Their use are quiet technical. You need to be careful to always level it with the horizon. Learn also how to calculate exposure settings and shutter release time.
Later on, you might want to use Lee big stopper and the 110 ND B+W, if you wish to work on land, water and sky with extreme exposure. Filters like, 10/15 stops more solid, Rivers ND grads, LB color combo and golden & blue polarizer are also very useful, but unfortunately highly expensive.
I hope you don’t get confused. You don’t need to buy all at once. Start with a DX body, a kit lens with polarizer and tripod. Gradually, you will get an idea of your needs and the time will come to upgrade.
Basic Post-processing software use
Photography has evolved a lot from the begining until the introduction of modern technologies. Masters like Ansal Adams, in his time, often spent a week inside his dark room to enhance film by using manual brush stroke and by working on highlights and shadows just for one single image. Thus the essence of Photoshop was born way before digital technology. Nowadays computer and software replaced the traditional darkroom. So stop asking ‘did you use Photoshop ?’ or ‘is this natural ?’ What matters is how you use Photoshop, Lightroom or any other post-processing softwares. Using them to add extra elements which were not there while shooting is not Landscape photography. You should use software only to balance light and shades, brightness, contrast, highlights and shadows. Human eye or a good camera lens is unable to record the actual color and light of nature. Thus, image blending, merging shots of different exposures, layer masking are part of the discipline. On field, always remember to record as often as possible in Raw format in order to get as much control as possible over the image in the post-processing phase.
Photoshop and Lightroom with Nik plug-in are essential. As for me the best way to start post-processing the image, is to work on the Raw file by dealing with basics adjustments like highlights and shadows, contrast and brightness and white balance correction. If needed, little bit dodging and burning, checking color tones, sharpness and removing grains are part of the second phase. I end up the post-processing, by manually working with layers and masks to get the right control over exposure and to create the overall feel of the image.
Nature is a huge playground. Everything like leaf, rock, log, pond, lake, river, waterfall, ocean, forest, hills, mountains, clouds, fog everything has a story to tell. But how the story will be told, depends only upon the ingenuity of the landscape photographer. The creation and perception come from human mind, not from tools. The truth of landscape photography lays in the capturing of shapes, tones and their interactions, in the working on patterns, foreground, background and depth, in the dealing with shadows and highlights, curves and tones, mood and drama. Succeed in Fine art landscape photography is to be able to share personal feelings by reaching the symbiosis of technical skills and artistic vision and emotions.
In landscape and waterscape photography, black and white is my favorite technique. For the time being, I realized that my images still need to be improved composition and post-processing wise. Shooting and analysing critically our own work, is the way to learn and improve. Every day I get inspired by the great masters of landscape photography around the globe and I hope someday somewhere my work will be able to help & inspire others too.
Thank you for your stay.
All content © Amit Jung K.C
Posted on April 23, 2014 » by Lensman