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Landscapes & Outdoor Photography

Photographing landscapes

Photographing landscapes can be a rewarding past time. Most of us have tried our at hand at taking landscape photos at one time or another, shooting photos of the beach, vacation photos or even a particularly appealing vista from a moving car. There is no right way or wrong in how to photograph landscapes, but here are some tips to get the most of the experience, as well as choosing a digital camera from Berger Brothers to make photographing landscape scenes easier.

Light and shadows

Photographing landscapes has been described as shooting light and shadows, and that's a fair description. But it's not the quantity of light that provides the best photos, but the quality of light. Early morning and late afternoon light has been described as golden light, and not just for the golden sheen that you often see at those times of day. Taking landscape photos during this time of day makes for great photos due to the low angle of the sun, and the softness of the light keeps your highlights from being too bright and losing detail. The soft light also allows you to pick up more detail in shadows, such as the textures of rocks and the bark of trees.

Before and after storms are great times for photographing landscape scenes as well. The soft light has much the same effect as early and late in the day, and the cloud patterns can add a sense of drama. Keep a close eye for sunlight breaking through spaces in the clouds for dramatic effects. Following the rain, the colors of leaves are often seemingly at their brightest and most saturated, especially well suited for photographing landscape scenes in the fall. In addition, the absence of strong sunlight in all these lighting conditions means there is less contrast and less harsh light, giving your landscape photos more consistent, pleasing tones.

One subject people bring up when asking about how to photograph landscapes, is why on sunny days with blue skies, do their images come out with white skies? The reason for this is that with even the best cameras, it's very hard for the equipment to capture the infinity of the sky and the foreground, all in the same shot. Luckily there are solutions besides shooting only on cloudy days.

A polarizing filter helps to bring back the color in the sky, and can be attached to nearly all DSLR cameras. In addition, it tones down overly bright highlights on rivers, lakes and other highly reflective objects. You can also add the blue to the sky in post processing, but it's much easier to get it right when photographing landscapes themselves.

Recommended equipment: Boots and feet!

When photographing landscapes, the scenic overlook at the side of the highway provides a great view, but sometimes it takes a bit of work to find the best spots. When traveling to a new area, it's always a good idea to do your homework first. And let's face it, it's easy for the best of us to get lost or turned around on unfamiliar trails. A GPS unit, even ones found on smart phones can literally be a life-saver in these circumstances. In addition, they make a great way to notate where you got certain shots. Some cameras even come with built-in GPS functions (or attachments) for the same purpose. Check with the pros at Berger Brothers Cameras for cameras or attachments that provide this function.

And don't forget sensible shoes! Waterproof is ideal, and if you're going to be in rocky or hilly terrain, hiking boots provide ankle support.

A strong stick can be useful as well, which brings up another handy piece of equipment for the photographer's toolbox. A tripod or monopod can allow you to get clearer, crisper shots, particularly in low light settings like you find in the woods. The Trekpod, available from Berger Brothers Camera, which folds out into a tripod, allows quick and easy setup and is sturdy and light enough to make for a great walking stick. A cable release, or wireless release to click the shutter is also handy to depress the shutter without causing the camera to shake on the tripod. If your camera doesn't support these, you can always use the timer to do the same thing.

Look for a focal point in photographing landscapes

How to take landscape photos is more than deciding exactly where to point the camera, which isn't quite as easy as shooting a portrait of example. And yet, having a focal point when photographing landscape scenes - something in the photo that catches the viewer's eye - is essential. It can be anything from an interesting tree, to an outcropping of rocks, a house, building or even a mountain in the distance. Another thing to look for is how the eye gets to the focal point in the photo. A road leading the eye in that direction, a fence, a line of trees can all be used to lead the viewer's eye where you want it. If possible, find something interesting in both the foreground, middle and background. Quite often, nearby plants (the botanical kind, not the industrial), or flowers can make for a very interesting and appealing foreground. One thing to keep in mind is the horizon line. Keeping it a third of the way from the top when photographing landscapes is a good rule of thumb, particularly if it's a cloudless sky. Or if you have a dramatic, cloudy sky, you might want to let it dominate the upper two-thirds of your photo. Very rarely do you want the horizon to cross your photo in the center.

Also, keep an eye on having the camera level. It can always be fixed afterwards when cropping, but it's easier and better practice to do it when photographing the landscape itself.

Choosing a camera for photographing landscapes

Today's point and shoot cameras can pack a lot of punch in a small, lightweight package. Look for something with 10 megapixels or more, and ideally one which shoots in a 16:9 aspect ratio as well as the more common 4:3 or 3:2. This gives you the equivalent of a built-in wide angle lens. A flash isn't necessarily as important here, though it can come in handy when trying to avoid blurring in the low light of a thick forest.

Point and shoot cameras can easily be carried in the pocket, important especially if you're the type who likes to do a bit of climbing. If you choose a case though, make sure it can be easily opened so you don't spend a lot of time fumbling to get your camera out, as the quicker you are able to get it out and shoot, the sooner you can be moving again.

Many DSLR cameras are lighter and more portable than ever. Some combine the functions of a DSLR with the smaller sizes of a point and shoot, but often lack the ability to use interchangeable lenses. Having a couple of lenses on hand can be a good thing, as you might be spending part of the day inside a forest, where a telephoto lens might be good for shooting wildlife for example, and later reach a photographing a landscape of a scenic overlook which cries out for a wide angle lens. Or you might go with a good universal lens, in the 24-105mm range for instance, which gives you wide angle and a fair amount of telephoto capabilities.

Pay close attention to the way the camera is made. If your walks in the woods consist of easy hikes down trails, a lightweight model might work fine for taking landscape photos. Then again, with less backpacking gear to carry, you might not mind the extra weight of a heavier camera and lenses. If you're doing some climbing or camping, you might very well need something a big more rugged, which won't be destroyed if you accidently whack it against a rock face. Then again, if you're carrying a backpack you might not want to also lug around a heavy camera and lens. It's all a matter of personal preference.

And don't forget extra cards, batteries (make sure they're charged beforehand) and lens cleaning tissues.

A note on aperture settings for photographing landscapes. Typically the idea behind how to take landscape photos is to keep as much of the image in focus as possible. For that you want a smaller aperture setting. It gets a bit confusing, as the higher the aperture number, the smaller the aperture setting. With a smaller aperture setting, less light gets to the image sensor, so you have to compensate by choosing a higher ISO (in the old days, film speed), or a longer shutter setting. The longer your shutter is open, the more chance you have for camera shake or things moving in your image. So with a longer shutter setting, a tripod becomes a necessity, and image stabilization as well.

Fixing your images at home

Increasingly, people photographing landscapes are doing more of the work at home, on their personal computers. Adjusting exposure, colors, cropping and straightening can all be done with software, quite often the software that comes free when you purchase your computer. In addition, there are many software packages out there which allow you to apply special effects to your landscapes.

The trick to making this work, is to capture as much information as possible in your original image, when taking landscape photos. Use the highest image setting that creates the largest digital file. Ideally, you'll have a camera which is capable of shooting in raw format, in which case you can use the software to override any settings applied to the image by your camera. Think of post processing your images to be equal to the development of your negative in your old film camera. The difference is, you have control over your images, not whomever is operating the machine at your local drugstore or film processing house.

Software packages, like Adobe's Lightroom or Apple's Aperture can also help you organize your landscape photos, which becomes essential when you've been doing it for several years and want to find a certain photo which you know resides someplace on your hard drive.

Want to find out more about photographing landscapes?

Talk to the expert staff at Berger Brothers Camera. They can help you with questions about the right cameras and equipment, as well as technique for how to take landscape photos. If you're in the area, take a class with our qualified instructors, or attend a seminar about photographing landscapes. Or even better, join Berger Brothers on a photo safari where you will not only get wonderful photo opportunities, but personalized help, as well as a chance to try out new camera gear.

Still have questions? Contact customerservice@berger-bros.com.


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