The photography tutorial helps us see the bigger picture i.e. a lesson on learning the deft art of telling stories by capturing landscapes.
Our series of articles on photography will remain incomplete without a discussion on a very important genre of wildlife and nature photography – landscape photography. The definition of landscape photography has undergone quite a lot of change. It involves understanding the best time of the day for shooting under the given light conditions, achieving more balanced exposures, composition techniques to exclude more and include less, use of manual focus, wise use of f-stops, use of remote shutter release and self-timers, slow shutter speeds, choice of ISO, use of filters…and a lot more! In short, a lot of homework needs to be done to pre-visualise the perfect composition. Some of the pointers to keep in mind include:
Best time of the day
Early morning or evening is the best time of the day as one is assured of much balanced exposure. Shooting during harsh daylight gives rise to too much contrast in the image and loss of details. A circular polarizer is a wonderful tool for cutting down glares and creating richly saturated skies.
Depth of field
The most widely accepted method to maximise the depth of field is to use a smaller aperture. But a smaller aperture will let less light enter and you will have to compensate for this by either increasing the ISO or by using a slower shutter speed, which may require the use of a tripod.
An attractive foreground with multiple points of interest can add a lot of value and depth to a landscape photograph, while also leading the viewer into the image and your perspective of it.
An arresting sky
In most landscapes, the two most dominant segments are the foreground and sky. A bland, uniform sky is very boring and one must never allow such a component to dominate the image. When you don’t have anything interesting in the sky to capture, choose the foreground as the most dominant component. An interesting sky to shoot is one which has varied cloud formations. Use of a polarizer can add further drama by enhancing its colour and contrast.
If the sky is interesting, let it occupy two- thirds of the frame
A good landscape photographer always tries to exclude as many distractions as possible from the frame. Keeping the composition simple is a very good technique to follow. But it is advisable to include some human or animal element to the landscape for the purpose of scaling.
Use of tripod
Since a smaller aperture is frequently used in landscape photography to achieve maximum depth, the use of a tripod becomes mandatory. A tripod not only helps to minimise shake, but may also help to choose a more optimal combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These situations will need a longer shutter speed and a tripod will be an excellent tool to stabilise the camera during the exposure.
A tripod may also be an excellent tool to take a series of photographs to create a digital panorama, or to create an HDR photograph, or to take a series of photographs in time-lapse to create an animated effect.
Focus for landscape photography should be preferably manual and slightly short of infinity. It is advisable to use a few stops wider than the smallest aperture (i.e. f/22), which also offers sharp images. You must use the minimum possible ISO (100/200) to achieve minimum grains and maximum quality. Remote shutter release or timed shutter release is a helpful tool that could be used when a relatively slow shutter speed is needed and the slightest movement could give rise to blurring.
Hyperfocal distance is the closest from where you can focus while keeping all objects at infinity acceptably sharp. The best way to calculate hyperfocal distance is to do it visually. Try to focus at the most distant object in your frame and manually try to bring down the focusing distance as low as possible to such a point where the object still looks acceptably sharp. This is your hyperfocal distance. Alternatively, you can also try to focus in 1/3rd of the way into your scene in order to achieve maximum sharpness throughout. This is a very crude way of achieving the intended effect, but works well sometimes.
Understanding the concept of hyperfocal distance may help you achieve amazing depth in your images
Shooting waterfalls is a challenge primarily because you intend to capture the flow of water using a slow shutter speed. On a brightly lit day, use of a slow shutter may wash out the image even after using the smallest possible aperture. Your best option is to include shooting the waterfall on an overcast day. Additionally, I would also advise the use of a Neutral Density (ND) filter to cut down light under such circumstances.
Experiment using different metering modes rather than being rigid on evaluative/matrix metering as the book says, particularly in tricky light conditions. Centre-weighted or spot metering may sometimes give unexpected results.
. You will be benefitted most only once you practice what you have learned. So grab your camera, keep clicking and keep experimenting.
This article was first published in the May 2015 edition of Saevus Magazine