It is a fact that landscapes are one of the most popular subjects that people prefer to photograph, apart from their kids and sunrises of course. And I’m sure there’s no doubt that some folks will photograph landscapes just to get away from the kids anyway!
However, you may be satisfied enough with the shots you come home with, but I am certain that after reading this tutorial and with lots of practice, you will be coming home with some truly inspiring shots in the future.
As with any photography, no matter what, lighting is the first and foremost consideration and with landscape photography, there is certainly no exception.
The most obvious and natural light source for landscape photography has to be none other than the good old sun, but its best properties for this type of photography are either in the early hours of the morning till about 9am or from about 4pm in the afternoon till dusk.
During these times, the light is more direct and third dimensional like, creating long shadows, shape and form, surface textures and great colours. It is not advisable to shoot landscape scenes during the hours between 9am and 4pm because the sunlight, particularly in the height of summer, is bluer and as a result, your colours will be flatter. At midday, the sunlight is just too strong, no longer allowing for well-saturated colours and is much too contrasty.
However, in saying that, at midday in the middle of winter, the sun is not quite so high in the sky, which means that the quality hours for taking photos will be extended somewhat - depending on where you are in the world, of course.
In the actual composition of a landscape shots, you should look at creating a wide vista and therefore use a wide angle somewhere in the range of (12-40mm) to achieve approximately the right perspective, if you are using a zoom lens, work from the wider end. A 40-50mm setting allows for a vista as near as possible as to how the human eye would perceive that same scene. Also allowing for distant objects to appear further away and closer objects even closer.
If you have a zoom fitted, whilst you’re there you might find some interesting parts of the scene worth zooming in on. Like a rocky bluff or even some wildflowers or an oddly shaped tree.
Viewpoint and composition are also important when shooting landscapes. Try to create a sense of depth in the image - finding a good focal point to put in the foreground is ideal to do this, such as a tree, boulder, or perhaps a bridge or stream. Consider the height you're taking the picture from and think, would this look better if I was lower down or higher up? Don't just settle for taking all your shots from head height - try some variation. Try to include the most interesting parts in your picture, look for lines such as streams and pathways which act as 'lead-in lines' that help draw the eye into the frame. Diagonal lines tend to work best as they create more impact. See 'Composition Design - parts 1-7'
Colour can make a landscape image truly work. Try to look for any colour you can, whether it be bright flowers, a bracken-covered hillside, or perhaps a stone wall covered in vibrant green moss. Even a red telephone box may work, it fits in nicely with the surroundings. In winter, there is less colour around, but watch out for cold mornings where frosty areas that still remain in shadow, create a lovely cool blue shade, adding another dimension to your image.
Depending on how far you want to take it, there are a number of additions to your kit that will help improve your landscape photography. A tripod or monopod (see 'Tripods and why') will help to ensure that all your images are sharp, and also slow you down, helping you concentrate on composition. Filters are also useful - a polarizing filter is ideal on sunny days where they cut through haze, increase colour saturation and make the clouds leap out of the sky. Graduated filters are also popular, used to effectively darken the sky where the sky is too bright - this evens up the otherwise high contrast which all cameras struggle to cope with.
If you really want to do the landscape justice then there is no substitute for doing your research. Walking a route, or even driving around an area is a sure way of finding where the best pictures are. Think about returning at a better time of day, and try to judge where the sun will be. Also, bear in mind the seasonal changes - one location may look pretty dull during late summer, but it could be completely transformed once the autumn colours arrive. All of this comes with experience, but the more time you spend out there, the more likely you are to bag some truly rewarding images.