Riccardo Zambelloni Photography
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10 Tips to Improve your Landscape Photography Straight Away

You have just bought yourself a new camera. Great!!!

You have also gotten some new lenses. Super!!!

You like landscape photography. Smashing!!!

You have no idea how, what, why and where to begin. That’s cool!!! Everyone needs a starting point and here are 10 tips to help you get on the right track with landscape photography.

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1-Understand your camera settings as the back of your hand:

These are the basics (and the boring part) of photography in general. Read as much as you can of your camera’s instructions to get familiar with it. The most important thing to understand and master is the “exposure triangle”, which is based on the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO. These three amigos sure can be your best friends in photography if you know how to use them properly. Another very important thing is the histogram, which politely tells you if your picture is well-exposed or needs a little bit of tweaking to achieve the perfect exposure. Once you studied and practised these settings you are already on the way to bring your photography on a whole new level.

2-Shoot in Manual Mode:

Now that you master shutter speed, aperture and ISO like a pro, you must be able to control them all the time; hence, you need to shoot in Manual Mode. In this case, the camera lets you choose everything: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Sounds a bit overwhelming?! If so, you might want to try to shoot in Aperture Priority Mode first, where the camera lets you decide the aperture and the ISO and it chooses the right shutter speed for the scene you are capturing. I am sure you’ll quickly gain a lot of confidence with the Aperture Priority mode and you’ll then be ready for the Manual mode in a jiffy. I always use the Manual Mode when I am on a tripod, because of the greater degree of freedom, but I sometimes use the Aperture Priority Mode as well when I am shooting handheld scene (i.e. travel and wildlife photography). My advice is to first try Aperture Priority Mode and then, when you are more familiar and confident with the camera settings, start to shoot Manual. You’ll see the difference straight away.

 Shooting on a tripod unlocks the world of long exposure photography and many many other photography techniques.

Shooting on a tripod unlocks the world of long exposure photography and many many other photography techniques.

3-Use a tripod:

After the camera, the tripod is the second essential tool for landscape photography. I feel like naked whenever I go out without my tripod. It’s like a road trip without gummy bears…it’s unBEARable (*mic drop*). Using a tripod is essential for a couple of reasons:

A) It allows you to achieve razor sharp pictures, which helps for large printing.

B) it makes you think more about your composition and how to use the elements of the scene.

C) it allows you use slower shutter speeds.

D) it unleashes your creativity, allowing you to perform long exposure photography, multiple exposures, panoramas, time blending and so on.

Need I say more? Come on, go and buy a tripod. Which tripod? The tripod needs to be sturdy and reliable, that’s it. Having said that, don’t buy the cheapest tripod you find on Amazon (they are NOT reliable nor sturdy nor a tripod). A tripod is a costly investment as your camera unfortunately. Let’s put it this way; would you feel safe to put a 3000 USD camera plus a 2000 USD lens on a wobbly 45 USD tripod?! Me no think so. So, don’t be stingy on the tripod. If you can combine sturdiness with lightweight (i.e. carbon fibre tripods) is even better, as landscape photography usually involves a lot of hiking/walking. Common tripod brands are Manfrotto, Sirui, Benro, Induro, Really Right Stuff, Gitzo and so on. The point is: use a tripod when shooting your landscape photo. (I am not sponsored in any form by the aforementioned tripod companies, the only sponsorship I might accept is from Haribo).

 A gorgeous sunset in Namibia. You can clearly see the layer of rainy clouds and the gap in the horizon. This combination at sunset or sunrise will set the scene on fire.

A gorgeous sunset in Namibia. You can clearly see the layer of rainy clouds and the gap in the horizon. This combination at sunset or sunrise will set the scene on fire.

 Moody mid-day shot on the road in the South Island of New Zealand. Overcast and rainy days bring mood to your shots all day long.

Moody mid-day shot on the road in the South Island of New Zealand. Overcast and rainy days bring mood to your shots all day long.

4-Shoot at sunrise and sunset:

The best light of the day is usually around sunset (or 1 hour after/before) and sunrise (or 1 hour after/before). This is because the sun is at a lower angle and hits the element of a scene with a soft and warm light. If high clouds are present in the sky, they will glow first with a yellowish hue and then they will turn in a lovely pinkish/purple colour, which will enhance the interest and texture of the sky. This usually happens just before sunrise and after sunset. If it’s cloudy and there’s a gap far in the horizon, don’t leave the location, stay and be prepared because you are in for a treat. I also like to shoot at twilight (or blue hour) to get that dark twilight mood; usually the elements of your scene will glow from the indirect ambient light cast by the setting/rising sun. Although sunrise and sunset are the best moment of the day to shoot landscapes, it does not mean that you can’t shoot during the day. For example, I personally love to shoot in bad weather (i.e. light rain, approaching thunderstorm, fog or overcast days). In these conditions, light isn’t harsh at all and makes it for very interesting shots, especially intimate scenes. Also, if you want to capture double or triple rainbows and other epic conditions, you really need to put yourself out there in sketchy weather conditions (always be safe though). Bluebird skies…those are your freaking enemies!!!

5-Shoot RAW:

This is another very important setting to bring your photography to the next level. There are millions of endless and pointless discussions on the internet about “RAW vs JPEG”, basically like “Nikon vs Canon”. The reality is that shooting RAW allows you to retain more information and dynamic range which translates in more freedom for post-processing and higher quality pictures. Shadows/highlights information, finer colour gamut, lossless file compression and tuneable colour space are some of the advantages to shoot RAW. The straight out of the camera RAW file is usually flat and lacks contrast, but it is a high quality file and there won’t be any noise and/or artefacts introduction after post-processing. If you shoot JPEG, you will introduce a lot of noise (or grain) and artefacts into your picture while processing them as they have limited information and suffer from JPEG compression. Shooting RAW can be activated in your camera’s menu very easily and they are usually bigger files than JPEG. JPEG files are usually 6-8MB, while RAW files are around 30-50MB, depending on your camera. This is the only trade-off of shooting RAW and can be resolved by buying bigger and faster SD cards.

 Straight out of the camera RAW file.

Straight out of the camera RAW file.

 Final image after post-processing in Lightroom and Photoshop. You can definitely unleash your creativity with these two bad boys without worrying about introducing artefacts or too much noise in the RAW file.

Final image after post-processing in Lightroom and Photoshop. You can definitely unleash your creativity with these two bad boys without worrying about introducing artefacts or too much noise in the RAW file.

6-Use Lightroom and Photoshop:

Since you are shooting RAW now, you’ll need appropriate software to process your photos. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are one of the most famous RAW processing programmes. These software are the digital-age darkroom for developing your RAW pictures and the post-processing actions with these bad boys are limitless. Adobe offers a very popular Photography Plan to download and use both software and have all the updates (good and bad) that Adobe releases every minute. I do have this plan and I am really happy with it as I can catalog and preliminarily process my RAW file in Lightroom, then switch to Photoshop for the main workflow and then return to Lightroom for the final touches and export without any problems. Of course, you can also find alternatives to Adobe: I have heard good things about CaptureOne and Picktorial and there’s also another free software called Darktable that resembles Lightroom/Photoshop features. I have personally never tried them so I can’t really give you a lot more information. (Again, I am not sponsored by the aforementioned software companies, just waiting for Haribo to call).

7-Use filters:

Although nowadays we have powerful tools like Photoshop and alike, the saying “getting it right in camera” is still the best advice for every photographer out there. For this reason, to get the right shot you’ll need filters. Which filters? One of the most important filters for landscape photography is the Circular Polariser (CPL). Briefly, this filter filters out the polarised component of the light from your scene, enhancing contrast and saturation, and it’s the only filter that cannot be reproduced in post-processing. Other essential filters for landscape photography are Graduated Neutral Density filters (GND) and Neutral Density filters (ND). GNDs are gradually darkened piece of glass that help you balance the light disparity in your scene (i.e. when the sky is far brighter than the foreground), while NDs are evenly darkened filters which decrease the amount of light entering the camera and they are very useful for long exposure photography. I usually carry 3 filters with me on my outings and, you guessed it right, they are one CPL, one GND and one ND.

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8-Understand and master composition:

If you have read all previous 7 tips, you are now set and ready to shoot some amazing landscapes. Exciting huh?! To really make your landscape photos stand out from the crowd you also need to master composition. What’s composition? Composition is the way you arrange the element of your scene and this either makes or breaks an image. Composition and light are THE KEY to a great landscape photo. You might have heard of compositional rules such as “the rule of thirds” or “leading lines” or “the counterpoint theory” and these compositional features are all well-known and well-used by landscape photographers. These “rules” are there to help you understand and take compelling images with the elements in front of you. Get familiar with them and practice these guidelines as much as you like, but don’t get obsessed with them like an unbreakable creed. As cliché as it may sound, rules are meant to be broken. Let’s just call them friendly compositional suggestions.

 

9-Practice, practice and practice:

No matter how many books, reviews, blog posts like this or tutorials you read/study, practice on the field will always be your best teacher. Period. When I started to pick up landscape photography, there were times where I felt quite overwhelmed by the amount of new information I was reading and/or studying. Whenever I felt that way, I really tried to go out and shoot to practice all that new stuff. Sometimes, I was so excited to go shooting that I was pulling off an all-nighter (sunset and sunrise included) and then go straight to work (if you are my current employer, I don’t do this anymore *wink wink*). Trust me when I say that there’s always something new to learn every single time you go out: doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or you are a Nat Geo photographer. Practice and dedication make a huge difference, as the learning curve for photography is endless and quite steep. Jealousy or envy, instead, hold you back for sure. So, practice, practice and practice another time.

 Friends, amazing views, sunsets and some good old banter...can't beat this!!! Photo by Annika Mollgaard.

Friends, amazing views, sunsets and some good old banter...can't beat this!!! Photo by Annika Mollgaard.

10-Shoot for yourself and enjoy being outside:

This is the most important tip of all. Technically these are 2 tips, but “11 tips to improve your landscape photography straight away” sounded rather odd. Picture this: you are outdoor, doing what you love, all by yourself or with good friends in front of a gorgeous view and a magical sunset is happening right in front of your eyes. What else do you need? Can’t find any award-winning compositions? Who cares? You are outside shooting for yourself and it’s the only thing that matters. I just love to be in the field and outdoors. Just breathe, relax and enjoy the moment.