Better Landscape Photography Requires a Plan

Landscape photography is my passion. It is my most favourite thing to do, period. So needless to say I try to take the process fairly serious. Being that I teach photography I always seem to get the same question over and over and over again. "How did you take that picture". I know right, pretty general question with a ton of answers. I thought I would try to put together a blog post to answer this in its entirety. In short I, for the most part unless it's a fluke, plan out my images very carefully. There are a number of ways to get the shot you are looking for, but here is my version of a perfectly planned and executed landscape photo.

NUMBER 1  = LOCATION IS KEY

One thing is for sure, there are so many amazing places to photograph. One thing that I try to do when I plan for a trip is to take a look online at images that are located close to the home base location that I will be travelling to. There are a few social media resources that I use to find these ideal locations. The first source I consider is 500px, lately I am guilty of abandoning my 500px profile but I still always hit it up when looking for locations. The beautiful thing about it is that you can search by category and locations. So, landscapes and then let's say... Nanaimo British Columbia. 

The second resource that I turn to is the old Google machine. Google is so good for finding locations using very specific key words, and I often find that a Google search will lead me right to a landscape epic of a location. Often it takes me to 500px, hence the reason  I usually hit that resource first. 

The last resource, but definitely not least, is Instagram. I continue to carry a love hate relationship with Instagram, after the chronological feed aspect of it disappeared.  I get a lot of exposure using the platform and it honestly has kept me as busy as I would like in regards to work as a photographer. For these reasons I will continue to swallow my distain for the platform and continue to participate. I do although love the new little folder aspect of the app. I love that I can have folders created that are named where I an save photos that inspire me. I have been making lists of specific locations now as they come across my feed and it is proving very useful. I even recently created a list of great drone aerials that I am drawing inspiration from currently. 

 Englishman River Falls near Nanaimo BC Canada. I knew this place existed thanks to 500px

Englishman River Falls near Nanaimo BC Canada. I knew this place existed thanks to 500px

 

NUMBER 2  =  KNOWING WHEN THE LIGHT IS RIGHT (PHOTOPILLS)

The next thing I need to do after narrowing down a location is to find out when the optimal light will be gracing that location, this is where my favourite app comes in. Photopills is a landscape photo planner, it just does so much. What I find it most useful for is that it tells you exactly when the sun rises and sets at any time of the year, or years for that matter. I can plan shots in locations across the ocean that will take place ten years from now. It is a brilliant little application. It has a number of other features that makes life as a landscape photographer much easier. I especially enjoy the augmented reality portion of the app. It allows you to see where the milky way is rising below the horizon so that you can position yourself in the optimal location to get amazing astro images. The bottom line is that if you are serious about landscape photography you need this app. I bought the app a few years ago for, I believe, ten dollars CAD. 

 The Planner screen is where I spend the most time within the app. 

The Planner screen is where I spend the most time within the app. 

NUMBER 3 = PREDICT THE WEATHER

This is a big one. One thing that I am not a huge fan of is a clear blue sky in my landscape images. So, I find it vitally important to know what the weather is going to be doing during the planning phase of a shot. There are times that I have all the other elements in place and I am just waiting for a wether window to open up. Dramatic moody clouds that soften light and cast the sky with orange and magentas are what truly bring a landscape image to life. In order to get a handle on the weather, download your areas most reliable weather app and use it to predict when the sky will be cooperating.

I often try to get out after a rain storm as I find the clouds to be at their most dynamic at this specific time. Last thing in this point, that will lead me to my fourth point, is that you need to be ready for clear skies as well. The reason I say this is that if the clouds don't come, and you are shooting a sunset, there is a good chance that after the sun is gone that the stars will come out to play. This is where you will need to be ready with a range of camera gear to get the shot that god gives you. 

 I waited 3 years for this field to be planted to Canola s when the weather cooperated I got in the truck and seized the opportunity. 

I waited 3 years for this field to be planted to Canola s when the weather cooperated I got in the truck and seized the opportunity. 

 

NUMBER 4 = BRING THE RIGHT GEAR

I will keep this one short, because I honestly believe that great landscapes can be shot on a number of cameras, from beginner to pro level. The one thing that I want to emphasis is that if you can be ready for anything then do it. I carry a range of lenses along with my Canon 5dmrk3, but for the most part I always use my 17-40 F4. It is a great lens that has done nothing but perform for me throughout the years. At one point I am sure that I will upgrade to the latest version but for now it's my go to. I also shoot a lot of climbing with it so I don't feel bad beating it up a little. I am sure that one day it will be my primary adventure photography lens.

The second lens I carry with me is the new Sigma 20mm 1.4 ART Series lens. This beauty of a piece of glass is my go to for astro photography. When the skies are clear  I wait around with this bad boy and it does a great job of capturing the milky way.

 Waiting around pays off with the right gear. 

Waiting around pays off with the right gear. 

 NUMBER 5 = SCOUT THE LOCATION

The number one chunk of advice that I could give anyone on preparing for an epic landscape is to come when it's daylight so you have time to walk around and find the unique perspective. All of the hunting on the Internet is no good if you are just straight up copying someone else's work. Take the time to get there early and find an angle that you can call your own. My example of this is true when looking at the image above of the green creek at Englishman River Falls. I had viewed a number of great images online of this location but after taking a look around I discovered this little beauty of a creek flowing into the larger falls that everyone had been photographing previously. 

 

TO SUM IT ALL UP

Having a plan is what increases the chances of getting that one in a million image. It doesn't always come down to planning but more often than not this is the case. I can say with complete conviction that almost every shot that I have taken has been planned out using the method that I have described within this post. I believe in it and will continue to use it to shoot landscapes.

If you have any specific questions about any of these methods or any apps listed feel free to comment or message me. Also, you can search for me on Instagram and Facebook for more of my work. Happy planning and good luck on your next outing!

 

5 Ways to Make Your Landscapes Better

5 Ways to Make Your Landscapes Better

When I go shoot a landscape there are a few things that are a must in order to capture  sharp and technically sound images. These are 5 methods that are crucial to becoming successful as a landscape photographer and are really no secret to the experienced shooter but if you are a enthusiasts looking to hone your landscape shots this post is for you and can help take your landscape to the next level.

 

          

         1. Use a tripod

I have had a few people in the past tell me that they don't use a tripod to shoot landscapes, my reply to them is, "well then you are not shooting landscapes". It is very rare to be able to capture a sharp image, in the right conditions, without the use of a tripod. If I could recommend any additional piece of gear to someone who wants to start taking landscape photography more seriously it would be a tripod. It doesn't even have to be a super good one, I mean it helps to have a solid carbon fibre Really right Stuff rig but I started out with a Wallmart special and it did the trick on calm days. 

 $32 Best Buy Tripod

$32 Best Buy Tripod

 BH Manfrotto 055 Aluminum  

BH Manfrotto 055 Aluminum  

These two options will get the job done. The tripod on the left is much like my first, a plastic light and flimsy, but on a calm morning or evening this guy did just fine. When the wind was blowing or the ground was soft or uneven I began to run into problems. The second option, the tripod on the right, is the tripod I currently own and use often. It is big, burly, and is super reliable when the wind is blowing and the ground is uneven. It goes for around $300 US, but is worth its weight in gold when the  conditions call for the added stability. I also own a Mefoto Backpacker tripod, this is a lightweight travel tripod that I use when I am in the backcountry and not willing to tote my tank Manfrotto along for a week long hike.

     

         2. Use a remote shutter release or the self timer feature

The ultimate goal when shooting landscapes is a tack sharp image, you may have heard that phrase being thrown around the old photo club "tack sharp!", it may just sound like more photo lingo but a landscape image that is blurry or "soft", is the equivalent to you going to the grocery store filling your cart with $300 worth of grub and then realizing you forgot your wallet after the semi-retired clerk has spent 20 minutes chatting you up about his less than comfortable prostate problems. Without the use of remote you cause your camera to shake on the tripod and this leads to blurry images. Often, in a pinch, I will use my 2 second self timer. This allows the shutter button to be pressed and then gives the camera a moment to recover from the shake. I use this a lot and rarely find an issue but as I described before better to be safe than sorry so having the ability to fire your shutter without making contact with the camera is the best option. There are many options for remote shutters out there, I use a small infrared remote that is both small and light as well as a wired remote that connects the camera. All makes and models from beginner to pro camera bodies allow for the use off this feature, so there's no excuse not to have one in the bag at all times. 

     

           3. Shoot small apertures (big numbers)

If you are just starting to figure out your camera this concept can be slightly confusing, shooting small apertures, a physically smaller hole in the lens creates a wider depth of field. I know this is getting jargony again so here's a digram that gives a visual explanation of the concept. 

 www.bigsunphotography.com

www.bigsunphotography.com

Basically the larger the f stop the wider the depth of field is. This causes more of what is in the photo to be in focus, ranging from the foreground to the background. You can see within the example that f/2.8 causes a large hole in the lens, resulting in only the cat on the box being in focus. This is not the desired look for a landscape image. With the third example we see f/11, this creates a very small hole in the lens resulting in a wide depth of field. We can now see that the bunny, the cat on the box, and the tree are all in focus. This is what we are looking for when we shoot landscapes. I often use f/18 when shooting because it also allows me to slow down my shutter speed and this creates longer exposures, a style of landscape image that I am really into. So, to sum it up larger number, f-stop, creates a smaller hole in the lens, resulting in a wider depth of field. A wider depth of field allows both the foreground and the background to be "tack sharp". If this still doesn't make sense message me and we can take it a step further, still working on my teaching skills.

     

       4. Change your perspective

One thing I rarely do when shooting landscapes is have my tripod legs fully extended. When I get to a location before my camera even hits the tripod I am taking test shots at variety of elevations. From inches of the ground to finding a large rock to stand on, I try to see the scene in a unique way. Far too often I see the same beautiful location shot the exact same way, and don't get me wrong I am all about the overshot mountain locations but I just think that everyone should try to put their own spin on the classics. So, before you get locked in on the scene in front of you take a walk and get high and get low. This might just give your landscapes the new kick of drama and excitement that you are looking for. Here are two images that I shot using two different perspectives, the first being the classic Moraine Lake in Southern Alberta, Canada.  


This shot has been done in a number if ways but one perspective that I had yet to see was one from very close to the water. I shot this from behind a rock standing in about three feet of water. Two out of three of my tripod legs were extended about half way while the third was fully compacted and was sitting on a rock out of the water. this unique tripod setup allowed me to get a unique shot that I was am still happy with today!


The second shot is one that I captured after many attempts and trips to this location. I had tried a variety of perspective never really being completely happy with the outcome. After getting on my knees I discovered the perspective I was looking for. There was just enough waterfall to mountain ratio in this scene to create an appealing and dramatic image. Both of these shots were taken with my tripod legs all being positioned in different heights. I let my eye command the the composition and not the restrictions of a fully extended tripod. 


       5. Shoot when the light is right

One of the biggest changes to my shooting technique, that changed my landscapes 100%, was when I was started shooting in the early morning and late evening light. Light is everything and when it is harsh, like it is during the middle of the day, you get harsh shadows and blown out highlights. No I am not taking the blonde streaks in your hair, I am talking about super white skies that are unsalvageable in post production due to overexposure. By shooting in the early morning or late evening you are allowing your scene to be filled with the softest light possible. This light is diffused by the earths atmosphere because the sun is low on the horizon. This eliminates strong contrast in highlights and shadows and allows the camera to capture rich saturated colour tones that give your images drama and a ton of beauty. Almost all my landscape images, 99%, are shot during these time frames. I don't even consider a landscape shot unless it is during these times of the day and won't even bother to take a tripod with me if I know we are headed out in the midday sun. I reserve my middle of the day trip for scouting locations to return to once the right is right.  This tip is by far my most valued and I strongly encourage you to practice this and I can guarantee that by doing so you will get some incredibly dramatic landscape images.

 

All these tips and techniques are the ones that are automatics for me. They are less about my creative process and more about the practical and crucial aspects of being a successful landscape photographer. Put these to use and you will soon finding yourself capturing stunning landscape images that you will want to show off to all your nerdy photo pals in your local photo club.