It’s probably fair to say that about three of every five images submitted to A4StockPhotos is a landscape, and it’s long been accepted that landscape photography is the favourite genre of most amateur photographers. A lot of professional shooters would probably like to do far more landscape work too, but unfortunately most pros have to spend their time photographing whatever sells clients’ products, usually in a studio to ensure reliable results.
We would love to be able to accept more landscape images, but unfortunately many submissions suffer from one or more basic problems, so if you have had images declined by an online seller, it might be worth revisiting some of the fundamentals of landscape photography.
Submitting landscape photographs
For the reasons stated above, it’s much harder to get a landscape image accepted, so it will have to be better than average and if possible be a photo of a location that hasn’t been photographed a great deal. Having said that, don’t forget that the same place can look very different at different times of the year, so if you have ready access to a beautiful location it’s worth going back to it whenever you can to capture it in all its moods. Another thing to remember about cityscapes (for instance) is that an image of something like the London skyline will date very quickly as new buildings are added, so a constant supply is required. Editors and art directors also like to use weather metaphors to liven up news articles (dark clouds over the City of London etc.), so meaningful locations shown in different lights will always sell.
It’s easy to confuse the concept of landscape with land-based industries like farming or forestry. An article or brochure about timber or forestry, for instance, will require very different images to a piece about preserving ancient woodland or rain forest. Similarly, most agricultural customers see farming as an industry, not an exercise in preserving the environment, so wild flowers and cute bunnies are definitely out, for them at least. When considering your landscape photography ‘brief’ these things are worth remembering.
10 hints to dramatically improve your landscape photography
You will probably be aware of the technical requirements of taking a good landscape photograph, but just in case, this is our version:
- Try to work at the beginning or the end of the day. Light is much warmer, giving you richer colours, longer shadows mean better modelling on trees, mountains and buildings and there is much less chance of ending up with empty white skies.
- Because light levels are generally much lower at these times, you will need to use a tripod. Handheld shots in low light are OK for action scenes, but where you need good depth of field (a minimum of f8 – f16) and low noise levels you cannot simply set the ISO to the kind of levels routinely advertised by camera manufacturers. We receive far too many potentially good images which we have to reject because of camera shake (should’ve used a tripod) high noise levels (set the ISO too high) shallow depth of field (aperture too low) or poor composition. All of these faults derive from not using a tripod in low light. Placing your camera on a tripod not only allows slow shutter speeds, but also gives you time to compose the image properly and check out the whole of the screen or viewfinder before clicking the shutter.
- If you are intending to do night scenes or sunsets, always try and work within half an hour of so of sunset. Obviously this will vary with weather conditions and season, but generally speaking it’s best to avoid the completely black skies you get once darkness has completely descended.
- Don’t forget filters. If you haven’t found out already, you will be amazed at the difference a polarising filter makes to green leaves and vegetation, all of which pick up a surprising amount of flare in bright sunlight. Also, in low light conditions like early morning or sunsets, often the only way to prevent either overexposing the sky or underexposing the land is by using graduated neutral density filters. Check them out. There is plenty of information available.
- Always shoot in raw if you can. The levels of post processing control are far greater than with JPEGs and you can keep going back to the same image to try out different effects and treatments until you are happy with the result. With a JPEG, once taken there isn’t much you can do with too-dark shadows, blown highlights or colour casts.
- There are a number of complicated rules about depth of field and focussing, but in simple terms, focus on an object about 2 – 3 metres from the camera and if the lens is stopped down to F11 or above you will find most of the image is sharp, with only the far distance getting soft. It needs to be said, though, that this doesn’t necessarily apply if you want to highlight foreground elements like pebbles or plants, as things that are only a few inches from the lens will be blurred. It is possible to get some great images by focussing on elements just at your feet, you just have to decide what kind of image you are after.
- Experiment with longer focal length lenses. Landscape photography isn’t just about getting everything you can into the shot, in practice that’s nearly always impossible. You will find the best way to convey the size and scale of the landscape around you is to select views and angles which show it off best. When dealing with flat or undulating landscapes, for instance, wide angle lenses can be completely counter-productive, reducing the prominence of landscape features and making everything look boring and far away. Often a telephoto lens will reveal details which show off the landscape far more effectively.
- Don’t forget, though, that when using telephoto lenses, shutter speeds have to go up with the focal length and a tripod becomes even more essential. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that for a 300mm lens (for instance) you will need a minimum shutter speed of 1/300th of a second to avoid camera shake. A 400mm lens with require a minimum of 1/400th and so on pro rata. In low light conditions this is usually unachievable without resorting to very high, often image-destroying, ISO settings. You should also maintain a healthy scepticism about manufacturers’ claims for their various image stabilisation systems until you have proven them for yourself.
- Be prepared to walk. It’s vary rare to find the perfect angle from the car park or the window of the bus, and even if you do, you can be sure that everyone else will too. Even a few yards can sometimes make the difference between yet another average photo of a famous landmark, mountain or lake and something different that will sell. Being able to concentrate undisturbed will also significantly improve your work!
- Last, but not least is always bear in mind with landscape photography, that when composing an image in a viewfinder you are working in two dimensions, not three. In practice this means there will be many times you have to resort to visual tricks to convey the full impact of the scene around you. Tricks like using the rule of thirds to add interest to the elements in a scene and create a pleasing composition. There is plenty of information available on this throughout the web.
Finally, and probably the most basic fact of all, is that great landscape photography is not created by sitting by the window waiting for the weather to improve. Some of the best landscape shots are taken in bad or unstable weather conditions, and ironically the worst conditions are generally the hot, dull days of mid summer when skies are leaden, the light is awful and glare ruins most shots. This is the time to head for the forest and shoot those scenes which will benefit from the reduced contrast, the ferns, waterfalls and ancient woodland, anything that doesn’t involve sky. More than ever, though, you will need that tripod!
For more great landscape images visit http://www.a4stockphotos.com
For useful info about the rule of thirds visit http://www.photographymad.com