Rolling hills covered in long blades of green grass that bend with the wind stretch out beyond the horizon, a river eases itself between them and empties into a small lake… Words provide a description, but a great landscape photograph brings the image to life with all the energy, vibrancy and awe of being there. Landscapes have captivated and fascinated artists for centuries and now, and thanks to the relative affordability and portability of digital photography, just about anyone can capture nature’s beauty and create a masterpiece.
The History of Landscape Photography
Prior to the 18th century, the vast majority of painters did not use landscapes as the subjects of their works. Landscapes were instead more likely to be used as a backdrop for the piece’s main subject. Beginning in the late 18th century, a shift in focus, so to speak, occurred. Nature in and of itself began to enthrall painters.
The 1800s also saw the early days of photography as art. Though the technology of photography had been around for some time, camera prototypes were only just becoming portable enough to take on trips. As individuals started exploring the world for themselves, glimpsing for the first time sights they had only read about, they documented their travels.
Though early landscape photography imitated the look and feel of landscape paintings, innovators in the medium such as Peter Henry Emerson began encouraging photographers in the late 19th century to think of their craft as a distinguished art in its own right. He emphasized the importance of naturalism in photography, which he believed was best captured with a snapshot on film.
Landscape photography does make use of the Sun’s natural light, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that, with regard to lighting, outdoor shoots are easy. Unlike shooting indoors, where you can control your light source, landscape photography puts you at the mercy of nature. You must know where and when to look for the right lighting and sometimes you just get lucky.
Try taking your pictures during low-light time periods, such as sunrise and sunset. Dusk is an excellent time to capture a “nighttime” feel because the minimal sunlight will illuminate your shot in striking, dramatic ways. The shot will look dark, but every element in it will be visible.
Landscape Photography in Any Weather Condition
Since the weather has an extraordinary amount of influence over how your final product turns out, you need to be a pro at forecasting the weather when photographing landscapes. The first and best place to go to is the National Weather Service’s website. Their regional forecasts are some of the best available and will alert you ahead of time to the possibility of rain or other more dangerous weather conditions. The last thing you want is to get caught in a flash flood and have all your equipment ruined with no photograph to show for your trouble.
However, even troublesome weather can lead to capturing some incredible images. If it is raining, purchase protective gear such as an Exped Drybag and less expensive lenses (just in case you have to replace them every couple of months, if the weather does affect their quality). Use a camera that is small so it can fit easily inside your jacket or simply use a clear plastic bag and umbrella.
If the weather is very cold with conditions such as a heavy snowfall, be sure to change your lens before you head outside. If you do change your lens outside, doing so may allow moisture from the air to get inside your camera. No matter the weather condition, you will find that different elements can lead to beautiful photos.
If you are thinking of digitally improving your landscape photographs, there are some great programs to help you get started in editing your photos: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom and Corel. Adobe Lightroom features the Radial Gradient to create multiple effects and the Highlight and Shadow Recovery feature to bring out details from shadowed areas. Corel Paintshop Pro includes the RAW feature that allows you to closely improve restoration and split a photo in three different exposures in order to recombine in any way for a great HDR effect.
Image source: Samuel Burns
More than anything else, landscape photography is about how we see the world. Every shot has the potential to bring a fresh new perspective. Show the world what you see by capturing a mood in your photographs. What do you see when you look at a landscape?