One the most enjoyment times to photograph landscape images is in the golden hour period, half an hour before and after sunset. But how to you get those stunning images where the water appears motionless and the colours seem to pop out at you.
Well in this article I’m going to go through, the equipment I use, the setting that I use, being the big three, aperture, shutter and ISO and lastly what I look for in taking landscape images in low light.
Let me just say to start off with that equipment, does not make the photographer. You can have all the best equipment in the world, but if you do not understand composition, rules of thirds, lighting etc, your images will just look like holiday snaps. If you’re new to photographer and you’re not sure of what such terms mean, there are heaps of videos on youtube expanding on these topics.
So to begin with, the camera I use is a Canon 1DX full frame DSLR camera. Full frame allows more light into the sensor with a wider aperture, which I will expand on further in this article. Lens wise I generally use either a 17-40mm f/4 lens or 16-35mm f/4 or f/2.8. A tripod for stability, especially for long exposure and a intervalometer for exposure greater tham 30 second durations. Depending on sun position, the look I’m chasing and depending on available light I may use ether a polarising or ND filter. ND filters and polarising filters I will discuss at a later date as these will have a direct bearing on either the aperture, shutter or ISO setting you use. As a general tip I also carry additional lighting such as a LED torch for light painting purposes and a LED light head set to adjust camera setting in diminishing light.
All DSLR cameras have settings ranging from auto, where you simply point and shoot and the camera using complex algorithms to full manual mode where you control all settings. Modes such as Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority (both Canon terminology)are a mixture of auto and manual mode where the end user will select two options and the camera based on light receives determine the third option. Again, plenty of videos on youtube explaining various settings.
With my settings, I always firstly shoot in RAW (again Canon Terminology). This always allows me to retain as much data as possible when editing in either photoshop or lightroom. Always in manual mode, and always using a tripod, especially when available light becomes an issue. With landscape images, it’s impractical to have a wide aperture. This whilst giving the camera sensor the best opportunity to receive the most light available, which in low light would seem the best option, the downside is that you have a shallow depth of field. This results in the foreground being in focus, but the background being blurry, which is useless when you are attempting to have objects in the distance in focus.
In the scientific world, often we speak of every action having an opposite reaction. The world of cameras is unfortunately no different. I have already touched on the aperture aspect above with having a wide aperture, such as f/2.8 with a shallow depth of field resulting in blurry background. The opposite to a blurry background is to have a smaller aperture around f/11 and above in having a greater depth of field, allowing objects in the distance to be in focus. Unfortunately what comes with a smaller aperture is less light received by the camera sensor.
So what other factors will have an impact on the image other than your aperture setting? In manual mode there is have two other basic options, which I will discuss in this article. The second option is shutter speed. The quicker the shutter speed, again, limits the amount of light coming into the sensor. This also has the effect of freezing the images. In landscape images involving water, having a fast shutter speed will capture any disturbance in the water. To achieve that glassy, milky effect, you will want your shutter to remain open longer which will result in motion blur. Once again, what needs to be taken into account, is with the shutter remaining open, more light is received by the sensor, which left open too long could result in over exposed images.
So we have covered two of the options, discussing the pros and cons of both settings. The third setting relates to ISO. In Digital Photography ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain. Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds. The down side to higher ISO setting is increase image noise. Image noise is random variation of brightness or color information in images, and is usually an aspect of electronic noise. It can be produced by the sensor and circuitry of a scanner or digital camera.
So three of the most important factors as a beginner to understand is Aperture, Shutter and ISO settings. All three in various combinations will give you the image you are chasing. Having an understanding of how each option has an impact on the image you are after, as well as having an effect on the other two options discussed is important to understand. Once you have that understanding you can move from an auto setting to a manual setting and unleash your creativity.
Discussing other options which will have an impact will be discussed in later blogs. Getting to grips with the big three, as a beginner is enough to keep you occupied for the next couple of weeks. Understanding additional camera settings to fine tune your end result is somethings to discuss once you “learn to walk”.
So you’ve got all the equipment and you’ve read up on the “big three”, aperture, shutter and ISO settings and you’re ready to take on the world. Now comes the question, what do I look for in taking stunning landscape images? Terms such as “rules of thirds”, “leading lines” and “negative space” or sometimes “white space” are all used when discussing composition of an image. All these techniques can be used to turn an average photo into a stunning photo.
Firstly the image itself. Great landscape photos will not only have something happening in the background, such as a mountain range, but some object in the foreground to give balance the image. The object in the foreground could be a house/hut or even a person which gives scale and distance to the objects in the background. Having solely an object in the distance without any reference to the foreground tends to make the image look pedestrian or should I say “holiday snap” looking. When we talk about rules of thirds, images are broken down into three sectors horizontally and vertically. Much the same as drawing tic tac toe pattern on the sidewalk as kids. When an image involves the horizon, having the horizon on either the first and second horizontal line is much more appealing then having the horizon running right through the middle of the image.
Similarly having an object in the foreground aligned with either the first or second vertical lines gives better composition to the image whilst giving negative or white space to the images. This is especially important when people are involved in the foreground. The direction of where they’re looking should be the area of negative or white space.
The last topic in composition I wish to discuss is leading lines. In western society, from a very early age, our brains are hard wired into reading from left to right. Every book you read is from left to right. Every line you type is from left to right. Therefore sub-consciously when you look at an image, you view that image from left to right. Therefore having objects that are in alignment either from left to right, or even bottom to top or right to left with capture the eye and draw the attention of the person from the direction of the leading lines. One trick I learnt from a very good photographer, when viewing images was to print out a draft copy, turn the image upside down and view the image again. We are so accustom to viewing images in one direction, we often don’t see mistakes. Turning an image upside down,
resets the brain and mistakes or blemishers are more noticeable.
I hope this article gives you some insight into the settings you need to understand in allowing you to go from auto mode to fully manual mode and unleash your creativity. Just remember, there is no exact method or settings used in photography. Depending on your interpretation, settings will be different from person to person. There is no right or wrong answer. However it is important for you to understand what each setting does and how that setting impacts on the image. More importantly however, the best way for you to learn and understand what each setting does, is to pick up the camera, set it to manual mode and start clicking. The best part of digital photography is that, if you make a mistake and don’t like the image, delete, adjust the settings and try again. Practice, practice and more practice, it’s that simple.
See you next time, Cheers