Technique is an important issue in landscape photography. Good technique will produce fantastic images but, as always, only if the composition is also good. I personally prefer images with good composition and “OK” technique than images with perfect technique but poor composition. So after practicing and sharpening your composition, here are the technique guidelines. All of the written below is with the assumption of using a short focal length lens (wide angle).
When shooting landscape during daytime we usually prefer low ISO settings for several reasons. Low ISO settings give you the best picture quality without noise and graininess. Furthermore, most camera sensors have the best dynamic range (the ability oft he sensor to see from the brightest to the darkest parts of the image) at the lower ISO sensitivities. Using low ISO will therefore gives you clean, high dynamic range quality pictures. The other advantage of using low ISO is the ability to do long exposures, if we want to.
The lens aperture determines two important things. The first is how much light will go into your camera and the second is the depth of field (DOF) of the picture, both according to the aperture size. When setting the aperture size we will consider both considerations. Achieving large DOF (and mostly infinite DOF by hyper focal distance) is important in landscape photography because we usually want the picture to be in focus and sharp from the closest part all the way to the back. In order to achieve large DOF we have to use relatively small aperture, meaning the F number will be large. So how far should we close our aperture? The common use is between F/8 to F/16. F/8 is about as open as you can go and still be sure you have a very large DOF when using a short focal length lens. It is possible to achieve large DOF even with wider aperture, especially when using ultra wide angle lenses. If you want to be sure about your DOF, use a DOF calculator. The limit of closing your aperture will be at about F/16. Closing more than F/16 will start causing diffraction problems which appear as chromatic aberration (color problems) and decrease of sharpness.
Using relatively small aperture will insure we have large/infinite DOF in the picture and it also comes with a bonus. The use of small aperture size causes less light to enter through the lens therefore helping us to do long exposures.
The shutter determines how much time the image will be exposed. A fast shutter means less light goes in and it also means any movement twill be “frozen”. Slow shutter speed/long exposure means more light goes in and it also means that any relatively fast movement will be smeared. Long exposure is used quite often in landscape photography because it has some very nice effects. The smearing of movement causes several things. It emphasizes movement if something is constantly moving in your frame like a waterfall, a river or clouds. It flattens and vanishes movement like gentle waves on a pond, enabling us to see reflections above such smooth water surfaces or to see inside them. When used with large and very fluctuant water bodies like seas or lakes it creates a fogy effect. Determining the shutter speed will be a consideration of the exposure and if we want to have long exposure effects.
When trying to achieve large/infinite DOF as we talked about earlier we also have to consider where to put our focus. When shooting wide angle we will usually focus on the foreground and specifically on the anchor (see the composition article for better understanding). Despite the fact our anchor will be close to the camera (reduces DOF), when shooting with a wide angle lens and using a small aperture we will be able to achieve infinite DOF. After focusing on our anchor it is highly recommended to change your lens from auto focus to manual focus. After focusing we sometimes re-compose or use the half press of the release button to measure light. While doing so if the camera’s focus point isn’t on the anchor it will try to re-focus. If we recomposed or already have a ND filter on it will move the focus from the anchor or will be unable to lock focus again.
When moving the lens to manual focus after locking focus on the anchor we can
be sure the focus is in the right place and will not move again. Now we can recompose,
add or remove filters and measure light without worrying about the focus.
Recomposing refers to moving the camera while staying at the same place/distance
from the anchor.
A tripod is mostly necessary when shooting at slow shutter speed, especially when shooting long exposures. It also allows you to be very accurate about your composition and therefore a very beneficial tool when shooting landscape. When mounting your camera on a tripod be sure to make it as stable as you canto get a sharp shot:
– Open the tripod legs wide to get a low center of gravity.
– Place a leg in the direction your camera points/tilts to.
– If you want to raise the camera high use the thicker leg sections first.
If you have a center column use it last. I recommend using a good sturdy tripod, made of metal composite, carbon fiber or other good materials (usually not plastic). Good tripods allow you to move and elongate each legs section separately. You should also look for a good tripod head with smooth movement and a strong lock.