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 of the sensor capture information from the brightest to the darkest parts of the image) at the lower ISO sensitivities. Using low ISO will therefore give you clean, high dynamic range quality pictures. Another 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 through the lens into your camera, the second thins is the depth of field (DOF) of the picture, both according to the aperture size. When setting the aperture size we will consider both. Achieving large DOF (and mostly infinite DOF by using the hyper focal distance) is important in landscape photography because we usually want the picture to be sharp from the closest part all the way to the background. 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 the 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 a wider aperture, especially when using ultra wide angle lenses – If you want to be sure about your DOF, use a DOF calculator. There is no limit of using a narrow aperture! in case we need more dpeth of field, we will use a narrower aperture, even the narrowest. It is important to know that using a very narrow aperture will start causing diffraction problems, which appear as chromatic aberration (color problems) and decrease of detail sharpness. BUT again – if you need a very large depth of field, you can and should use very narrow aperture, even F/22. Sufficient DOF is more important than diffraction issues (which can also be reduced in post processing). How narrow should you use the aperture? It depends in the necessary DOF in the photo. If you’re shooting a scene in which the closet parts of the photo are a few meters away, you will probably be able to use F/8 to F/11 aperture and get sufficient DOF. If you’re shooting a scene in which the closet parts are very close, lets say about plus-minus a meter away, you will probably need to use F/16 to F/22 to achieve enought DOF.
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. The first and most important job of the shutter is to balance the exposure after setting the ISO and aperture. Fast shutter means less light goes in and it also means any movement will 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 the same direction 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 place the focus. When shooting with wide angle lenses we will usually focus on the close part of the foreground. Shooting with a wide angle lens and using a small aperture will enable us to achieve infinite DOF. After focusing on the foreground it is highly recommended to change your lens from auto focus to manual focus, because 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 foreground it will try to re-focus. If we recomposed or already have a ND filter on, it might move the focus from the foreground or will be unable to lock focus again. When moving the lens to manual focus after locking focus on the foreground 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 with 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 can to 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 support weight.
– 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.