How to take stunning pictures: Landscapes

I’ve written a couple of posts recently based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series. The first two episodes covered portraiture and celebrations – plenty for me to take on board there – but I found the landscapes episode was less useful. Even though it featured Charlie Waite, a photographer whose work I admire – I found it a bit of a let down, possibly because landscapes are a genre I’ve invested a lot of time in learning over the years (including attending two of Charlie’s talks) and so there was less for me to learn in this programme.

Even so, it’s worth publishing some tips – Channel 5′s website has some to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the third episode:

  • Choose the right location and read the landscape: landscape photography needs to be well constructed and thought about. Think what is it about a scene that is emotionally enjoyable and enriching. Read the landscape: start at the top, at the sky, and follow down, asking what’s really worthwhile. Don’t think that the first place you’ve arrived and set up at is the best. Sometimes even a few inches to the right or left can make a radical difference to a photograph.
  • Take care in composition: consider the frame carefully – use compositional aids if necessary to see if the image that your are planning to make will work. Before even taking the camera out of the bag, consider: Is there an image to be made here? Do I like the shapes? Is the balance right? Is there enough geometry? How much sky can I have in? See where you want the crop to be – try and imagine your picture before you take it (I’m sure that Charlie would talk about one’s mind’s eye). Take your eye around the perimeter of the viewfinder. Think what to keep in, and what to keep out – “omit the redundant”. In the words of Charlie Waite, “The key to good photography is to settle down and to think bout what is going to appear in that viewfinder and not think that the camera is going to do all the work. As you look through the viewfinder, ask yourself if you can see the frame on the wall… previsualise to define the objective”.
  • Control the light to get the correct exposure: use a filter to produce an image that equates with what we see in the eye (there was no mention of what filter this would be in the programme, but typically this would be a grey grad to balance areas of high and low brightness). Often when we look at a landscape we can see beautiful subtle nuances in the sky and also detail in the land but when we take the image, camera sensors/film find that very difficult to reproduce.
  • Don’t just look for bright, sunny days – it’s possible to get great images on the cusp of bad weather leaving and good weather arriving when there are often some fantastic moments. If it’s really raining and the forecast is changeable, hang on and wait and you see dark clouds being replaced by bright skies in a very exciting moment on the transitional point. Look over your shoulder, see what kind of sky is coming, wait for it, and if it does arrive, think about whether it relates satisfactorily – just waiting a few minutes can really help.
  • Draw the viewer in: Think about how to invite the viewer into the image? For example, using a path as a lead in, beckons the viewer and encourages them to travel along the path. Landscape photography is about shape, harmony, balance and design – looking for the optimum moment when you press the shutter.

“I often think of that rare fulfilling joy when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events.

Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it.”

[Charlie Waite]

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