5 tips for stepping up your landscape photography (Part two)
This is the second part of a two part series on photographing landscapes by photographer Dylan Giannakopoulos. You can check out part one here.
Expand Your Creative Horizons with the Use of ND Filters
Neutral density (ND) filters open a world of creative possibilities. They enable photographers to capture the world in a surreal, abstract way by reducing the amount of light that enters the lens, allowing for slower shutter speeds. This is commonly referred to as long exposure photography.
The most popular use of ND filters is to smoothen water and clouds. This simple application of long exposure photography can produce brilliant, eye catching results by adding a surreal element to a composition.
Similarly, you can turn rocky, shore break beaches into smoky, out of this world landscapes by shooting exposures of 1 to 5 minutes.
But why stop at 5 minute exposures? Some photographers take it a step further and stack ND filters to further reduce their exposure by sometimes more than 16 stops, allowing for 15 minute or even hour-long exposures!
Beyond smoothing water and clouds, ND filters can also be used to create leading lines through car trails or the whitewash created by waves heading back out to sea.
When framing your composition, it’s important to go beyond what you can see with the naked eye and visualise how you could add compositional elements to the scene through long exposure photography.
Check Cloud Forecasts
Whilst it isn’t an exact science, cloud forecasts can be used to predict the intensity of a sunrise or sunset, providing greater reassurance that your 4 am wakeup will be worth it. In this tip, I’m going to be discussing sunrise and sunset interchangeably as this equality applies to both.
When looking at a cloud forecast, there are three things you should consider: height, coverage and location. In terms of height, high clouds are responsible for those dramatic red and magenta sunsets. Low and middle clouds can still display faint yellow and orange tones but are less desirable as they have a greater likelihood of producing a flat sunset. Equality important, the percentage of cloud cover predicts how much of the sky in a given area will be covered by clouds.
Most forecasts will show an overall percentage of cover as well as the percentage of low, middle and high clouds. As a guide, you want a large percentage of high clouds (70% is excellent) and minimal low and middle clouds. Finally, you need to factor in where the clouds are positioned relative to your shooting location and the direction of the sunset.
Thick low clouds will be a problem if they are in the direction of the sunset, but not so much of an issue if they are behind you. In contrast, high clouds need to be positioned close to the sunset, without having any low or middle clouds blocking the light.
There are plenty of free and paid services which you can use to access cloud forecasts, but my two favourites are www.skippysky.com.au and www.ventusky.com.
Watch That Horizon Line
It’s very important to make sure that your horizon line is level. Even if there isn’t an obvious horizon line, it can still be very noticeable and jarring for the viewer when things aren’t level.
There are several ways to ensure that your horizon line is straight in camera. My preferred method is to use my camera’s built in digital level, which is particularly useful when shooting in low light situations as it’s displayed on the camera’s LCD screen.
Alternatively, most tripod heads feature a spirit level. However, they are usually quite small and can be difficult to view when the camera is mounted. If you don’t have one on your tripod or camera, for less than a few dollars, you can buy a spirit level that slides into your camera’s hot shoe. Whilst it’s important to get the horizon straight in camera, I’d recommend fine tuning it in post processing to ensure it is perfectly straight.
Turn Off Image Stabilisation
Image stabilisation or vibration reduction enables photographers to shoot handheld at shutter speeds that would typically require a tripod. However, image stabilisation isn’t a feature you should leave on all the time, particularly when using a tripod.
Image stabilisation works by detecting camera shake and compensating for it by adjusting the image sensor and/or lens elements. However, when a camera is already stabilised using a sturdy tripod, there is the potential for the image stabilisation to create a feedback loop.
This is where it mistakes its vibrations for camera shake and attempts to correct for it despite the camera not moving. These ‘corrective movements’ create motion blur because they are not being counterbalanced by camera shake.
Whilst modern versions of image stabilisation do a better job of detecting when a camera is mounted onto a tripod, the only full proof way to avoid it degrading image sharpness is to manually turn it off.
Make the Most of Parallax Error
Unless you’ve delved into the world of panoramic photography, you might not be familiar with the term parallax error but you’re likely familiar with its effects. Parallax error is the apparent change of position of an object when viewed from two different positions.
In the context of photography this is important to understand because as you move your camera from left to right, objects closer will appear to shift position quicker than those further away. If you’ve ever moved your camera to remove a distracting element nearby e.g. a light pole, you’ve used parallax error to your advantage!
This phenomenon can be used for more than just removing distracting elements. By moving your camera a few steps left or right you can dramatically change the way objects in your foreground, middle ground and background align in your composition.
When you arrive at a location don’t just set up your camera wherever you first put your bag down, take the time to capture sample images to see how the scene changes as you move from left to right.
About the author: Pro photographer and Sony imaging advocate Dylan Giannakopoulos shoots landscapes, wildlife, portraits, street, weddings, and anything else that inspires him. See more at dylangiannaphotography.com.au