Over the years I’ve developed a tried-and-true method for taking my landscape pictures and in this article I’ll show you how I do it!
TIP #1: Use A Tripod Whenever Possible
This is practically a non-negotiable. In order to get the sharpest images possible you want to use a tripod. Landscape photography is not a run-and-gun type of thing, and you’ll want to slow things down and plan out your shots. Nighttime landscape images will require lower shutter speeds which also force you to use a tripod to avoid camera shake. If you don’t already have a good tripod look for one that has legs that let your camera get low to the ground (like this one from Manfrotto:http://www.amazon.com/Manfrotto-055XPROB-Tripod-Legs-Black/dp/B000UMX7FI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378565782&sr=8-1&keywords=manfrotto+055xprob).
TIP #2: Shoot Wide & Deep!
This might seem like a no brainer but I’m often surprised to see folks posting landscape shots taken with 50mm lenses. On a full frame camera I would recommend shooting at at least 17mm and on a crop sensor camera 11mm. This will give you the flexibility to capture as much of the scene as possible. As for your aperture you’ll want to be at f/16 or above depending on the scene so you can capture as much detail as possible. I’m a Canon shooter, so the lenses I would recommend on a full frame camera are the Canon 17-40mm F4L or the Canon 16-35mm F2.8LII. On a crop sensor my picks are the Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 or the Canon 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 lenses.
TIP #3: Bracket Your Exposure
Hopefully at the end of this explanation you’ll see the power of bracketed exposures. If you don’t understand this feature I would highly recommend getting your camera’s instruction manual and understanding how to use this function. The basics of this is that you set your camera to take 3 exposures. The first will be set so that your camera is taking what it believes is the correct exposure (where the line is right in the center). The 2 shots will be under and over exposed by whatever amount you choose. I tend to start with +2/-2 and see what kind of detail in the highlights and shadows of the image that I’m able to capture. From there I might take 3 more shots bracketed up or down from that number to see what happens. Below you’ll see an example that I used with this method.
Here is the shot where the camera thinks the image is properly exposed. The sky looks nice and you can see a small amount of detail in the mountain, but the shadow areas are lacking detail and the image overall just isn’t that good.
Here is the same shot underexposed. This brought out some more details in the sky and clouds but our foreground elements are even darker than before. Definitely an unusable image on it’s own.
And finally, the same shot overexposed. We’ve finally managed with these settings to bring out the details in our foreground as well as another layer of detail in the mountain. This shot is probably the closest one of the 3 to looking good on it’s own, but it still lacked the visual impact that I was seeing with my own eyes while standing there in person.
TIP #4: Post Processing with Nik Software
Here is the secret sauce to finishing off a spectacular landscape shot. So you’ve done the prior 3 tips and you should have 3 images that are perfectly aligned (since they were on a tripod) with 3 different exposures. Now using Nik Software and their “HDR Efex Pro 2” software (http://www.niksoftware.com/nikcollection/usa/hdrefexpro.html) you can put the finishing touches on this image. Using Lightroom you can highlight those 3 images, right click on the images and choose “edit in HDR Efex Pro 2”. The plugin will open and give you a variety of color and black/white options to merge those images together. The benefit of doing this will be you’ll end up with a single image that has details in the shadows and highlights, better known as an HDR image. While some folks don’t like the look of HDR images it can be adjusted to taste. This means you can have an image that looks a bit more natural, or you can go all out and make the image look almost like it would in a fantasy movie. I decided to go for a black and white look while still retaining some degree of realism. You can see the example below.
Hopefully this information will help you have a plan of attack next time you go out and shoot some landscapes. If this article helped you out be sure to leave your comments below!