Getting started in Landscape Photography
I get asked many times about the basics of landscape photography, such as the equipment I use and the best techniques for each occasion. Therefore, I have decided to put together a series focusing on the basics of photography with a bias towards landscape photography in particular. #HowToDoLandscapePhotography
I will be aiming the information at beginner and intermediate photographers so hopefully there will be some useful content for a number of people. I hope this will help you with your photography, but I also hope that they will help me by revisiting old practices and techniques that I may have forgotten over time.
Why Landscape Photography?
Landscape Photography is a niche area of photography that can be both difficult and rewarding at the same time. It is really one of those genres where you certainly get out what you put into it. Some of the best photographs can be taken at 4 o’clock in the morning after a 5 mile hike, apparently.
Whilst it isn’t one of the easiest genres of photography, if you have a passion for being outside in the landscape, enjoy being creative and learning patience, it can be extremely fulfilling and relaxing and is ideal for getting you out and about and staying active. Even if your mobility is limited you can still get access to some amazing natural beauty spots to make some wonderful photographs.
You don’t have to get up at a ridiculous time in the morning, travel across the World or even have expensive camera equipment. If you embrace landscape photography you will get immense pleasure from just being in nature, wherever it may be.
What equipment do you need?
It is often said that the best equipment for Landscape Photography are good boots and warm and dry clothing. And this is for a very good reason. You will often walk many miles in all weathers or could be stood in one place for a long period of time waiting for the right conditions. If you are comfortable and safe, you can concentrate on enjoying the moment. Since investing in a good set of outdoor clothing my photography has improved significantly, mostly this is down to being able to access the great outdoors in all conditions. However, you don’t always have to go out to the extremes. You can get some great photographs on a beautiful Summer’s evening just as well.
There are lots of discussions when it comes down to the best camera for landscape photography. However, as with many skills, the camera is just a tool. It is the photographer that makes a photograph, not the camera. Whilst modern cameras are extremely sophisticated, they are unable to decide on the best composition or even the best setting for a particular scene. This is the choice of the photographer. The most important thing that you can do is to learn how to use the tools that you have to their greatest effect.
There is no advantage to having a camera with the highest resolution if you are only going to show your photographs on social media. The simple fact is that now, most of our photographs are displayed on a computer and are rarely printed therefore making expensive camera only really necessary to photographers making money from their equipment.
Possibly the most important thing that I can say about equipment is that you should only spend what you are comfortable with. Cameras can be extremely expensive and when you start adding additional lenses, tripods and other equipment you can spend the equivalent of a brand new family car. It's always nice to have the new toys but being a good photographer means you can take a good photograph on any camera. I have fallen foul of it myself. I have written another blog on my experience of camera envy.
That being said, there are some fundamental requirements that will help you no end in improving your landscape photography:
Whilst any camera will take a photograph, to get the most out of landscape photography you will ideally need a camera that will allow you to use it manually. Whilst this can be daunting at first, once you start to understand the basics of photography you will really be able to take control of your photographs. Even phone cameras may allow you to influence your photographs. The idea is simply to move away from using the automatic settings on a camera.
The choice of camera you may need really depends on how much you want to get out of your photography. Throughout these lessons, it may be possible to use a mobile phone to get some great results and I will be giving examples of how to get the best out of them. However, you will really benefit from the flexibility of something more dedicated, such as a mirrorless camera.
Due to their size, weight and often high cost, digital SLRs are becoming less popular in favour of mirrorless cameras. This means that there may be some bargains to be had in the short term. However, many cameras that have detachable lens are not compatible across other systems, often within the same brand, due to the mounting of the lens. Therefore before spending a lot of money on a camera system, it is worth considering the longevity of that system.
With the popularity of mirrorless cameras at the moment, it would be a wise more to consider these as a starting point. Mirrorless cameras can be extremely cheap to buy and come with detachable lenses and also have the ability to use them manually when required. There are also bargains to be had on mirrorless cameras when people upgrade their kit so it is often worth looking around, especially when considering that you don’t need a huge amount of resolution, as previously mentioned. A camera with between 20-30 megapixels will be more than adequate.
I won’t be advising one camera over another or even one brand over another as they all have their differences. The best camera for one photographer isn’t necessarily the best camera for another photographer. As you will be learning about photography, your camera just needs to allow you to override the setting so that you gain an understanding of how the camera works and how photographs are made.
The lenses available for modern cameras are as varied as the landscapes we photograph. As usual, there isn’t a single lens that does everything. Cameras with detachable lenses offer a lot more variety and flexibility. It is certainly possible to get one lens that covers most situations, which is extremely practical. However, it is more common to have a number of lenses that cover this range, usually 2 or 3 lenses.
The angle of view of a scene that can be capture with a lens is determined by the focal length of the lens. The focal length of any lens is the distance, in millimetres, between the camera sensor and the lens when the subject is in focus. The shorter the focal length of the lens, the greater the angle of view it allows. Ideally for landscape photography a variety of lenses that go from 24mm, wide angle, to 200mm, telephoto, will cover most situations. However it is common to use lenses with focal distances greater than this range.
Don’t worry if you don’t have lenses that cover this specific range. The use of each lens really depends on the situation and the style of your photography. It is perfectly acceptable to use one lens for the majority of your photography. For over a decade, the only lens I used was a wide angle zoom lens with a focal length of 24-70mm.
Essentially a lens with a short focal length will allow for a wide angle of a scene, capturing a large area of the landscape in a photograph making the scene appear small. A lens with a long focal length will allow for a narrow angle of a scene capturing a small area of landscape therefore making that scene appear large.
There are many accessories that you can use for photography. Quite often they are limited in their use and are by no means essential. However, I would strongly recommend 3 accessories that will help you take better photographs and look after your camera.
1) First of all you want to protect your investment so a simple quality padded camera bag can pay for itself. Ensure that it is large enough to carry your equipment and potential future equipment, without being too heavy and cumbersome.
2) By the nature of landscape photography you will be exposing your camera to the elements so it can easily get dirty. Camera cleaning kits are cheap and essential for keeping your camera clean and in a good working condition.
3) Investing in a good tripod will be valuable in a variety of ways. Firstly, it can hold your camera so you can take your time looking at it and deciding on the settings you require. Secondly, a tripod reduces the chance of the camera moving during the exposure to ensure a crisp image. This is especially essential at night when the light is low. Another advantage of a good tripod is that it slows down your photographic process, thereby giving you time to think about your composition and settings and ensuring you are optimising your photograph.
What to do next
Now that you have your camera, selection of lenses, a bag to keep them in and a tripod you are almost ready to go out and take photos. Almost! Before you start taking your first photo, you need to learn how to take your first photo. It might not be the most exciting book you will ever read, however, I strongly urge you to read through the camera manual at least once before using your camera.
Whilst the camera manual can seem quite technical and not very inspiring it will guide you through how your camera works. It will start with the fundamentals of ensuring you use your camera safely and will explain what all the settings are to start you on your journey. And it will be a long journey. Don’t expect to take amazing photographs on day one. Like I said at the beginning, Landscape photography is about learning patience, you will need a lot of it soon enough.