GIVE YOUR LANDSCAPE A boost
Manual mode puts you right back in control of scenic shots
If you’re going to the trouble of setting up a tripod, you’ve got time to take charge of the exposure settings too
Landscape photography is an opportunity to slow down, think, and get every element of your scene in perfect harmony. Your camera may make a fairly good estimate of the required exposure on its own, but if you’re going to the trouble of setting up a tripod and unpacking your filters, it’s worth taking charge of the exposure settings too, because the best results often take a little time to achieve.
For a start, the sky is often a lot brighter than the landscape itself, and if you leave it to the camera to work out what to do, you’ll either get an underexposed picture or the sky will be completely blown out. This is why landscape photographers rely heavily on neutral-density (ND) graduated filters. These are clear at the bottom and dark at the top, and you position them in front of the lens so that the darkened part is over the sky. You can still use the camera’s autoexposure modes when you’ve got a graduated filter fitted on the lens, but the results are not always predictable. It’s better to switch to manual mode and then set the exposure yourself so you can be sure that the foreground will come out properly. You can use the camera’s spot metering mode for this, or simply point the camera towards an area of ground.
Next, you need to choose a graduated filter that’s strong enough to bring the brightness of the sky back under control – you don’t change the exposure settings at all. This is the method used by the experts because it’s reliable, predictable and, once you get into the swing of it, really straightforward to do.
Landscape photographers also like to blur moving water with a long exposure, which often means using an ND filter. These are evenly dark all over. You need to measure the exposure without the filter, add the filter and then apply a fixed correction. You have to do this in manual mode, because the filter will be too strong for the camera’s light meter to get an automatic reading once it’s fitted.
Finally, most landscapes need maximum depth of field, or near-to-far sharpness, which means using a small lens aperture. In manual mode it’s easy – you simply balance the smaller aperture with a longer exposure.
EXPOSURE 6 sec, f/22, ISO50 LENS Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8
An exposure of eight seconds at an aperture of f/22 was used to blur the water in this picture, but this was only one of a number of possible shutter speed and aperture combinations for the same exposure – others are shown above.