How to take your land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy to the next level

Ever wit­nessed a stun­ning moun­tain land­scape but felt no pic­ture you’d take could do it jus­tice? Award-win­ning moun­tain photographer Mark Gil­li­gan is here to change that...

Trail (UK) - - KNOW HOW -

QI some­times get frus­trated that my cam­era doesn’t cap­ture the amaz­ing moun­tain scenery I’m see­ing with my eyes. How can I im­prove my re­sults? James Hitchcroft, Brai■tree

Mark says When lead­ing pho­tog­ra­phy work­shops, I al­ways pose the fol­low­ing ques­tion to par­tic­i­pants: ‘What would you like to achieve?’. The most com­mon re­sponses are, ‘a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of my cam­era’ and ‘to ac­cu­rately cap­ture what’s in front of me, as I’m of­ten dis­ap­pointed with my re­sults’.

The key thing to re­mem­ber is that the cam­era you’ve shelled out on may have an ex­cel­lent spec, and might ap­pear to be an all-singing, all-danc­ing piece of kit, but in many cir­cum­stances – and es­pe­cially for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy – the de­vice will need some help from its user.

So, if you’re look­ing to cap­ture that ace pic­ture for Trail’s UK Moun­tain Photo com­pe­ti­tion (page 61), here’s my top tips…

Com­pose it right

No mat­ter what cam­era you pos­sess – even if that’s a phone cam­era – good com­po­si­tion is vi­tal, and a phrase I com­monly use is ‘com­pose to ex­pose’. There’s no use be­ing tech­ni­cally com­pe­tent as a photographer if the com­po­si­tion of your shots isn’t there.

Weigh up every­thing that lies be­fore your eyes, then move around. Change the per­spec­tive of your shots by tak­ing pic­tures from dif­fer­ent heights (not just at eye-level) and look for a fo­cal point or a lead-in line that draws the eye into the com­po­si­tion – as in the photo (left) look­ing across Wast Wa­ter.

Does that make a photo con­trived? Of course, but that doesn’t den­i­grate the skill of the photographer. If a shot doesn’t look or feel right as you click the shut­ter re­lease, it won’t do af­ter­wards! I of­ten say a beau­ti­ful view doesn’t al­ways make for a beau­ti­ful photo, while iconic land­scape photographer Ansel Adams was fa­mously quoted as say­ing, ‘We don’t take a pho­to­graph, we make it’.

Use fil­ters

A set of three ba­sic grad­u­ated fil­ters is a good ad­di­tion to your kit, as these will help to bal­ance the light in your com­po­si­tion. Ob­vi­ously, it’s pos­si­ble to mod­ify im­ages post-shoot, us­ing soft­ware such as Pho­to­shop, but surely it’s bet­ter to spend more time out­side rather than sit­ting at a com­puter? Ul­ti­mately, it is the view that grabs you, so spend time get­ting the best from it.

Use your viewfinder

I see lots of peo­ple hold­ing their cam­eras at arm’s length and us­ing the LCD screen to com­pose their im­age, but viewfind­ers are there to be used. Granted, some cam­eras don’t pos­sess a viewfinder, but if your cam­era has one then use it, as it will re­move all that dis­trac­tion go­ing on around you.

Avoid the need to crop

I rarely crop a pho­to­graph at the post­pro­cess­ing stage. Try crop­ping in-cam­era in­stead, by com­pos­ing your im­age from edge to edge in your viewfinder. If you paid for a cam­era with 18 mil­lion pix­els, use them! Try not to adopt the mind­set that you can al­ways crop an im­age later, as that may com­pro­mise the pho­to­graph you set out to achieve.

Fo­cus on the fo­cus

Im­age sharp­ness is an­other im­por­tant fac­tor. Se­lect­ing the cor­rect point of fo­cus, cou­pled with the best depth-of-field (the dis­tance be­tween the clos­est part of the pho­to­graph that is in fo­cus and the most dis­tant) is vi­tal. Depth-of-field (DOF) is de­ter­mined by the lens aper­ture set­ting, given as an f/num­ber. The higher the f/num­ber, the greater the DOF. A quick tip: us­ing an aper­ture of f/11 and fo­cus­ing around three me­tres away is a good gen­eral land­scape set­ting.

Tri­pod or hand­held?

An­other ques­tion I get asked is, ‘do I al­ways need a tri­pod?’. My an­swer is no. Set your cam­era’s ISO (a mea­sure of sen­si­tiv­ity to light) to over 400 (the higher the ISO, the more sen­si­tive it is) and, un­less it’s re­ally dim, you can sim­ply hand­hold your cam­era. You’ll need a tri­pod for more creative shots, such as slow­ing down wa­ter to make it ap­pear soft and silky, or cre­at­ing a sim­i­lar ef­fect with clouds.

What is me­ter­ing?

Me­ter­ing is a method used to mea­sure the in­ten­sity of light and help de­ter­mine the re­quired ex­po­sure level. Many cam­eras now of­fer sev­eral dif­fer­ent me­ter­ing op­tions, in­clud­ing Eval­u­a­tive and Ma­trix, with each hav­ing ben­e­fits for dif­fer­ent sub­jects. For land­scapes I pre­fer to se­lect the Spot op­tion, as it re­duces the need for post-shoot edit­ing. I spot meter on sev­eral fea­tures in the fore­ground of my com­po­si­tion (as shown in the shot of Birker Fell above), and then take a mean av­er­age to pro­duce an even ex­po­sure.

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