How to create dramatic landscape photographs
Everyday we see great photographs that depict some wonderful landscapes around the world. Be it on the desktop's screensaver, or on Facebook, or on the photography websites, or even on the brochures from the travel agent next door. And needless to say, we all wonder why the photos that we take does not look the same. Today, in this article, I am going to discuss a few ways that can help you to improve your photography skills and let you create gorgeous and stunning landscape photos. I will use my photos as examples to explain the concepts.
Let there be light
Landscapes look great when the ambient light is great. Take a look at your favourite landscape photographs, and you will find that almost all of them have been shot during that time of the day when the surrounding light looks soft, subtle or dramatic. The same landscape photo would look terrible had it been shot in bright, broad daylight with the sun hovering over the top.
In general, landscapes are best shot either early in the morning before sunrise, or just before and after sunset. The direction of the light and the subtle golden hue during this time of the day, adds to the photograph. Sometimes, you might have to wait for that light to be perfect, and believe me you will be rewarded for that bit of patience.
Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia (www.imagonic.com)
When I reached the location of the above photo, it was dark and cloudy all over with no chance of capturing the colours of the sunset. But I waited, for the right moment, and soon the clouds moved, although just a tad, to get me the hue I was looking for.
Avoid the blank blue sky
The sky is generally an important ingredient in landscape photos. Contrary to our common thinking, a clear blue sky often doesn't constitute to a great landscape photo. It is always better to have a bit of clouds thrown here and there on the canvas to create that dramatic painting effect. The reason being clouds not only add to the patterns and textures, but also diffract, reflect and refract light from the sun to create vivid orange, yellow, pink and purple colours. However, remember that too much of clouds can have negative effects because it would ruin the quality of the light and would make photo look extremely dull.
Have a look at my photo below to see how a cloudy sky can enhance a landscape photo.
Freycinet National Park, Tasmania, Australia (www.imagonic.com)
Follow the rules until you can break them well
Photography is art but is science as well. Hence there are serious rules that define how your photograph should be composed, so that it immediately catches up with the viewer's eyes and mind. These rules have been existing for a long time in art, some even from the Renaissance period. Some important rules that are used in landscape are
Rule of thirds - Divide the frame into a 3X3 grid and place important elements at the intersection of the grid lines, or distribute the elements such that each cover 1/3rd of the frame. Example, do not let the horizon split your frame into equal halves, place it at 1/3 from the top or bottom.
Leading lines - Leading lines refers to a composition technique whereby the viewer's eye is attracted to lines that lead directly to the principle subject in the image. Often they enter the frame from the bottom left or right corner, or from across the bottom of it.
Balance - Create a natural balance between elements within the frame. Place them in a way so that there is equal visual weight on both sides. This is not always essential, but achieving this can help create great photos.
The picture below demonstrates the rules. Notice the placement of the horizon at 1/3rd of the frame, the important elements like the rocks, the water surge, placed at the intersections of the imaginary 3X3 grid, the balance created by both the rock pieces, and the diagonal line created by the water and rock.
Kiama, NSW, Australia (www.imagonic.com)
Get out there
Travel is an important aspect when it comes to shooting stunning landscapes. A meticulously planned travel is a secret recipe to creating exciting landscape photos.
Get your homework done, Google will help you to find
- the exact locations of the vantage points, how to reach, where to park the car, how long to hike,
- the time for the best show, whether its good for sunrise or sunset,
- the weather conditions, the direction of the sun, is it going to rain, is it too windy
- what gear is needed to combat the terrain, knee deep water, rocky rough mountains or slippery algae.
Sometimes, if you are photographing a natural phenomenon, like an Aurora, its even more important to keep patience and wait for the opportune moment. It is quite possible that you would not get the best of the photograph on your first visit to a place, and you would have to come back again and again. Don't be disheartened. Many of the great landscape photos weren't the first and the only click from the photographers camera.
Southern Lights, Melbourne, Australia (www.imagonic.com)
That's all for today. Hope you practice the concepts that I talked about and create stunning landscapes.
Feel free to reach out to me and discuss if you have any questions. I am on Facebook, 500px and Instagram and my website is www.imagonic.com.
In the next topic, we would deep dive into other advanced techniques of shooting against the light and landscape editing. Do let me know the topics that you would be interested to learn and you want me to talk about. Till then, ciao!
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