17 tips for better landscapes
In the second part of our guide to better landscape photographs we reveal three of the UK’s most photogenic landscape locations, how to get to them and how to capture the best photos when you arrive.
In the second installment of our photography improvement course, we’ve been busy scouting out some of the very finest British countryside and photogenic walks you can go on around the UK. To help you get the best possible pictures when you get to your picturesque peak, or sublime summit, we’ve constructed a comprehensive list of tips and tricks to help you shoot in all scenarios and weathers. So if you’re presented with a stunning sunset, we’ll show you how to tame the light to stop your images overexposing. And if you get caught out in a ferocious downpour, we’ll show you how to harness the raw emotion of a storm in a moody mono landscape. So get out there, get shooting, just don’t forget to take this guide with you!
1. Level up your horizon
One of the easiest tweaks you can make to your composition that has a huge benefit, is to level up your picture. A wonky horizon is instantly noticeable and will detract from even the most stunning landscapes. But it’s an easy fix. Hotshoe bubble levels attach to your camera so you can see when the camera is level, or even better, use the electronic level that most modern digital cameras come with built-in. If you do forget to level up at the point of capture don’t worry – you can level-up in post-processing too.
2. Shoot the perfect sunrise or sunset
The beautiful golden tones of a sunset or sunrise can look magical, but it’s difficult to capture the scene you saw as a digital image. It’s best to shoot in the RAW image format, rather than JPEG, to record as much of the exposure data as possible. This makes it possible to use software back at your computer to get the deep shadows and bright highlights that you saw at the time. The golden colours of these types of images also look better when you underexpose the shot a little, as this stops the picture from overexposing. To do this, dial in one or two stops of negative exposure compensation.
3. Use a lens hood
If your landscapes are looking a little washed out and flat, it could be because the sun is in the corner of the frame causing lens flare. If this is the case, attach your lens hood to the front of your lens. This blocks out the light from the corners of the shot, restoring contrast and increasing saturation.
4. Create a sense of movement
Blurring the clouds in your sky, or cascading water in a waterfall, is a fantastic way of adding drama to your landscapes. All you need is a tripod and a long exposure to give the sensor enough time to record the movement. To set the exposure, use your Aperture priority mode and dial in your highest aperture value, usually f/22, to restrict the lightflow. Then set the ISO to around 100 to reduce the camera’s sensitivity to light. The result is a much longer exposure, and on an overcast day you should get a shutter speed of around one second. You can also use special neutral density (ND) filters which block out even more light for longer exposures.
5. Go mono in bad weather
It’s all-too-easy to put your camera away when you come across inclement weather, but this need not be the case. Some of the best images are taken in fog or heavy rain – it really adds bags of atmosphere. In these scenarios, shoot with Black & White in mind to create a moody mono landscape. Many cameras have built-in presets that let you see what the image will look like in Black & White on the LCD screen. Fujifilm’s Acros Filter Effect gives images a brilliant high contrast mono style.
6. Add impact with a polarising filter
The effects of many physical filters that attach to the front of your camera’s lens can be replicated in software like Fujifilm’s Silkypix, or Adobe Photoshop. This includes correcting the exposure and enhancing colours. But one effect that cannot be easily mimicked back at your computer is that of a polarising filter. These filters have a ring that can be twisted to let in more or less polarised light and has two main benefits for landscapes; reflections in water can be reduced, and contrast can be increased in the sky between white clouds and the blue sky.
7. Travel further with a compact system camera
Weight and bulk are of peak importance when hillwalking, but choosing a smaller camera doesn’t mean you have to compromise on image quality. Fujifilm’s X-T2 weighs just 457g, body only, but takes on a large APS-C image sensor to produce fantastic pictures. Like a DSLR, it also boasts the ability to change lenses to suit different subjects, so you can attach a long lens to shoot distant wildlife, or a wideangle
to squeeze in broadspanning landscapes.
8. Shoot for the stars
Light is limited at night, so you’ll need a tripod to lock your camera off and then use a long exposure. 10-20secs is perfect, any longer and your stars will blur due to the Earth’s rotation. A wide–angle lens, like Fujifilm’s XF10-24mm f/4, is ideal for capturing some foreground interest like a tree, millstone or barn with the stars in the background. Go into your camera’s manual mode and dial in the widest aperture, an ISO of 800 and a shutter speed of 10secs. Engage the 2sec Self-Timer and take a test shot. If it’s too bright, lower the ISO or shutter speed, and if it’s too dark increase them until it looks good. It’s best to shoot at least a full hour after the sun has set on the night of a new moon to achieve the deepest skies in your shots.
9. Keep your snow white
Shoot a landscape with a bright sky and snowy white foreground, and your camera will likely underexpose. This will give you a much darker shot and your brilliant white snow will look muddy. To keep your snow white, take a test shot and if it turns out dark, simply apply a stop or two of positive exposure compensation to force the camera into taking a brighter image.
10. Get more with RAW
RAW literally means the raw information from your camera. Unlike JPEGs, which are processed in-camera, RAW files are untouched at the point of capture, so it’s up to you how much saturation or contrast you add back at your computer. RAWs are larger than JPEG images, so will fill up your memory cards faster, but this is a small price to pay. Their extra information makes it possible to change the exposure of your shot substantially when you’re editing your pictures. This means if you get home and find out your image is over or underexposed, it’s easy to fix with RAWediting software like Fujifilm’s Silkypix or Adobe Photoshop.
11. Use lead-in lines to direct the viewer’s eye
Using lead-in lines is a great way to guide the viewer’s eye towards a specific focal point in your images. Lead-in lines appear both in the natural world and in man-made objects, from a line of trees going up a hillside, to a paved footpath. Try to frame your composition so that multiple lead-in lines point the eye towards the main focus of your shot, rather than take it out and away.
12. Choose aperture priority
The automatic modes are great for starting out with your camera; you can focus on the composition of your image, while the camera works out your exposure settings. But to take more control, it’s best to use a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority. This is really easy to set on Fujifilm’s retrostyled mode dials, and is denoted by a bright red A, so can be changed quickly when you’re in a hurry. This mode lets you set the aperture – an adjustable hole inside your lens that can be adjusted to let in more light for a fast shutter speed, or can be closed down for longer exposures.
13. Maximise sharpness throughout your scene
There’s no shame in using your camera’s automatic mode. It’s sometimes more convenient and you’re eager to take the shot before the moment passes. But this often means the camera chooses the focus area too, so your point of interest could come out blurry! For landscapes it’s much better to choose the focus area yourself, by setting your camera to its single point or single servo AF mode, then placing the active AF point about one third of the way into the scene for the best sharpness. Then use aperture priority to set an aperture of f/16 for a much stronger depth-of-field and increased sharpness.
14. Use a long lens for wildlife
You need only venture outside to open up your photographic opportunities. But the great outdoors isn’t just fantastic for landscapes. When you immerse yourself in nature you can get some brilliant wildlife pictures too. Bring along a lens with a long zoom, such as Fujifilm’s XF50-140mm or XF55-200mm, for frame-filling shots of nearby wildlife such as squirrels, deer or birds. If you only have space for one lens, look out for optics like Fujifilm’s XF18-135mm, which has a versatile zoom range suitable for a wide range of subjects.
15. Go super light with a compact
A heavy kitbag will wear you out quickly and potentially cut short your journey to an awesome landscape location. It really pays to travel as light as possible, so Fujifilm’s range of Compact System Cameras are a great, portable alternative to DSLRs. The firm’s ultra-portable X100F prestige compact has a fixed 23mm f/2 lens and weighs an impressive 469g with battery and memory card, making it the perfect travel companion.
16. Use compositional rules for better landscapes…
The rule-of-thirds is a great framing technique where you divide your image into nine equal boxes and position your subject on one, or more of those intersecting lines. This is said to be more pleasing on the eye and engaging than placing your subject right in the middle of the frame. It’s also worth considering the rule-of-odds when you’re composing. The theory is that an odd number of subjects in your scene looks more aesthetically pleasing than an even one. So, if the subject in your landscape was a tree, the landscape would look more pleasing with one, three or five of them in the frame, than two, four or six.
17. …then break them!
In rare scenarios, it may be the case that a different framing works better for the landscape at hand. So, once you’ve tried composing using the rule-of-thirds, and the rule-of-odds, from the previous tip, it’s worth experimenting with other framing options too. Rules are meant to be broken, so have fun finding abstract compositions. Telephoto lenses are usually reserved for far away wildlife subjects but can be useful for creating a tighter ‘scene within a scene’ in landscape images.