Nearly everyone owns a camera, optical or digital, disposable or durable. We all have an equipment to immortalize those fascinating landscapes. Some of us are more talented than others. We just want to give you a few advices to transform an exceptionnal landscape into a picture that reflects your feelings.
Here are some rules and easy advices to remember and to apply to improve significantly the quality of your pictures.
I- The Light
Photography means write with the light. Light is therefore essential for quality pictures. Hereunder are three series of pictures to exemplify our advices. They have all been taken from the same viewpoint, with the same material but at different moments.
For this one, I have waited a few minutes for the clouds to move and let the sun appear.
Here, I came back the following day.
And there I waited for sunrise.
Being at the right place at the right moment is the key to make a good picture, but being lucky also helps. However you can remember two advices to help you catch the light:
Advice Nr 1: Click at the right time
A lateral or low lighting stresses the contours. On the contrary, an elevated lighting gives the impression that the subject is crushed. Thus you should prefer the morning light (before 10 AM) or the evening light (after 4 PM), and beware of not centring your shade in the picture if you have the sun in the back.
On this picture, the sunset creates a nice and warm light and a very interesting shadow.
Advice Nr 2: take a picture in all kinds of weather
The most beautiful lights often appear after a storm or between two showers. Indeed rain cleans the sky and erases the atmospheric haze that appears even when there is not a single cloud in the sky. So do not forget to take your camera with you even if the weather looks stormy.
A standard French landscape will look more dramatic under a stormy sky.
II- Structure and frame :
The way you structure your picture is also a major part. By structure, we mean the way you will organize the different elements of the landscape in the frame of your picture. The structure will guide your eyes when looking at the picture. Here are some advices to learn how to structure your pictures:
Advice Nr 3: the reading direction
Occidentals are used to reading from left to right and from top to bottom. If the picture represents a landscape with a flat horizon line, then your eye will surely get out of the frame as nothing will attract it, and the picture will be of no interest. Look at the following picture for example.
Sinai desert, Egypt.
A picture, as well as a painting or a drawing, is a success if it attracts and keeps your eye. To achieve this, we advise you to use natural elements from the landscape, like a tree, a rock or a boat, to create a reading point in the horizon line. Your eye will step on this obstacle and stay in the frame before looking at the rest of the picture.
On this picture, the empty sky is uninteresting. However, I really wanted to take a picture of these nice mountains with this red lighting. So I tried to find an angle that would enable me to close the picture on the left side so that the eye gets attracted by the rock and stays on the contours on the right.
Advice Nr 4: the rule of the strong points
Learn how to structure the horizon line. Avoid centering this horizon line. You would rather show the soil or the sky. Thus you will guide the eye towards the interesting object of the picture.
Generally, there is an easiest way to frame the objects of your picture: the rule of the strong points.
The strong points are where the 1/3 and 2/3 lines meet horizontally or vertically. These are the major points in photography, on which you must try to make the point of interest correspond to the picture.
Advice Nr 5: An interesting foreground
A foreground will give depth and contours to your picture. It can be a stone, a branch, a face or a figure.
Here, the rock and the hiking equipment catch the eye and let you slowly discover the landscape.
There, the dead tree stresses the desertic impression of this landscape. It also make a scale point on the desert.
On the first picture, the sheeps are too far away and the grass, on the bottom right, is of no interest. So I came closer to the sheeps. Thus we can better evaluate the size of the herd in the middle of the field.
Advice Nr 6: the place of the sky
The sky is an integral part of most of your pictures, and a wholly part of the picture. According to its size and its characteristics, it can enhance other elements, mainly the principal one, of the landscape and thus the picture. Your best pictures will probably not be those with a uniform blue or grey sky.
On this picture, the foreground is far less interesting than the clouddy sky. That's why I decided to frame more sky than grass to bring out this peculiar stone.
Here, I wanted to take a picture of the cornfields with this beautiful light before the storm. I could have framed more corn on the foreground but I wanted the sky to darken the scene as well as light and enhance the field.
On the left, there is a far too empty sky and the mountain is not really enhanced, so I decided to zoom on a closer mountain with less sky. Thus the sky underlines the contours just the way I wanted it.
Advice Nr 7: detail
Taking a picture does not necessarily mean taking a large panorama. You can isolate a detail of the landscape. A tree can be nicer than a whole forest. Use all the functions of your camera: zoom, lenses... or come physically closer to the subject.
Here, the zoom on the ground gives style and aestheticism to this drain swamp.
Advice Nr 8 : reframing your picture
Sometimes, only a small part of the landscape is interesting but you cannot isolate it, as maybe you cannot step back. This is not a problem: you will just have to enlarge and reframe the picture with scissors after developping it.
At this point you can even imagine sizes of picture different from the usual rectangle 24x36, like the panoramic size or a square size.
III- Colour or black and white ?
Colour photography is mostly used nowadays, it can be interesting to work with a black and white roll. Actually, you need to be able to adapt the colour of your roll to your subject.
For a general landscape, or a sunset, you will prefer a colour roll.
Halong Bay (Vietnam)
However black and white can reveal surprising pictures, which is particularly true when the sky is stormy (with different greys) or for mineral compositions, to highlight the rock, like on this picture:
Manufacturers offer a wide range of film rolls, each with its own characteristics. You have to try many of them until you find the one you prefer. The two pictures hereunder offer two different views of the same subject, and it is quite difficult to deem which one is better.
IV- Cleaning and protecting
Your material is fragile and needs to be protected from the dust, the sun and shocks, etc. The lenses are particularly fragile, in fact they insure most of the quality of a good picture.
So they need to be handle carefully and you have to make sure not to stripe or move the optical lenses. Their cleaning must be very gentle and cautious, you can use for example a rubber squeeze bulb and a sable brush, that you can buy at a photographer for a few Euros.
To clean possible fingerprints, use special tissues made expressly for camera optics, do not use usual lens cleaning tissues, nor tissues impregnated with products that are suppoed to be antistatic. Never rub strongly the lenses and do not use alcohool or equivalent.
When the lenses are not used, make sure to put the protection cap back, and for automatic cameras, make sure the lenses is inside the box.
Last but not least: making a good picture is a state of mind.
Try to structure your picture as you would structure a painting: take time and energy. Do not hesitate to enlarge your most beautiful pictures. You could be surprised of the result.
Grenoble, November 2005.
Advices of Frédéric Foin for www.baladéo.com. To each its nature.