Landscape Photography Tips
If you’ve ever taken a landscape shot you thought would be spectacular, only to discover later that it is as flat and boring as a slice of stale bread, then you are far from alone.
“I’ve taken more landscape photos than I care to admit that wound up dull and lifeless – nothing like what I’d seen in real life at all,” says Jeff Breault. “It took a fair amount of time to develop the photographic skill to capture the mood and the characteristics I’d seen in the landscape in the shot.”
Streams and rivers.
Rivers and streams are unique in that they are always a focal point, even when they aren’t. Though flowing water may feature in a variety of angles, ultimately the eye will always be drawn to it, regardless of where it is positioned in the frame. “I find flowing water to be one of the great photographic challenges,” says Jeff Breault. “It is difficult to determine how it is to be used within the context of the photograph, or what characteristics of the water should be emphasized. Ultimately, I tend to allow the force of the water tell me what emotions the shot should convey.”
Do you want a furious rush of water that suggests strength and force? Use a slower shutter speed to create an unfocused and blurry lines. Do you want your photograph to convey tranquility? A higher shutter speed, with a focus upon reflections and elements within the water – fish, colorful rocks, leaves, etc. – may create the mood you’re after.
“When I photograph a beach or coast, I factor in the weather conditions, and allow them to tell me what the mood should be,” says Jeff Breault. “If the weather is dreary or overcast, I may use a black and white monochrome; if the weather is clear, I may use a high shutter speed and highlight the reflections on the water. The environment, essentially, tells me what to do.”
If you’re photographing a shoreline, it can be extremely useful to remember the rule of thirds to help with composing the shot, especially if you have a subject you wish to emphasize in the foreground. Imagine a grid of two interconnecting vertical and horizontal lines (like a tic-tac-toe board). If your subject is in the foreground, align the horizon with the upper horizontal line. If the subject is in the background, align the horizon with the lower line.
“Forests and environments dense with trees and vegetation have tons of personality, color, and visual interest; but deciding which features to highlight can be difficult,” says Jeff Breault. “You can’t fall in love with too many elements, because the result will either be utter chaos or a wash.”
Whether you shoot from within the forest or from the outside in will make a significant difference, as will your choice to look up towards the top of the trees or downwards to the forest floor. Discovering an intriguing focal point – a path or a uniquely shaped tree – will help organize the shot and give it a personality.
The plains and prairies can deceive the photographer into thinking that their simplicity and tranquility will automatically be evident in any shot, but it isn’t often the case. It is up to the photographer to integrate a specific personality into the landscape. “I always think of history when I see the plains,” says Jeff Breault. “Those old photographs of homesteads standing forlornly among acres of rippling wheat recall the hardship and struggles of 19th century migrants, all the way through to the Great Depression, and I tend to want to capture an element of that in my pictures.”
If the sky is too clear and cloudless to add dimension to the shot, look for any element that disturbs the flatness of the scenery. A car, fence, or house can help add visual interest, while telling a very specific story.