Go to locations that are off the radar to create unique photographs.
With the internet and social media reaching full maturity, there is no shortage of beautiful photographs on-demand with the touch of a button. Humans are creatures of habit though. Intentional or not, many of the photos that you see online are just replicas of replicas. It’s hard to know who was the originator of any composition these days. Just like TV shows and strange diets, locations can become trendy.
As long as you’re traveling outside of the top photography destinations, you’ll have fewer crowds which will allow you more time to settle into a shot without the added worry of getting in the way of someone else. When you travel to an “off the radar” destination, there’s a very good chance that you will be seeing the location for the very first time. Duh! What I mean by this, is that you will not have already envisioned the area through someone else’s lens. This fact alone will help you walk away with a unique shot that no one else has seen before and as long as you don’t tag where the image was taken, theres a good chance that you’ll never see a copy of your composition either. Finding a unique composition in an area that few have ever photographed is one of the greatest rewards landscape photography can offer.
Let your images rest
When we visit a location, we remember it through the experiences that we had there. When we view photographs that we took there, we immediately draw upon the many emotions that we felt when we were shooting. As time goes on, our memories of an event become less precise. After importing and selecting a few of your favorite photos, I recommend allowing your images to rest for at least a month or two. Doing so, will enable you to look at the photos with fresh eyes when you finally see them again. This process forms emotions that are more inline with someone who is seeing the image for the first time. Some of my favorite images are images that I overlooked on my initial pass due to my emotional attachment to the experience of shooting them. For this reason, I do not recommend throwing sharp images away. You never know how the past will look in the future!
Shoot B&W in the middle of the day
Should you shoot in the middle of the day? Absolutely! Landscape Photographers are notorious for getting up well before sunrise and staying out late into the dark of night, but it is rare to find them in the harsh light of day. There’s a good reason for this too. Direct sunlight washes out color and creates a lot of contrast. It just so happens that contrast is one of the building blocks of great black and white images though. Once you begin to think in black and white, you can use contrast to your advantage. Shadows can help add emphasis to your subject by eliminating distractions and creating drama. If you’re not used to shooting for black and white, you can go into your camera’s menu and change the picture style to monochrome. This will change your LCD screen from color to black and white. Keep in mind that changing the picture style only affects the jpegs, it has no effect on the raw images. They will still import into your raw editor as color images. Caution… shooting for black and white can be highly addictive and very rewarding!
Expose to the right.
Underexposing images is probably the most common mistake that photographers make. Dark images often look more saturated on the camera’s LCD screen which tends to encourage people to underexpose their shots. Scenes with a lot of light tones such as deserts can be particularly deceiving. It is important to know how to access your camera’s histogram and even more importantly, know how to read it.
The good news is that histograms are not as difficult to read as they look. The left side of the graph represents black and the right side represents white. Anything in the middle represents the grey tones from black to white. In most normal shooting situations, your goal should be to push the histogram as far to the right as possible without ridding up the right side of the graph. Exceptions to this rule are bright back lit subjects, high contrast scenes where you are intentionally blowing out the sky and night shooting. When exposed properly, the images may look a little washed out on you LCD but at long as nothing is clipping, you can always drop the exposure in post. This is the best practice because most of the details are in the highlights. It’s always better to darken properly exposed highlights than it is to brighten underexposed shadows.
Think about crop options other than 2:3 when shooting.
Aspect ratio is an important yet often overlooked facet of composition. 35mm film and most modern digital cameras utilize a 2:3 aspect ratio which equates to a 4×6 photo. That is why 4×6 prints are so popular at drug store photo labs. Having a good understanding of aspect ratios can be helpful when composing shots in the field. It’s good to know what format your final image will be presented in. For example, are you going to print it or is it going to be posted on the web and or social media?
Imagine that you are in the field and you know that you want to make an 8×10 print (4:5 aspect ratio) out of the final image. You know where you want the frame to end in the sky and you have a foreground element that you want to come out of the corner of the frame. If you place your sky how you like it and place the foreground element in the corner of the 2:3 frame, there’s a very good chance that the 8×10 crop will not work on this image because you will either be forced to crop out the sky or loose some of your foreground. Either option will more than likely ruin the image. Thinking about aspect ratio in the field can help eliminate cropping woes in post. Often times, just moving your camera in one direction or the other can create a vastly different image. Moving your camera just a little bit might allow you to frame the scene in a way that works for an 8×10 without compromising the foreground or background. Popular aspect ratios include 4:5, 1:1, 16:9, and 1:2. Think about these options the next time you’re out shooting.