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LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY by Stewart Parker

Like most fields of photography, the two main elements are LIGHT and COMPOSITION. The combination of
these elements, together with other elements such as colour and tone, all of which to a large degree we can
control, create what I call the image’s DESIGN.

LIGHT has two elements: QUANTITY and QUALITY

QUANTITY of light defines the amount of light reaching the film (or in the case of a digital camera the CCD),
and together with film speed, defines exposure of the image. The amount of light is determined by two
controllable things- APERTURE (measured as the size of the hole in the lens and called f stops) and SPEED
(measured in fractions of a second). These two things are inversely related, and each single change in either
one, doubles or halves the amount of light.
Briefly, the higher the f-stop number and the speed number, the less the amount of light we are allowing in to
the camera. Thus, an aperture setting of f16 will allow less light in than f5.6, and a speed of 1/250th of a second
will allow less light than 1/60th. We can therefore change the amount of light entering by changing either the
aperture or speed, or both.
Some typical combinations of aperture and speed might be:
Aperture f3.5 f4 f5.6 f8 f11 f16 f19 f22
Speed 1/10 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000 1/2000
(So if my meter tells me that the correct exposure will come from f8 at 1/125th of a second, but I want to stop
down to f16, or ¼ of the light, for more depth of field, I will need to make two stops more, or 4 times the light,
from my shutter speed- ie 1/30th of a second).
Aperture and speed have several effects on our images. Some examples are:
Small apertures (big number) will give us greater depth of field (ie more sharpness in the horizontal plane).
(Note- a wide angle lens will also help in this regard).
Large apertures (small number) conversely create a smaller depth of field, that is, some part of the image (either
the foreground or the background) will not be sharp. Telephoto lenses also promote this effect.
Faster speed will create less blur or movement.
Slow speed may create blur from subject movement, and possibly blur from camera movement. (Hint- any
speed slower than about 1/60th of a second can create camera blur. Use a tripod if in doubt).

QUALITY of light refers to the type and amount of light which is lighting our subject, and can vary according to
a number of things- time of day, type and position of light source, atmospheric conditions etc. There are several
categories here:
Harsh light is generally not helpful in landscapes, as it creates high contrast which in turn makes exposure
difficult with very dark and light areas. However it can be good on occasions, such as portraying the harsh
conditions of the outback, or highlighting detail.

Soft light is generally preferred by most landscape photographers, and can take many forms:

Mist gives an even light, and creates a lovely soft atmosphere

Dawn/dusk (ie before sunrise or after sunset) creates softness too, and often lovely warm colours and tones.
Sunrise/sunset (ie with the sun in the sky) can be harsher, but can spectacular, or subtle, and can create
wonderful long shadows

No direct sunlight can be dull, but creates a more even light eliminating problems with contrast and shadows.
Almost essential for rainforest shots. If very dark, reciprocity failure may be a problem.

Low light (eg moonlight) can be successful, but needs very long exposures

(Hint- a common “rule” is “never shoot into the sun”. If you follow this you will miss many good photo
opportunities, BUT “beware the flare” if shooting into the sun. Shade the lens).
COMPOSITION
This relates to where various elements are placed in the frame, and is important for a balanced image that is
pleasing to the eye.
There are some basic rules which are helpful, but they are not LAW- ie an image often works better if they are
not followed. However it is helpful to understand them to know how to break them. Some of the more common
and simple examples are:
- the rule of thirds (or Golden Mean)
- don’t have the horizon or point of interest in the middle (ie don’t have a symmetrical image)
- don’t have empty or blank spaces
- don’t clutter the image

Some specific composition issues are:


Balance. Try to have objects in the image balanced, rather than all in one portion of the image.

Simplicity often works best, and is less distracting than a cluttered or over-busy image

Lines. Can be a very important element of an image, & come in various forms:
Leading lines: help lead the eye through an image, or to where the maker wants it to go
Curved lines: can soften an image and also lead the eye.
Disappearing (or converging/diminishing) lines: also lead the eye or tell a story
Opposing lines identify a point of interest, or stop the eye from leaving the image

Shapes can add interest, or define a point of interest

Patterns and Textures can add interest to an image, and give it a “feel”

Framing the subject also highlights it, and can add interest or information to the image

Juxtaposition (ie repeating shapes or objects) can add interest or emphasise an element of the image

Reflections can be very effective, even when placed at midpoint

Image planes can be either clearly defined, or undefined, and can work equally well. Most landscapes have
foreground, midground and background (ie three-dimensional), but some work well with just two of these, or
even one (which becomes two-dimensional)

Colour. This is a subject in itself, but be aware that colour can work for or against you. The right mix of colour
can enhance an image enormously, and the colour can be significant in the image or a small splash, also can be
bright or subtle. It can be part of the landscape or introduced to add to the image.

Perspective. One definition of perspective is size relationship- ie being able to relate the size of something we
know well (often a person) to the subject scene.

Another definition of perspective is HOW we see the scene. This is perhaps the most important of all elements
of landscape work. Be prepared to look around for the best image rather than quickly shoot what looks the most
obvious, or is the best known. Dare to be different, and in doing so, put your own stamp of individuality on
your images.
Look up- there is often an image in the sky or treetops that we miss completely
Look down- similarly the ground/flora etc at our feet can be image enhancing
Look around- look for the unusual or different angle or viewpoint. Use your imagination and artistic flair as
well as your technical knowledge.

Good luck.