1. Use a Tripod!
Image above – Nate Lindstrom getting knee deep for the shot.
I know, I know, tripods are big and cumbersome and they make you feel constricted. I used to feel the same way when I started out.
Now I shoot with one 99% of the time, even in bright conditions with fast shutter speeds.
Tripods are important for a couple reasons:
a. They make you slow down, allow you to find really compelling compositions and fine tune them. You don’t need to shoot 100 images from a sunrise. Take your time, slow down, tweak your compositions and come home with a handful of solid images instead.
b. They keep the camera still and help you to get razor sharp images.
Read this – Buy your last tripod first! I wish I had read this article before I purchased and wasted money on several inadequate tripods over the years.
2. Keep the horizon straight!
Take your time, level out your horizon before locking in your tripod head and taking the shot.
If you forget to level it before taking the photo, fix it in Photoshop before printing or showing it to others.
Beware, copping to the “fix it in post later” method is lazy and leads to lost resolution due to cropping.
That’s not to say that even if you get it as straight as possible in the field, you won’t have to straighten and crop a bit in post, you probably will, but at least you will have a better base to start from and will lose less of the image when doing so.
Generally speaking, when shooting landscapes, you are trying to convey what you saw at that exact moment and a crooked horizon is not something found in nature and It’s pretty off-putting to see in an landscape image.
There’s nothing worse than seeing a photo with awesome color, amazing light, gorgeous front to back interesting elements and then nothing sharp in the entire frame. Something to read up on is the “hyperfocal distance“.
To keep it simple, when shooting with a wide angle lens, shoot stopped down in the F/8 to F/16 range. Focus on something in the middle to end of the first 1/3 of the scene, (before the foreground meets the midground) lock the focus and shoot.
4. Graduated Neutral Density Filters!
A Hitech 3 Stop Hard Edge Grad ND was used to capture the image above.
Grad ND filters are the secret weapon in most Landscape Photographer’s camera bags.
A Graduated Neutral Density filter is used to balance exposures with a Large Dynamic Range of light. Think of a scene with a bright sky. If you shot that without a Graduated Neutral Density filter and metered for the foreground, the sky would be overexposed (washed out with a loss of detail) and the foreground would be exposed properly. Inversely, if you metered for the sky, the sky would be exposed properly and the foreground would be underexposed (too dark with little to no details). Basically, The Graduated Neutral Density filter will balance your exposures and allow both the bright sky and foreground to be properly exposed.
Graduated Neutral Density filters (GND Filters) come in several different densities or strengths. 1 stop, 2 stop, 3 stop, and 4 stop are the most common. They also are available in hard edge or soft edge varieties. Hard Edge GND filters are best used in scenes that have hard, clean lines without anything protruding through them such as a lake with a clear horizon line.
5. Dust Removal!
Those aren’r seagulls flying in the sky.
Every DSLR made photograph needs some sort of dust removal. When we shoot at such narrow apertures such as F/8 – F/22 we really start to see the dust spots in our images.
Try to keep the sensor clean with a rocket blower or with a sensor cleaning system
(There are different kits with different solutions for different sensors. Make sure you read the specs before ordering as you could damage your sensor)
Even after a good sensor cleaning, you will probably end up with dust spots in your image after swapping lenses out.
In Photoshop, Look into the cloning stamp or the spot healing brush tools. Zoom into your image at 100% and slowly scroll up and down and across, looking for unwanted dust spots. Clone them out and clean up your photo.
The last thing you want is a print with eye sores.
Halos are white bands that show up in photos along the sharp edges in overcooked HDR images and over-sharpened images.
(See the right image? It was oversharpened and things went wonky)
Halos don’t occur naturally and in general aren’t very attractive.
If you like to use HDR, you can still achieve that crazy, super saturated, shadow-less, otherworldly, surreal, HDR image without the huge halos. You just have to take time with your software and get to know it’s controls. HDR software isn’t for me, but I get why some people like it.
Same goes with sharpening. You get a 100% magnified view when sharpening, move that view to a sharp, prominent edge in your image and watch for the halos to form. Then back the sliders off a bit until they go away.
A little masking and play with the sliders goes a long way. Learn to mask in photoshop, so when you sharpen your landscapes you aren’t sharpening things that don’t need it such as clouds, blue sky, water, etc…
Sharpening those elements only leads to extra artifacting.