Landscape Photography: Getting it Right
- By Miranda Gavin from Hotshoe Blog
- 2 comments
For my second post, I’m responding to some of the questions put to me about landscape photography, especially those asking about how to achieve good results. A further question that I touch upon here, and will follow up on Hotshoe Blog next week, concerns the acceptable levels of post-production in landscape photography.
I’m no landscape photographer so I asked two well-travelled photographers Toby Smith (TS) and Robert Leslie (RL) for some advice. One tip that is oft repeated is ‘being in the right place at the right time’. Apart from this, you also need patience, determination and a good eye.
© Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images. Croagh Patrick - Ireland.
Toby Smith is a an award-winning reportage photographer specialising in landscape, environment and energy. He is represented by Reportage Getty and his work has appeared in National Geographic, Geo, The Guardian and the New York Times.
© Robert Leslie, Stormbelt 4, Nevada California Border 2009.
Robert Leslie’s photos have appeared in numerous publications, including Vanity Fair, the New York Times and French Vogue. For his recent project Stormbelt, the British-born and Canadian-raised photographer set out to follow the Sun Belt of the United States, the economically challenged, 8,000-km route between Miami, Florida, and Los Angeles, California. Stormbelt is available as a Blurb book, as well as in an enhanced multimedia e-book form, and can be found on iTunes.
Shooting at midday
What about shots when the sun is high? Those noon shots that are all washed out. How can I bring some colour back into them?
TS: It sounds ironic, but throw even more light into the frame. Using fill flash on your subject will enable you to control the luminosity of the background, independent of the subject. It can either be done subtly, or aggressively for a filmic look. Depending on the angle of the light source, it can also fill in the unflattering shadows cast by the sun under the eyes, chin and nose.
RL: Start earlier or shoot later. Do interiors at noon or choose a subject that you want to have washed-out colour in and shoot at midday.
TIP: The on-camera flash of many SLRs, or compact cameras, is not very powerful so make sure you are close to the subject.
© Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images. Malagasy Taxi - Madagascar.
How can I capture vivid colour using a digital camera?
TS: Choosing the correct lighting and time of day is key. Low sun or cloudy conditions actually give strongest colour tones and saturation. Also, think about the way that light reflects off subjects. For example, shooting into the light makes vegetation and long grass appear greener.
TIP: Choose your angle of approach to reflective subjects carefully to bring out the colour.
© Robert Leslie, Stormbelt 5, Seligman Arizona 2009.
Low-light and night photography
Do you have any tips for shooting in very low light conditions?
TS: A sturdy tripod and equally strong patience and practice will help you master long exposures. Think about everything you can do to increase image quality (ISO, aperture and focal length choices) but, critically, do everything to eliminate vibration or camera movements. For those lucky enough to have a newer SLR and a wide aperture lens, don't be afraid to crank the ISO right up and shoot hand-held. A noisy picture is often better than a blurred picture.
RL: I’ve always shot in very, very low light conditions, including my decades using film. Invest in a really fantastic bight lens with a wide aperture such as 1.4s, 1.2s. I much prefer fixed lenses to zoom lenses, as although zooms allow more versatility in types of images, they are not as effective in low light conditions. I use bright lenses a lot when shooting people in low light conditions.
TIP: Be careful to focus accurately every time you change the distance between your camera and subject when the aperture is wide.
© Robert Leslie, Stormbelt 1, Waveland Mississippi 2011.
Post processing and RAW
Do you have any tips on playing with the colour balance when shooting RAW?
TS: It helps to use a grey card, or even better, a colour passport, in the first frame of every new location. This will help you see more subtle changes in the tones when processing, or simply find the correct white balance as a starting point. Make sure the cards are at the same angle and within the same lighting conditions as the majority of your frame.
“If processing RAWS in most software you can make "virtual copies" of the frame. This is great way of experimenting with different colour balances across the same picture without losing your results or taking up to much space on your Hard Drive.
“The Magenta/Green balance should be used carefully. Subtle tweaks to the hue of individual colours and also the mid-point of the RGB curves are very simple but powerful ways of changing the feel of an image.”
RL: If you are shooting in a location where the light source doesn't change at all, select a fixed, colour balanced setting in camera, but not auto white balance. When you process after shooting, an auto setting will be repositioning the yellow/blue green/magenta settings constantly which can make large RAW edits a long and frustrating process.
How much post-production is acceptable in landscape photography? Do you use post-production? If so, to what extent do you use it?
© Robert Leslie, Stormbelt 2, Bolivar Peninsula Texas 2009.
RL: Personally, the only post-production I use is on colour, brightness, intensity and sharpening depending on the use/scale of the final image. I don’t move items around or mask them.
There are more and more practitioners doing this (a great young example is www.leocaillard.com) but it’s not where I’m at. The colour compensations I do are because I shoot the images with the camera on an extremely neutral setting so the contrast and dynamic range of the individual files are really flat. Post-production allows me to add more brightness and darkness to return an image to how I originally saw and felt it. Photographer Edward Butynsky’s team processed all the Stormbelt images.
© Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images. Arable Farming - Welsh Borders.
TS: “It's a matter of taste and an area of debate. Personally, if I can see any element of post-production, whether it is hyper-real or unrealistic, then it distracts me from the image. I want to see past the photography to the landscape depicted. I also think that over post-producing work is the best way of dating an image quickly. Sickly saturation masks on vegetation, and hard s-curves in the cloud detail, are no substitute for being in the right place at the right time.
“In my personal and editorial work, I keep post-production to an absolute minimum. I tend not to go past what can easily be achieved in the main menus of Raw Processing, although colour balance, levels, and curves are more accurate in Photoshop. I also do pre-print work in Photoshop when paper profiles can be applied and tested. I don't use Photoshop to composite images or change their content, but I am big fan of using "Photomerge" to stitch 24 or 32 frames into one giant panorama, either for the massive angle of coverage without distortion, or to get a huge file resolution.
“When on commercial assignments, my images are often only the starting point for composites or multi-image frames. In this instance, I prefer to work closely with an art director and professional retoucher.”
Toby, in your work for Getty reportage, what are the regulations as to how much you can do in post-production and what is acceptable?
“I ensure that all of the images in my portfolio or website are within editorial regulations. It ensures a consistency throughout my work and means that Getty can distribute any of my image collection without hesitation or worry. The exact regulations are mixed across the board and are actually tightening. As an example, National Geographic has, for a long time, accepted only RAW files to preserve the integrity of the editing workflow and publication.
“If delivering hi-res personal work, I’d include exposure, contrast, and colour balance, but only as global modifications, rather than tweaking individually masked areas. A slightly dated but workable guide, is to only use "darkroom" techniques in your processing but to draw the line at Stalin-era scalpel techniques!”
Going deeper into the landscape
For those who want to know more, I have put together a list of links below that will give you more information. There are also a couple of videos in the On Landscape.
Edmund discusses taking a landscape photograph in this 4min 39sec video.
Digital Photography School
Tips on shooting landscapes
Landscape photography for serious amateur.
If you have any suggestions to add or links, please register on the site and make a comment. I’m especially interested in getting the ball rolling on the question of the acceptable limits of post-production in landscape photography.
Do you have any guidelines that you can share?
What is your experience?
I’ll be back next week to follow up on further questions that I couldn’t cover in this post. Till then, you can you can find me at my cyber home on Hotshoe Blog, or join the conversation on twitter @Miranda Gavin.