Landscape Photography: Getting it Right

Date
27/11/2012
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

© Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images. Croagh Patrick - Ireland.
© 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

© Robert Leslie, Stormbelt 4
© 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.
© Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images. Malagasy Taxi - Madagascar.

Colour

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
© 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
© 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
© 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.
© 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.

site discussing taking a landscape photograph with some contemporary landscape and social documentary photographers including Simon Roberts and Edmund Clarke.

Edmund discusses taking a landscape photograph in this 4min 39sec video.

Landscape Photography: Taking a Landscape Photograph from National Media Museum on Vimeo.

Digital Photography School

The Night Sky in Landscape Photography 

Introduction to Astrophotography

Tips on shooting urban landscapes

National Geographic
Tips on shooting landscapes 

Lightstalker
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.

Miranda Gavin is Hotshoe Blog editor (http://hotshoeblog.wordpress.com), deputy editor of Hotshoe magazine and co-founder of Tri-pod.

Comments

  • MirandaGavin 28/11/2012 09:53

    In light of the above post, I wanted to also point readers to the controversy surrounding the disqualified Landscape Photographer of the Year 2012 Awards winner David Byrne’s image of Lindisfarne Castle in November because it was decided that "the image chosen as the overall winner is in breach of the rules for the Classic view category owing to the extent of the digital manipulation techniques used". Simon Butterworth was made the new winner of this year’s competition.
    From Digital Camera World: (www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/11/02/landscape-photographer-of-the-year-2012-winner-disqualified)
    UPDATE: Tim Parkin has updated his blog post with a statement from David Byrne confirming his disqualification as winner of the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2012 Awards:
    “I have to inform you after a conversation with Charlie Waite I have been disqualified from the Landscape Photographer of the year awards, unfortunately I didn’t read the regulations and certain editing like adding clouds and cloning out small details are not allowed, while I don’t think what I have done to the photo is wrong in any way, I do understand it’s against the regulations so accept the decision whole heartily. I have never passed off my photographs as record shots and the only reason this has come about has been due to my openness about how and what I do to my images. The changes I made were not major and if you go to the locations you will see everything is there as presented."

  • Aleleeinn 04/12/2012 02:53

    This post i a massive collection of great information and amazing examples. As the video from the nation media museum points our "... no substitute for being in the right place at the right time." This ids different from the video by John Cleese in the previous post. Although his video provides excellent information in training yourself to create, The landscape photographer must rely on real time. You can study and prepare but you must know when the moment is right. In my play exercise over the last week I've gotten several lessons in exactly that. How quickly light and hence the subject changes. I ran to get the camera and the light had changed and the image was gone. Cleese's Space and Time take on different meaning for landscape shooting.
    Another big lesson is that I need to look at much more work from landscape photographers. One image is stunning and inspiring, but seeing many begins to teach the photographers eye. I can analyze why a photograph is good, but I still can't see that good photograph when it happens.
    I need to go back to my old pictures and critique them with this new found knowledge. I have a serpentine road decending a mountain, but not equal to the coal trucks in china. I have a fog on the desert at Valley of Fire in Las Vegas, but lacks.
    Toby Smith's Arable Farming - Welsh Borders offer a standard to aim for around rural Ohio. William Blake coined the term "Immaculate Perception"--to train my eye to see the picture. Julie Burstein's video in the preious post is so useful. Training the eye to see art when it happens. A broken cup: a plowed field. Developing that will be fun. Play is easy for me.
    Thanks Miranda for all the great information sources and examples.

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