Awe-inspiring landscape photography is the driving inspiration for many to discover unknown lands. While many professional photographers desire to have stunning images, not many know the secret recipe for a successful landscape shoot. The experienced and highly regarded pro-photographer, Stephen Matera, shares these top seven tips for shooting landscapes and obtaining those photo-stock worthy images.
Elizabeth Kovar: What are the top three keys to success?
Stephen Matera: There are three keys to landscape photography: light, light, and light. And composition. Okay, four. You can have an amazing composition, but if the light is no good, it’s just a nice composition with no drama. But conversely, great light alone won’t make a great photo. The composition must be interesting enough to keep the viewer’s eye in the image. Try to compose in a way to draw the viewer in and give them something that keeps their eyes moving around within the image. Draw the viewer’s eye to the subject with a shallow depth of field (DOF).
EK: Any photo no-no’s?
SM: Don’t fall into the trap of one composition, while using a wide angle lens, with something in the foreground and big mountain in the distance. It’s a nice composition but it’s been done so much and there are so many other creative compositions. Try and use all focal lengths you have available. I am happy when I come back from a trip/shoot and have used all the lenses in my bag. When I do that, I know I’m putting the effort in and not just falling back on standard compositions.
EK: It’s really about the light?….
SM: Shoot into the light! There are all kinds of light but one of my favorites is backlighting. But you have to be careful when you do and watch out for lens flare. Photographers should try to avoid too large of a very bright area of sky because it makes the photo uninteresting. Try putting an interesting object that is backlit in front of an area that is dark or in shadow.
EK: And the light goes on….
SM: One of my biggest pieces of advice is not to pack up and leave right after the sun goes down. Sometimes the clouds are most beautiful 15 minutes (or more) after the sunsets. And keep shooting when it gets dark. With digital cameras low noise capabilities, images of a landscape under the stars are more possible now than ever before.
EK: Ok, to shoot alone? Or not alone?
SM: Shoot with other photographers, and not your family. It’s a recipe for disaster to try to capture great photos while your spouse and kids are getting impatient waiting for you. Go out with other photographers. They understand you like only a photographer could (and feel your pain as well). Share your photos with each other in the field to broaden your perspective. I have had many times where I’ve been standing next to a photographer friend looking at the same scene, and we create completely different images. It’s eye opening to see things that others see in real time.
EM: Patience is a really a Virtue…
SM: Be a slug. And slowww down! Photographers should not expect amazing photos with drive by photography, or as I like to call “Cartography.” If you see something that looks interesting, stop and plan on spending an hour or more shooting it. I’ve had so many times where I’ve been in a place and it was very beautiful to my eye, but when I tried to create a photo I struggled. But, with sitting there for about 15 or 20 minutes, something crazy happens. My brain starts to make order of the scene and compositions start popping up. It’s kind of crazy actually.
EK: Know Thy Environment…
SM: Use the tools available to make the most of your time. The best photographers know when to go to locations for the best shooting. When do the wildflowers bloom at Mt. Rainier? When is the low tide on the Big Sur coast? Where will the sun set or come up and what options will that provide for shooting? What’s the forecast? During cloudy weather, I choose to shoot in the forest or marcro photos. One of my favorite tools for photography is Google Earth. I almost always check it before I head out to shoot to check aspects of areas to anticipate where and when it will have light.
EK: Got any bonus tips?
SM: Notice not one of those tips was about gear. Gear is important, but it’s a tool. A high megapixel camera or expensive lens won’t take creative photos for you. They will only allow you to make the most of your creativity.