A Guide to Getting Awesome Landscape Exposures

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Landscape photography requires a sharp and keen eye. The best landscape photographs are the ones that bring out the spirit of the place and there are different types of techniques used to pull this off. Ideally, this includes using lenses at wide angles and ensuring that the settings are set appropriately. One of the most important elements that you need to be considered during landscape photography however is exposure. The first step towards delivering the best landscape photographs therefore begins by learning more about exposure.

What is Exposure?

Exposure refers to the amount of light falling on your digital camera’s sensor image. When you purchase a camera, this is often set on automatic by default. For most photographers, this setting delivers beautiful pictures. However, there are certain conditions when the lightening tends to be challenging and this is especially true during landscape photography. In this case the optimal setting will not deliver optimal photographs.

Why it is Important

Unlike the human eye, the image sensor does not have the ability to record the contrast varying range of contrast which includes black and white yet this type of photography is known to bring out huge contrast. Since the sensor cannot deal with this contrast, the camera records only the information it is capable of recording. Therefore, it will average the light levels and as such, ensure that the images are exposed accordingly.

The overarching concept is what makes the entire process tricky and manufacturers of cameras have tried to develop creative metering systems for the purpose of solving this problem. If you look at your camera, you will note that you have some options such as spot metering, weighted average or center weighting. Though these options are available, they do little to deliver the desired results. Most photographers are lulled by the false belief that the camera understands what is being carried out and yet, this could not be further from the truth. In essence, it is only most of the time that the camera gets things rights and the remaining part is solely on the photographer. For instance, there are instances when you might capture landscape that is filled with snow and when you download it, the snow assumes a gray shade. This is because exposure was not given much thought.

The Basics of Exposure

This means that you need to understand the basics of how exposure works and how you can control it to your benefit. This means understanding how your camera’s meter reads different scenes and why you should not trust the auto exposure feature that comes with it. Basically, there are two important aspects that you need to understand and these include shutter speed and aperture.

  • Shutter speed: This refers to the duration the camera’s shutter remains open. A 1/60 speed will allow the same amount of light as a speed of 1/25.
  • Aperture: This refers to the opening of the lens and it is often gets measured in f stops. For instance, settings that have a lens opening of f/8 means that they are twice that of f/11 and consequently, twice the light used in the first instance is needed. One of the most confusing things about apertures is that if the f-stop is higher this means that the aperture is also smaller.

Going back to the snow example, it is important to understand what happened. The light meter of the camera gives a reading that results to proper exposure of a scene that is in mid tone lighting conditions. Therefore, this means that the camera’s meter is able to take multiple readings of the preferred photography scene. Consequently, it reads the extremely dark areas, the bright or light ones as well as the mid-tone or neutral ones. Some examples of mid tone objects include gray rocks, non-reflecting foliage and brown bark trees among others.

Such mid tone objects are also exposed in the light meter. However, since the landscape in this case has plenty of white the meter treats it as mid tone and as such, you get gray snow in your picture. In order to ensure that the right exposure is attained in your photographs, it is therefore advisable to consider the following.

  • Focus on the scene you want to capture.
  • Without shifting this focus, pan the meter to mid tone and look at the camera’s meter reading.
  • Shift the camera to the initial position but this time, use manual exposure dials rather than the automatic. This is for the purpose of setting the reading in the mid tone area.


When you do this, the most likely outcome is the assumption of your camera that you are overexposing the scenery. However, this should not worry you because it will deliver perfect outcomes. Basically, there are two types of exposure and these include overexposure and underexposure. As a landscape photographer, it is important to understand these two aspects in order to ensure you are better placed to control your camera’s exposure.

  • Overexposure: In this case, the photographer exposes the photograph to a higher degree of light than what the camera can hold. This means that you are not following through with what the camera is telling you and more often than not, this ends up being a major mistake. When overexposure is used in the light meter, the photograph ends up being too bright.
  • Underexposure: In this case, you expose little light than what the light meter is suggesting and the end result of this is darker images.

In order to avoid these two types of exposure, the best thing is to follow through with what the light meter is indicating. For the simple purpose of ensuring that you capture the best photographs using appropriate exposure, it is important to study the landscape you intent to capture. At any given time, when you do this you end up with three major situations and these include the following.

  • Extremely bright objects: There are items which tend to be overly bright and this tends to throw the light meter off. This is because the meter turns all objects into 18 percent medium gray, which is the set standard for most cameras. Thus, if the image you want to capture is white, you will be forced to overexpose the image in order to ensure that the light meter is balanced. A good example where this might be employed is when capturing landscape that has snow. On the other hand, reflective or shiny surfaces tend to result in underexposed photographs. The sun reflects water in a pool and metallic objects that are directly hit by sunlight. The camera will read the light meter appropriately but still render it at 18% gray and you need to adjust the meter in order to capture great photographs.
  • Dark objects: Dark objects have the tendency of overexposing for the purpose of changing black or close to black objects into gray. A good example in this case of outlines of mountains, monuments, trees and cliffs. These items should be left as pure black for the purpose of getting the details of the landscape.
  • Changing levels of light: The importance of monitoring the light level when capturing landscape photographs is one that cannot be overly stressed. This is especially true when capturing the images during sunrise, active weather and sunset. Sunrise offers the best time to capture landscape photographs yet at this time, it is considerably different to control light exposure level. This means that you need a camera that has the capabilities of controlling these levels through the use of filters and shutters in order to deliver perfect photographs.

Simple Tips for Capturing Great Landscape Photographs

If you can live by the belief that photographs are not taken but made, you have a better chance of capturing the most enthralling images ever. To help you achieve this end, you should consider the following important tips.

  • Settle for high vantage locations that provide a commanding view of the scenery. If your camera gives you better control over exposure settings (for example SLR) you should use a small aperture. Ideally, this should be f/11 or f/16. This is perfect as it makes it easy to keep things in focus.
  • There are times considered ideal for capturing great pictures and you should rely on the same. For instance, early mornings and late evenings are seen as the best times for capturing the best landscapes. This is because during these times, the angle of the Sun makes it easier to pick out the shadows as well as reveal different types of textures.
  • As a photographer, you should not assume that you can capture the best images by the roadside. What you need to do is go for long treks and look around to find the most captivating locations.
  • Use wide angle lenses since they make it easy for you to use more frames and this opens a wide perspective for you. What is more, with a zoom lens that is wide, you also get more latitude when framing the scene and this makes it easy to crop features and capture the best attributes of the landscape.
  • Create depth into your pictures by placing something in the foreground of the shot. While at it, you should also use an aperture that is smaller in order to keep things in focus.
  • Another valuable yet simple tip is to anchor the camera to your tripod. This is important simply because it slows down the pace while shooting and thus, ensures that you end up with great pictures. It is advisable to get a model that is light in order to ensure you don’t have any issues when walking long distances.
  • The scenes you choose should be easy to crop at the bottom and top in order to end up with letter-box panoramic photos. These are dramatic and often seen as the best landscape photographs.
  • For the purpose of darkening the sky, it is advisable to use polarizing filters. This has the ability of saturating the colors. This is a must have for all landscape photographers.
  • Graduated gray or density neutral filters can also be used for darkening the sky and thus reducing the contrast between the sky and the landscape.
  • If the skies are cloudy and bright, you should use polarizing filters because graduated filters will not deliver the desired results. One of the major reasons photographers end up with skies that are burned out is because the digital sensors do not have the necessary features to record the differences between the brighter and darker foregrounds.
  • Color correction filters should also be used for the purpose of changing the amount of light in the landscape. These have the ability of either cooling or warming down the colors. In instances such as these, it is recommended that you use graduated sepia filters.
  • For the purpose of adding an ethereal quality to the photographs, it is ideal to use a soft focus filter. It has the ability of blurring bright areas into shadows and this gives the capture image a glow.
  • In order to obtain fast shutter speed that has field depth, it is ideal to use hyperfocal distance. With hyperfocal focus, you will be able to capture sharp images even from images that are far off. What is more, this is more reliable than compared to setting the camera to infinity.
  • When using a digital camera that has the capability of shooting raw images, you should use it rather than  opting for JPGs. This is because the RAWs are known to occupy a large space of the memory card and while this is the case, it does not carry out any processing on the images as is the case with JPGs. Additionally, this also gives you the opportunity to enjoy higher manipulation through manipulation packages such as PhotoShop, Paint Shop Pro and Adobe PhotoShop among others.
  • Aspire to be original. This simply means developing your own landscape photography style rather than copying the styles and ideas of others.
  • Always tell a story. In this case, you have to slow down and think about what you are doing. This is important as it gives you time to come up with a theme and work with your imagination to deliver landscape photographs that call out to those looking at them. Ask questions such as that features or attributes make the scene stand out. As you develop a sense of direction, your chances of capturing the best landscape photographs are heightened.

Exploit the Wide Angle Lenses

If you want to deliver stunning landscape photographs, you should capitalize on using wide angles to your benefit. While this is the case, there are a couple of things you need to consider in order to ensure you get the best shots. Some of these are as highlighted below.

Getting the Best

If you focus on infinity, there is no guarantee whatsoever that your photos will turn out great and sharp. While it is true that wide angled lenses have greater depth compared to telephoto lenses, when using the frame, it is imperative to use the right point. This is the only way to ensure that you get the most out of the lenses and to achieve this, you need to use the cameras hyperfocal point.

Know the Challenges

You must understand the challenges associated with the use of wide angle lenses if you are to get the most out of it. By understanding these challenges, you will be better placed to capture great photographs. In this regard, some of the challenges you will face include the following.

  • Stacking several filters: The use of filters is very important when using wide angles to capture your landscape photographs. If you stack several filters into the wide angle lens you run the risk of having visible filters at the photographs edge. This means that if you must use any polarizing filter, it should be ultra thin in order to attain the desired results.
  • Frame corners: You also need to be on the lookout for distortion of the frame corners in order to ensure that it does not interfere with the quality and sharpness of the photograph. For instance, when a camera is parallel to vertical lines, it is highly likely that these lines will appear inwards in the photograph. This though is dependent on the type of camera being used as there are instances when barrel distortion becomes the major issue.
  • Accessories: When using wide angles, it is important to understand some of the accessories you might be able to use as well as those that must be avoided at all costs. One of the most reliable accessories is the lens hood though in some instances, you can also use your hands for the purpose of shielding your lens.
  • Features of a good lens: You should also understand some of the features you need to be on the lookout for when shopping for an excellent lens. There are two things that clearly stand out when picking an excellent lens and these include barrel distortion and lens resolution. Before buying the lens, make sure that you read reviews in order to better understand what other photographers have to say about the lens you are interested in. Rather than settling for the lens you come across, it is advisable to test it. Zoom and construct exposure at all focal and aperture lights. Once done with this, transfer the images into your computer and critically analyze the details in order to determine whether it is in your best interest or not. You need to be on the lookout for sharpness which occurs at the corner and center of the photograph’s frame. Once all these factors are critically analyzed, it is considerably easy to make an informed decision about the type of wide lens to invest in.

Use of Lines in Landscape Photographs

When photographing landscapes, it is inevitable that you will come across lines and this is because they can be found almost anywhere in nature. Consequently, the slightest ignorance about the manner in which they cross your images can add a different dimension to your photographs that you were not interested in. Keep in mind that lines are what guide the viewer through the image and they also evoke motion. Some of the popular lines you will come across while shooting your landscape photographs include horizon, roads and tree lines among others. The following are just some of the basic things you need to keep in mind when dealing with lines.

  • Creating harmony with horizontal lines: When looking at landscape photographs, viewers will unknowingly search for horizontal lines for the purpose of orienting themselves with the photograph. These fall across the image and they can lead the viewer through the entire length of the photograph. You have to create harmony when shooting these photographs in order to ensure that these lines are clearly defined and easy for the viewer to identify them. They will give your photographs a familiar and peaceful feel.
  • Slanted lines: You must also learn how to use slanted lines to your benefit and these refer to slopping or diagonal lines that convey downhill or uphill movements. These lines are also an indication of action and if the line is slanting too sharply, it can be a source of discomfort to the mind. These lines influence the thoughts of the viewer as well.

Ideally, there are other types of lines you need to be on the lookout for such as angular jagged lines, motion vertical lines and hidden lines. Keep in mind that your ability to capture excellent lines is also dependent on the level of exposure being used and consequently, you need to be extra carefully in order to ensure that you deliver the perfect pictures. There are several photographic test skills that have the ability of improving your ability to capture high quality landscape photographs and by capitalizing on these, you stand a better chance of becoming the best in the industry.

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