Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment. – Ansel Adams
Film days are long gone and digital photography allows us to take as many shots as we please, not having to worry about running out of film. How many times were you in front of a beautiful landscape and you started snapping away without even thinking? It happens to all of us and it definitely happened to me many times, but not so much anymore. First thing I learned in flight school was to always use checklists. Pre-flight, before take-off, or before landing checklist, the instructor kept telling me: always use the checklists, they could save your life.
I decided to leverage the same concept in photography. I created checklists for shooting different scenarios and I find them very helpful. No, they don’t save my life, but they definitely save me a lot of time in post processing. First of all, I take a lot less pictures and I don’t have to go through hundreds of them when I get home. Second, I have to do less cropping and other adjustments in Lightroom.
Below is my Landscape Checklist that I developed and memorized. When shooting landscapes, I go through all these steps in my head before pressing the shutter button.
- Aperture Priority - I use this setting most of the time when shooting landscapes and anytime I want to control depth of field. I suggest a middle range aperture (f/11 or f/13) so you can get a large depth of field, but you can even go smaller (up to f/18) with a tripod.
- White Balance - I typically set it to auto, because I shoot raw and I can easily adjust it in Lightroom if needed. If your camera doesn’t allow it or if you shoot JPEG, you should adjust the white balance in the camera.
- ISO – The lower the better, to avoid digital noise. With some cameras, it’s pretty safe to go to 400 or higher, especially if your shutter speed gets too low.
- Exposure Compensation – This is very important to remember, especially when shooting very bright or dark scenes. For example, when shooting a snowy scene, the camera’s light meter will see it as too bright and it will adjust to 18% gray (you can find more detail ). Your shot will come out too dark and you’ll end up with gray snow. However, this is easy to anticipate and correct. If your scene is very bright, stop it up. If the scene is very dark, stop it down. I know this seems a little backward, but this is the way the camera works.
- Foreground – It’s always good to have something in the foreground to lead the eye into the picture. I notice out-of-focus foregrounds right away and they draw my attention. Our eyes give us a complete depth of field. Do you see an out-of-focus foreground when you look into a scene? No, you don’t. That’s why I find a blurry foreground distracting and annoying. You may be able to get away with it, but the best thing is to avoid it.
- Rule of Thirds – One of the most basic tips. Read a great article about this .
- Horizon – Nothing can ruin a photo more than a crooked horizon. And this is so easy to fix. Remember: horizon straight and not in the middle of the picture (see rule of thirds). I know, rules are made to be broken and I encourage you to break them. Sometimes this can create an original, artistic effect as long you are aware and make your intentions clear.
- Extremities – Take a quick look at the sides and the corners to make sure there are no branches, wires, or any other elements that don’t belong in your picture.
Try memorizing these steps and next time you shoot a landscape, go through this list quickly in your mind before you snap the shot. You will have a lot less photos to go through later; and I guarantee you will be more proud of them.
What tips do you have for shooting landscapes? Why not share some of your shots with the Balcony? Just include them with your comments.