Let’s face it – landscape photography is hard. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get a great shot, but not every landscape you seek to photograph will immediately translate well into image form. That means you need a few tricks up your sleeve to give yourself the best chance of getting a winning shot. Here’s three basic landscape photography mistakes, and ways that you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: Including an Ugly Sky
The real estate in your landscape photos is far too precious to dedicate to features that aren’t interesting. An ugly sky is one such uninteresting feature you need to avoid.
Doing so is easy, too…
Just shift the horizon upward in the shot, as shown above. Doing so eliminates the colorless, cloudless sky and dedicates more of the shot to the interesting shapes, shadows, and textures in the foreground. The result is a much more interesting (and successful) photo!
Mistake #2: Bright Sky, Dark Landscape
One of the most difficult problems landscape photographers face is when there is a wide dynamic range in the scene. That is, there’s bright highlights in the sky and dark shadows in the landscape. Even high-end cameras will struggle to get everything from very bright to very dark well-exposed. That’s where a graduated neutral density filter comes in. These filters are darker on the top and lighter on the bottom, that way they darken the bright sky without impacting the landscape below. As a result, a graduated neutral density filter enables you to get a well-exposed image throughout.
This is the case whether there’s a definite horizon or not…
If there’s a clear horizon, like in the image above, you can use a hard-edge graduated neutral density filter, which abruptly changes from dark to light. If there’s not a definite horizon, you can use a soft-edge graduated neutral density filter, which gradually shifts from dark to light. Regardless of which type of graduated neutral density filter you use, quality matters. Just like you won’t get the best results with a cheap, poorly-built lens, you won’t get the best results with a cheap, poorly-built filter.
Formatt-Hitech is my go-to filter company because they use a rare earth metal coating that renders hyper neutral photos. Made of glass rather than resin, these filters are tough, scratch resistant, and provide neutral results across all spectrums of light. In other words, if you use one of these filters, there’s no need to spend hours in post-processing trying to equalize the dynamic range. Instead, you can take care of bright skies and dark landscapes right there in-camera in a matter of moments.
Mistake #3: Crooked Horizons
It’s probably the simplest mistake on this list, yet crooked horizons can have a profoundly negative impact on the quality of your landscape photos. Granted, not all landscapes will have a visible horizon, but if they do, you best ensure that they are perfectly level. There’s tons of ways to do that, too. Many cameras have an electronic level that you can use. If not, you can simply turn on the Rule of Thirds grid in Live View, and use one of the horizontal grid lines as a guide for getting the horizon stick-straight.
Another option is to use a bubble level. Many tripods have built-in levels, and if not, you can get one that slides into your camera’s hot-shoe mount. If all else fails, you can always use a program like Photoshop to correct a wonky horizon in post-processing. The point is that there are simply too many ways to correct for this mistake, so there’s absolutely no excuse for putting a photo out there with a crooked horizon!