Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Shooting and composition tips , part of Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography.
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You know those annoying textbooks and training videos that begin the explanation of a subject by telling you the original derivation of the name of that subject? This is one of those videos, but the fact is, the most important thing that anyone needs to know about photography is included in the word itself. Photography derives from photos, the Greek word for light, and graphia, roughly the Greek word for writing. You can read the word then as writing with light. Light is the raw material of all photography.
You cannot have a photo without light any more than you can have music without air. And learning to pay attention to and think about light is the most essential skill a landscape photographer can learn, or any type of photographer for that matter. Light and shadow are the essence of photographs. They are what comprise texture, and the interplay between them can guide the viewer's eye through your image. While the color quality of light in your scene can have a profound emotional impact. All photos begin with light.
So for landscapes your light source will always be the sun, even if you are shooting by moonlight, because the moon merely reflects the light of the sun. Sun is a very good light source. It's bright, it's even, and it sits in a place where our brains expect like to come from, up in the sky. Very often a landscape photo is not actually a photo of a particular landscape, but of the light that's hitting it. In other words, it's often the light that makes a landscape striking, not the landscape itself. Good light can make an otherwise boring scene into something more interesting.
The easiest way to learn to recognize good light is to tilt things in your favor by shooting early in the day or late in the afternoon. In the middle of the day, the sun shines from overhead, as opposed to earlier and later in the day, when it shines at a more extreme angle. Angled light casts longer shadows, which makes for more pronounced textures and more variation in light and dark throughout your image. Afternoon light is also warmer, which can lend a lush, reddish-orange glow to your images. Going out with these hours greatly improves your chances of finding good subject matter, but you must work fast because the light changes quickly during these times.
Good pictures can be taken under any light, and overcast, low contrast light can also yield good results. But finding compelling subject matter is much easier in the earlier and later parts of the day. Many people think that to shoot good landscapes, you need a very wide angle lens to capture as much of vista as possible, but that's very rarely true. Your job as a landscape photographer is to represent. So very often, rather than trying to capture the enormity of a scene, such as this dune field - sand dune field in Death Valley's Panamint Valley, it's better to get in close and capture a representative sample of the scene.
This creates a simpler image that's easier for the viewer to understand, yet can still be evocative of the grandeur or the emotion of the location. Compositionally, you'll employ the same ideas that you do in any type of shooting when you're shooting landscapes. You usually need to frame your shots with a definite subject and background. You need to use compositional ideas to try to guide the viewer's eye, so that they are not lost in your image. Now, a detailed discussion of landscape shooting is beyond the scope of this course.
This is about Photoshop and post- production, but there is one piece of advice that I'd like to give you. When you are out shooting, obviously, you need to have a good grasp of exposure theory. You need to know aperture and shutter speed and ISO reciprocity and the effect of different focal lengths, and all sorts of other stuff. We can't go into all of that now, but I can guarantee that more than an understanding of those things, what's going to make the greatest difference in your photography is learning to work a shot, and by that I mean simply shooting a lot.
I don't mean just pointing your camera in every different direction, but when you find a subject, working it, trying to get a lot of coverage out of it. People think that a National Geographic Photographer goes and sees a scene, takes a picture of it that's perfect, and goes home to acclaim and fanfare. That's not true. They work the shot. They shoot hundreds of images to get 12 keepers, maybe. Here is an example. I was in Panamint Valley, and I'd spotted this little cloud up here, and I think partly what struck my eye about the cloud was that mirroring it down below was this dark, roughly of the same shape, and so I took this picture.
I thought, I don't know if there is a picture there. Then I thought maybe there is something to do with these bushes. So I zoomed in closer to compose it a little bit, thinking that maybe I'd play these two things off of each other, and I don't know. I still kept working. I moved to the bushes out of the way. And in doing so, I took a shot and realized, oh look, there is this little rock down here. It's a real dark counterpoint to the light fluffy cloud up here, but they are not quite lined up. So I took a step to the left and shot again. Ultimately, this turned out to be my keeper image. When I got back home and found this - I'd forgotten I'd taken it, even - looking through my images, I found this.
I started to do some things to it. I increased the contrast. I did some saturation work on the sky and some other things, but ultimately I decided color was distracting in his image. This is an image about luminance and tone, so I turned it into a black-and-white image, cropped it a little bit differently, and this became my finished image. But even this shot did not come just from those half-dozen images because after I took this picture - I didn't realize this until I was looking through my thumbnails and bridge - after I took this picture, I kept shooting. I waited until the cloud got smaller and shot it that way, because I could see that the clouds were changing shape very quickly.
I moved to the rock out of the way, or got to a place where the rock wasn't, and put this texture in the foreground. In other words, I just shot and shot and shot, with no idea of any of the images were keepers or not, but when I got home I found the one that worked and was able to turn into a shot. This is how you have to treat all of your subject matter. We're going to be talking about this, and lots of other shooting things, during the course of our post-production work, because shooting and post-production are tied very closely together. When you are shooting, you need part of brain in Photoshop already thinking about how you might turn this shot a particular way, thinking about the possibilities of the shot or the scene based on what you know you can do in Photoshop.
This is nothing new about digital. Film photographers worked this way for years. Ansel Adams when he was exposing a shot, exposed it a particular way because he knew he would be able to process in a particular way. You're going to learn to do that too, through the rest of this course.
- Getting the shot: landscape-specific shooting tips and tricks
- Choosing the right equipment
- Cropping and straightening images
- Making localized color and tonal adjustments
- Reducing noise
- Guiding the viewer’s eye with localized adjustments
- Adding a vignette
- Using gradient masks to create seamless edits
- Approaching adjustments like a painter–thinking in light and shadow
- HDR imaging
- Creating panoramas: shooting and post-processing techniques