TIPS AND TRICKS - OCTOBER 28, 2016
How to Improve your Landscape Photography
WORDS: RON BOGER //
“Why don’t my pictures look like that one?”
Do you see beautiful, captivating landscape photos online and ask yourself this question? Ever? I know I did and actually still do. Well, there's good news: According to iPhone Photography School’s Emil Pakarklis, taking landscape photos with your smartphone doesn't have to be a horrific experience anymore. With so many advancements in smartphone camera hardware, capturing those landscape images are not unattainable. Granted, I will be the first one to tell you getting that image of Mt. Everest in perfect detail with a time-lapsed starry sky will not happen just using your smartphone. The camera sensor in the phone is just too small to allow sufficient light in. Also, the phone cannot zoom the image without pixelating and blurring out. By the way, speaking of zooming in… sound advice I received is “do not do it.” Resist the temptation to ‘pinch zoom’ with your fingers to get a ‘close-up’ of that landscape or other subject. Physically step closer to your subject and crop the photo later. This method will preserve photo detail when post-processing and also save your sanity! So how do you get that picture-perfect landscape that has all the details you saw when you snapped the shutter? I will suggest three steps that have helped me take some pretty cool landscape photos with my smartphone. When we're done you'll know exactly how to take a landscape photograph with your smartphone that gets people excited and wanting to visit where you have been. Ready? Let's go!
Steps to Taking Amazing Landscape Photos with your Smartphone
Visit your favorite spot where you feel happy, excited, and peaceful or however that destination makes you feel and want to preserve the view for memories or sharing with your friends and family. When you capture a picture of beautiful scenery in front of you, you may be faced with blurry, dark, tilted, and off-center images, killing any sense of attraction to the scene you may have felt. With the right tools and instructions at your disposal, you could easily capture that gorgeous landscape lying before you, entirely on screen and produce a stellar photograph from it -- all without expensive equipment, multiple lenses, fancy gadgets, cumbersome setups, or lifting weights! (At least for this part of the process) ☺ First, look around you and take in what you see.
1. Explore what you see
Before you start diving into pushing the shutter button, you need to explore the scene.
• How does sunlight or other light sources affect what you see on your phone screen? Light is your best friend for shooting any type of photograph, period. Without the proper light, the camera sensor will not properly capture the scene. This is especially true with smartphone cameras. Their sensors are just too small. Does this prevent you from taking beautiful landscape photos? Absolutely not! The phone’s native camera app and other standalone camera replacement apps now allow for adjusting exposure to either lighten or darken the scene. Just remember, without the light the photo may not be right. May I suggest two special times of day to take amazing photos where the light is so golden you can taste it? Those times are within one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Known as the 'Golden Hour', this time allows for naturally diffused, beautiful sunlight bathing your subjects in filtered majesty. There will be other conditions during the day which you can use to your advantage. Overcast, cloudy days are good for capturing subject detail. Avoiding harsh sunlight is key to preventing blowing out or over-exposing your scene. In addition to getting the best light possible, your position or angle is also critical for taking that special shot.
• Did you ever see a photo and say, “Wow, I never saw this from that angle.” Angle and your unique point of view (POV) may just be the key to a unique photograph. Establish how you ‘see’ the scene, and position yourself in the best possible angle to capture an exciting photo. I remember reading an article that said if you want to take a picture that does not look like an ‘ordinary vacation snapshot’, you must explore different angles. Get down low, move around, look up high, and everywhere in between. These are the times when you will see something unique within the scene. Don’t forget to turn around, either. There have been times I was so focused on a magnificent sunset, mesmerized by the sky’s fiery reds and oranges. I stood there, shooting away, feeling good about getting the last few minutes of color. I turned around to walk away and WOW, the opposite end of the sky behind me had even MORE color. Deeper, richer magentas, shadows, reflections that I missed the first time around. My angle or POV was focused on what was in front of me. After that experience, I assure you I always look around me, 360 degrees before I press the shutter. Once you have your memorable scene in mind, use the tools you have such as your olloclip lens, native smartphone camera app, or another camera replacement app of your choice to help pull it all together.
Here are a couple of options I use to get the whole scene in, the one my eyes see.
• Nothing shows off a stellar landscape image more than getting the ‘whole image’ into view. The first option I choose with fitting the whole scene into the frame is using my olloclip wide-angle lens attached to my phone. Wide angle lenses provide greater scene view. My olloclip wide angle lens is perfect for situations where the landscape is so interesting I do not want to capture only part of what the native camera lens allows. As you can see from the images above, more landscape is captured using the olloclip than without. This adds more dimension to the photo. The wide angle lens provides more real estate to work with in post-processing. It allows me to crop if necessary without detracting from the photo’s point-of –interest (POI). There is another method I love using when I am looking for those photos capturing the entire scene, or close to it. The panorama setting on the native camera app is a great choice when I want the ‘whole scene’. I think panorama images ‘transport the viewer into the moment’ like no other format.
• Leomar Umpad’s tutorial on learning to use the panorama (pano) mode with the iPhone’s native camera app will definitely take your landscape images to the next level, either horizontally or vertically! In ‘pano’ mode, the camera takes consecutive shots and merges them into one image, capturing a greater area. While holding your phone in landscape mode, rotate your smartphone horizontally following the arrow on the horizon line. This will give you a horizontal panorama, useful for shooting bodies of water or hillsides. While still holding the phone in landscape mode rotate the phone upward to capture vertical images, such as a tall cedar or large buildings (Yes, not all landscapes have to be out in nature!) Be careful to stay on center and follow the guided arrow within the app. This will prevent misalignment in your captured image. I use pano mode in combination with my Olloclip lens attached. Using either or both of these methods will work well for you and your landscapes.
2. Use landscapes to ‘Tell a story’
After you've placed yourself and your camera in the best location for light and angle, figure out what you want to ‘say’ with your picture.
• Your landscape photos show and tell others where you were, what you saw, and if you are blessed, will elicit a special memory or convey a feeling with someone seeing your photo. Try to think about what you want to convey to someone when you are composing your photo. Do you want to show them the enormous tree line on top of a ridge? Will the images of your lake visit help the viewer remember visiting that same lake when they were young? Your landscape photos preserve a memory of places visited and times shared. Try not to just ‘snap a photo’…try to ‘create a story’.
You’re ready to start the process of lining up your next landscape shot and repeating the workflow once more. And you know what the best part is? Next time, that opportunity to take a picture of the beautiful scenery in front of you with your trusty smartphone and olloclip lens won't feel quite as horrific. :)