How to become a great landscape photographer

Celebrated landscape photographer Adam Burton reveals 10 golden rules for taking beautiful photos of the countryside

19th October 2013
Lake District Photograph: shutterstock

1. SHOOT IN INCLEMENT WEATHER

What: The most atmospheric pictures are captured when the weather is stormy, changeable and unpredictable.

How: Head out on a stormy day, then find a suitable viewpoint and wait for a break in the weather. Sunlit subjects photographed against black clouds can make fantastic photographs. Also, this is the best time to spot and capture rainbows. Compose your picture with care to give an even balance of light and shadows; a really dark sky against an overly bright sunlight foreground can make a picture appear unbalanced.

2. MEET THE DAWN

What: At sunrise (and sunset), the sun can put on an incredible show. Before the sun appears, the dawn sky can go through a display of changing colours. Once the sun breaks the horizon, sunlight bathes landscapes contrasted with long, deep shadows.

How: The most important thing is get up early. As light levels will be low, you may need to bring a tripod. At this time the contrast range can be more than your camera can record. Use a graduated neutral density filter, which darkens a bright sky so that both the sky and foreground can be properly exposed.

Fallow deer in the morning sun, Photograph: shadowstock

Fallow deer in the morning sun Photograph: shadowstock

3. PHOTOGRAPH MIST

What: Misty conditions will simplify details in a photograph, allowing the eye to concentrate on the main subject matter. In addition, mist will add bags of atmosphere to any photograph.

How: Head out to a river or lake on an autumn morning, when warm days and cool nights generate mist. Mist can fool a camera’s exposure meter into underexposing the scene. To rectify this, many compact cameras have an ‘exposure compensation function’ (often a plus/minus symbol), which allows you to force the camera to over or under expose the photo. Play around until you get the best result.

4. EXPERIMENT WITH CLOSE-UPS

What: As an alternative to conventional landscape pictures, look for details in the landscape and shoot them close up. Visit beaches to shoot pebbles and shells, or wander through a forest in autumn to photograph fallen leaves. In spring and summer, flowers can make colourful subjects when captured up close.

How: Use a macro lens to shoot from close range. A large aperture (eg f/2.8) will blur distracting background details so attention is concentrated on the subject matter. To gain maximum control over focusing, switch your lens to manual focus.

Daisies, flowers make colourful subjects when captured up close Photograph: shadowstock

Daisies up close Photograph: shadowstock

5. COMPOSITION: PRACTICE THE RULE OF THIRDS

What: A great photographic tip to ensure well-composed images is the Rule of Thirds. By adhering to this rule, you will be able to effectively place your subject matter in your frame, and take better pictures.

How: Imagine a grid covering your viewfinder with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. When composing your picture, place the horizon on either the first or second horizontal line. Next, place your main subject matter on one of the points where the horizontal and vertical lines meet.

6. CAPTURE REFLECTIONS

What: Lakes and rivers offering mirror-like imagery make irresistible subjects for any photographer.

How: To maximise your chances of capturing reflections, visit a lake or river early in the morning, just after sunrise. At this time of day, wind is usually low, meaning the water is still. Also, look for ponds, which have a much greater chance of having reflective water than a broad lake. When composing the picture, ignore the usual rule of thirds (see opposite) and frame the image with a centred horizon. This creates a beautiful symmetry.

River Wey, Surrey, capture reflections Photograph: shadowstock

River Wey, Surrey Photograph: shadowstock

7. VARY YOUR FOCAL LENGTH

What: Wide-angle lenses are ideally suited for shooting big vistas, while telephoto lenses are excellent for identifying subjects within a bigger scene, such as a church tower surrounded by mist. Utilise both these lenses when shooting a location.

How: Consider what you want to capture, as the lens you choose will have a huge impact on the end result. For example, if shooting towards mountains, a wide-angle lens will render the mountains distant, whereas a telephoto lens will make the mountains large and imposing.

8. CAPTURE MOVEMENT

What: Water is an excellent subject for capturing movement, especially babbling streams, crashing waves or waterfalls. Alternatively, head out on a windy day to photograph waving meadow grasses or fields of barley.

How: Set your camera to manual and select a small aperture (eg f/16-f/22) and low film speed (eg ISO 100), which will result in a longer shutter speed. Alternatively, many compact cameras will let you choose your shutter speed (look for a Tv or S symbol on your camera) and then adjust the rest accordingly.

Mystical Dartmoor, capture movement Photograph: shadowstock

Mystical Dartmoor river Photograph: shadowstock

9. ADD SCALE

What: Big vistas lose impact when compressed into a small photograph. The best way to help a viewer appreciate the size of the scenery is to include a secondary subject to give a sense of scale.

How: When choosing an object to demonstrate scale, look for something that fits in with the landscape. Natural objects such as trees are ideal, but man-made objects such as dry stone walls, gates and cottages also work well. People are among the best subjects for conveying scale. Photograph walkers in bright colours as they wander into your frame.

10. SHOOT THE SEASONS

What: Don’t wait for the summer to get out there and take pictures. Each season offers something different and special for landscape photography. Look for a subject that conveys the seasons in the best way, such as a solitary tree in a field.

How: Choose a subject to photograph throughout the seasons. Make a mental note of your exact position and return each season when conditions are ideal to capture another photograph of that same scene. This collection of four photos will look beautiful when framed together.

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