How to become a top landscape photographer

Advertising feature in association with Sprayway




In June 2009, Sprayway offered one lucky Countryfile Magazine reader a truly unique prize: £400 of the latest Sprayway clothing and a one-on-one course with John Beatty, widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting nature, travel and adventure photographers to emerge in recent years. 


A month after the course, winner Keith Hopwood shows his photos from the day, and John Beatty shares tips on how all of us can get the most from photographing landscapes…

Capturing atmosphere

Tip 1. Look for dramatic light – dawn and dusk, and changeable weather conditions, are ideal.

Tip 2. Be ready! Great light is most often fleeting. Select your composition in advance, giving time to focus on capturing the dramatic conditions available.

Tip 3. Spend some time in a location and get to know it. A good photo is going to reflect how you feel about a place.

Tip 4. If your subject is a dramatic activity, be in the heat of the action, put your camera on auto and keep your finger on the trigger! Don’t worry too much about composition, light or colour – the emotion of the activity is related to the spontaneity and creating a sense of being there.

A quick checklist:

Best light is dawn and sunset on sunny days. 

Best light is midday on overcast days

Dramatic light appears often on changeable weather days.

Worst light is overhead midday on sunny days.

Keep your camera accessible/handy for swift response to drama of light or activity.

Two ways to photograph water

Still water makes reflections; moving water distorts reflections, making them into abstract shapes or central subjects in your composition.

To capture reflections…

Tip 1. Place the horizon in the centre frame and your subject off-centre.

Tip 2. Avoid cutting off part of the reflection.

Tip 3. Experiment – try removing the subject so only its reflection remains.

To capture moving water…

Tip 1. For silky smooth water effect on waterfalls, use a tripod and set your shutter speed to somewhere between 0.25 and 1 second.

Tip 2. Stop the water movement by using a fast shutter speed around 0.001 of a second.

Tip 3. Search for abstract patterns, shapes and colours in water. Use them as central subjects.

How to shoot big landscapes

Composition is by far the most important element here. Keep things simple, and create enough energy to involve the viewer from features in the scene. A good composition needs to evoke an emotional response or communicate one single message.

Tip 1. What is your centre of interest? Decide what you want to say, before pressing the shutter. Lack of a proper subject is the primary cause of boring or confusing pictures.

Tip 2. Decide what to include, and what to eliminate from your scene. 

Tip 3. Arrange the remaining elements in the scene to best suit your purpose.

A quick checklist:

Select your subject or theme.

Best camera position?

Lens focal length?

Aperture needed for depth of field?

Vertical or horizontal format?

Position of subject within frame? 

Wait for the decisive moment.

Exploring scale

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this technique is to challenge the viewer’s visual assumptions of a place – to take an expected piece of information, a landscape or a texture, and give it an entirely new meaning. Size alone can capture attention. Fill the frame by moving in closer or by using a zoom lens. Beware of your subject being lost in its surroundings. Use objects or figures, like trees, people, animals, and familiar objects like buildings, gates and vehicles, to convey a sense of scale. 

Tip 1. Include something in the photograph that conveys how big or small your subject is.

Tip 2. Leave enough surroundings to give your subject context. 

Tip 3. Explore your photo idea by describing a possible relationship between the object/figure and its environment.

John’s thoughts: “Keith was a dream student because he was completely focussed and questioning about every aspect of capturing images. His energy was endless. He was attentive and exploratory, searching for new angles and creating a personal viewpoint on all our subjects. We experienced difficult weather on the day – dense mist, poor visibility, wetness and mud. At the end of the day we sat on top of a high crag as night fell, chatting on about photography and sharing tea from a flask. Night could have brought on a whole new raft of techniques to discuss, and Keith was now keen to take his burgeoning photo-enthusiasm to a new level. His results from our day out are very pleasing and, I hope, extremely satisfying for him too!”

Keith’s thoughts: “As an art director and designer, I’ve commissioned photographic shoots for adverts and promotions. I know what I want and what the client is expecting, but the one thing I’ve yearned for is to make time for my own path of discovery with photography. I think I made that first step back in Buxton. I enjoyed the course immensely, but most of all I was intrigued and inspired by the company – from John with his photographic expertise, combined with his enviable and exotic commissions from far afield, to outdoor editor Jo’s energy and passion for the outdoors. It made me realise how much I’ve missed that sense of adventure and, just as much, how I’ve missed making time to share those stories. As they say, every picture paints a thousand words, and so (hopefully) those words can inspire a thousand more pictures…”


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