Photographing Pictorial Landscapes
In this article we turn our attention to one aspects of landscape photography, pictorial landscapes, the photography of large scenic places. See also the wider article on Landscape photography.
A pictorial landscape is what many first think of when considering landscape photography, the scene with hills and valleys, mountains, moorland, costal cliffs and in general any scenes shot.
Photographing these scenes presents us with a variety of technical challenges, these include getting the depth and perspective right, colour correct, getting the scene within our photograph and getting everything over a large range in focus and reducing or using haze. We may also want to consider what filters could improve our images.
In most cases however, we will want to start by first looking at what we are photographing and why, are we for example, trying to produce or represent an emotion, season, or trying to document what is to be seen there.
Season, day and time
We may be able to select the time of day, weather, season and more, or it may be a case of making the most of the opportunity in the next few minutes only.
Some like to photograph scenic landscapes early or late in the day, when the sun is lower, and the texture of the landscape shows with every bump and dip shown, and having a warm effect without using filters or editing. Some will restrict themselves to an hour in the morning and hour in the evening calling these the golden hours. Within this part of the day the light changes quite rapidly and a number or different representations of the landscape scene may be possible.
So it may be that you have planned the photograph, worked out the season, time of day, best viewpoint, made a special journey with exactly what you want and are taking photos checking each as the light changes. However most times you are going to be in a place, at a time and have to do the best you can with the opportunity you have. Often these images are just as interesting as the ones that are highly planned, as weather, climate, and many other factors can mess up our carefully laid plans.
In composing our photograph we can look for interesting lines to lead the eye into the photo, and similar items. We may be able to frame the shot using trees that go across one corner, we may be able to have items at different distances helping us to empathize the depth within the image.
Many say that we should avoid putting the horizon across the centre of the shot, however the best known and most popular artist John Constable did this with very many of his paintings, and they work well. It may be that you need to take several alternatives, when this is likely to happen, so as to later see which variant you prefer, but I would not always avoid the horizon across the centre as in some cases this will be a working option.
The selection of lens length and your position has a large impact, and needs far more consideration than many give it.
If you use a very wide angle, so as to get a lot in, then you will find you have a ribbon running across the images and a very large foreground and sky. Wide angle lenses also over emphasize distance. Going back further rather than using a wide angle may be a solution, while other times a special lens like the Nikon 10.5mm may be the solution, this has a very wide view, a full 180 degrees, but pulls the middle forward cutting out a large chunk of foreground and sky, producing an image that looks more like the eye can see.
A telephoto on the other hand, while being able to close up the distance, brining interesting things into view, do not give wide coverage and depth of field may be limited.
Depth of Field
Now there may be some occasions where it can be suggested that fuzzy images are artistic, but with scenic landscapes this is rarely the case. More often its just limited ability or equipment that produces less than ideal results. If you are documenting a visit and background detail is unimportant, or some aspect of the scene could do with making less significant then perhaps there are occasions when you throw the background out of focus. Controlling Depth of Field can make the difference between an OK and a good photo.
Other articles that may be relevant are:-
Photography articles in the following sections, each looking at photographing these features:-