The Secrets Of Taking A Great Landscape Photo
You see some amazing scenes out on the hills – here’s how to capture them in all their glory with landscape photographer Colby Brown
It can be hard to describe just how stunning natural landscapes are, which is when it comes in handy to know a bit about taking photos of them, whether you’re packing a hand-me-down camera, or the latest in DSLR tech.
Colby Brown is a photography pro who has travelled the globe to photograph natural spectacles including the Northern Lights, Icelandic waterfalls, Patagonian sunsets and ancient Australian canyons.
Wolsey asked him for his top landscape photography tips, to help you tell your own visual stories.
Take the time to kind of slow down, get to know what you're going to photograph
Play With Time
Depth of field and exposure are obviously very important to an image, to allow a whole landscape to be in focus, and with the correct amount of light, but shutter speed is more than just a side effect of setting these – it allows for creativity in its own right.
‘Capturing a fast shutter speed allows you to freeze time, so for example for a waterfall or a seascape you can have that moment frozen in time. Whereas a longer exposure allows you to create a more dream-like and ethereal experience – both of them have very drastically different feelings,’ says Brown.
Target The Golden Hours
The most amazing landscape photos you’ve seen were probably shot in the ‘golden’ hours, which are those just before sunset and just after sunrise, when the light takes on a beautiful glow. ‘It's a lower light so it's softer, those contrasts aren't as harsh and typically you can see much more colour gradients and things in there,’ says Brown.
That’s not to say you can’t shoot good landscape images when the sun is high – by zooming into the scene to pick out details – or when it’s cloudy. ‘I've shot some wonderful stormy stuff in the middle of the day at noon or a few hours into the afternoon when you have these beautiful storm clouds,’ says Brown.
Use A Tripod
Like many landscape photographers, Corey Brown recommends using a tripod. ‘It’s highly important – I think I think you want something that's carbon fibre and lightweight. You want it to be able to be packable and pack friendly to fit into your luggage or carry on a plane.’
The reason for using a tripod is that it allows you to use longer shutter speeds for those golden hour shots, where you would normally have to open your aperture more by using a smaller F-stop number.
Of course, this reduces your depth of field, which isn’t great for getting landscapes in focus, but by using a tripod you can let more light in with a slower shutter speed, while removing the risk of camera shake ruining your image.
The other reason for using a tripod is to create those ethereal long exposure shots of wispy clouds and smeared water.
Get Into Filters
Part of Colby Brown’s beautiful signature style has been formed with the use of neutral density light filters; glass or resin sheets that sit in front of your lens. ‘A lot of photographers feel these days that with post-processing techniques and advances in the applications we use to process our images, the filters are no longer needed and that's really just not the case,’ he says. By using a circular filter in front of his lenses, he is able to enhance or cut reflected light, helpful when shooting a waterfall.
‘Neutral density filters allow you to slow down your shutter speed to capture some of those ethereal dream-like images. Typically people use it with water but you can use it with any moving subject to capture something unique,’ he says.
Another great filter to use for sunrise and sunsets are reversed graduated filters that cut the brightness of the light around the horizon, allowing you to capture more of a sunset or sunrise, without having to combine multiple exposures later on, in Photoshop.
Don’t Overpack Your Bag
Camera gear is heavy, but the best images are often in high or remote places, so it pays to travel light. ’It’s so easy for photographers especially, to feel the need to fill every little extra space that you have in your bag, whether it's a 90-litre pack, or a 40-litre day pack – it’s important to pack strategically,’ says Brown.
‘Make sure that you have the basics for your camera gear in terms of your camera, maybe a lens or two and the batteries that you need.’
Explore For Different Angles
In the age of Instagram, there are many classic scenes that have been shot a million times, but people still come back for more. It’s what Brown calls the ‘empty restaurant syndrome’ and he sees it at places like Maroon Bells in Colorado, one of the most photographed lakes on the planet.
‘You can show up at 4:30 in the morning for a seven o'clock sunrise and there'll be 300 people waiting on this lake edge to photograph the sunrise over the Maroon Bells peaks.’
‘But on that same lake right around one of the bends, typically there is no one there, the water is better because they are fewer ripples, you get better reflections and it's a different viewpoint to what everyone else is getting.’ Of course, it requires you to go the extra mile, but the results will be worth it.
Find out more about Colby Brown’s photography workshops and his work at his website colbybrownphotography.com