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 Shooting Landscapes

Landscapes are photos that include (naturally) a lot of land. A good landscape should set a mood, not just document some trees and mountains. It should also give a sense of participation -- in some way, it should offer the viewer a chance to "get into the picture."

Where possible, use the rules of composition: (1) the rule of thirds, (2) diagonals are interesting, (3) give a sense of scale, (4) tell a story. In addition, a landscape should give the viewer "a place to stand." Never, ever, aim your camera across a valley and shoot a picture that includes only the other side. You should have some trees, rocks, dirt, or something in the foreground to anchor the viewer and give perspective.

Since you're a mountain bike photographer, consider sticking a biker into the landscape. A human being in the photo gives the viewer a sense of participation. Depending on what "story" you want to tell with the picture, the biker can be either a minor or a dominant part of the photo. In this lesson, we'll move from a "person-dominated landscape" to a pure landscape.

Landscapes are usually shot with a slow shutter speed, for example 60 or 90. That way, the aperature (lens opening) can be closed down to a higher f-stop. A bigger number on the f-stop (for example 16 or 22) gives you a deeper depth of field -- both your foreground object and the vista you're shooting will be in focus.

Here I've framed Matt right in the middle of the photo. This purposeful "violation" of the rule of thirds changes the story of this photo from "View of Colorado River" to "Matt Arrives and Says WOW!" You share the sense of awe, because the biker's placement forces you to "occupy his space."

Mentally move this biker one inch to the left, so you're not "forced" to see him. The photo now has a different feel to it -- the story that the picture tells is different.

In this mid-distance landscape, I show three rock formations of the Amassa Back area of Moab: cliffs, ridged "petrified sand dunes," and flat tabletop. The biker provides a sense of participation. Mike has equal weight with the surroundings -- this is a "trail-riding" story as well as a "see the view" story.

Mentally erase the biker. Are the rocks and cliffs as interesting without the human presence?

For this photo on Antelope Island, I wanted a "biking" story, but I felt that a human would overpower this simple landscape. So I stuck an empty bike in the photo. The bike "leads" the viewer's eye into the landscape, and provides a sense of participation without dominating the photo.

Mentally erase the bike from the scene. Is the photo still interesting? Now put a biker in the middle, wearing a cheesy grin. Would you still bother to look at the water, the beach, and the hills? Or, suppose the photo were taken from the point of this hill, with no foreground... Yuck.

A view over the handlebars, looking down the trail, can give a sense of action and participation to an otherwise boring landscape. For this trail shot on the Alpine Perimeter, I zoomed out to 28 mm.

Mentally remove the handlebars. Do you care about this trail anymore? Or is the photo boring?

For some landscapes, you won't want a biker in the photo at all. Just be sure to keep the viewer anchored on some sort of foreground. Provide a "path" for the viewer's eye to explore the photo. In this picture from the Mormon Trail, there are two paths: (1) the bike trail that runs right into the beaver pond, and (2) the pond itself, running up towards the distant meadow and sky.

 If I can give you one BIG hint:  Buy a polarizing filter for your camera (of course, you need a quality SLR camera to do this). Then experiment. You can darken the sky to make the mountains and rocks "jump out" of the photo. You can bring out subtle colors and details in trees. The photo above was shot under the mid-day sun. Without a polarizer, the photo would have been total blah. 

Please go on to the next lesson!

All photos and text on this website are
copyrighted works of Bruce Argyle.

Photo Basics

Composition Guidelines

Shooting Landscapes

Taking Action Photos

Flowers and Detail Photos

Pictures of People

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