Landscape Photography: How to take better photos

I’ve been teaching photography workshops at the Culture Yard now for almost a year and things are going well. We are improving our photography content every month and we are getting more and more interest. Last week I gave a lecture on improving landscape photography and lots of people asked me to put my teaching material on the web. I’m a bit hesitant to put all the teaching material I have put together on the web but promised that I would upload the main points onto my blog. Well folks here it is.

Landscapes is perhaps an outdated term as many people now on their websites seem to say places rather than landscapes and I think the more generic term certainly fits. I mean would people consider this a landscape?

Perhaps its a cityscape but to me its a landscape and one I found digging through my old images of Korea. It’s one of the main bridges on the Han River somewhere between Hongdae and Yeouido if anyone is interested. There are two reasons I chose this image. Frist people often tell me that landscapes should be nice beautiful scenes with great light. Yes that works for some people but not everyone. Here the photo was taken at night with available artificial light and for the most part is concrete. Not ideal photography conditions but the image I think works for one reason. Lines. Photographers love using lines to draw people into images. Within this image you have very strong lines which makes the composition work and the image interesting.

If concrete and cityscapes isn’t your thing then maybe this is

This was taken on the train from Beijing to Ulaan Bataar about an hour from the Mongolian capital. Can anyone guess how I took this image? I’ve used the train as a strong leading line through the image that takes you from the foreground into the background and its a nice arc that your eye can naturally follow.

Ok so we’ve covered lines but now I want to talk about the three main types of landscapes.

Representational

Which is pretty much what you see is what you get. It’s a direct representation of the scene. This is what I would call a classic landscape, usually a beautiful scene accurately captured in lovely light by a photographer . In this example I captured a scene in nice late evening light in the Southern Gobi desert in Mongolia in 2007.  Soft light and the contrast between lush vegetation of the foreground and the big sand dunes in the background make an interesting image. Also note how I’ve used the horse on the left hand side as an anchor point in the image to ease the eye into the image giving it something grab onto before it goes across the frame. Usually representative landscapes rely on good light and composition to make successful images. This means patience waiting for the right light and all your elements in the image to come together at the right time. Make sure you pay attention to the the four C’s yes the four corners of your images that there is no telegraph pole or you haven’t chopped an animal in half (not literally) with your framing

Abstract

Second we have abstract, which is as you can imagine an abstract look at a landscape. Here I’ve taken a photo at the same place in the South of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Except this time I’ve converted the image to black and white to emphasize the graphical elements of the image. Abstract landscapes rely on shape, form and texture rather than content. So look for shapes and shadows rather than details and scenes. This is a chance to be a bit more creative with your images you can manipulate them and let your creative juices flow here, we are not looking for accurate scenes.

Impressionistic

Ok next up is impressionistic landscapes. This is perhaps the most interesting type of landscape for me anyway. Now this is your impression of a place and here you want to evoke your emotion about a place and put that into your image. Here we have the Forbidden City. I’ve toned the image and also added a tilt shift effect to try and play with the sense of size and scale of the place. For me this park (Jingshan) is one of my favourite places in Beijing. It overlooks the forbidden city and I often take guests there to get a sense of scale of Beijing and also the Forbidden City. With this image I wanted to try and remove all the other elements of the background and the skyline and just focus the viewer on the Forbidden City which is the heart of Beijing and was the heart of the Chinese Empire. I’ve deliberately desaturated the image to try and age the photo and take you back in time to when this place was so much more impressive and gargantuan.

Ok so those are the three main types of landscapes lets look at how you can learn how to frame your images. I have already spoken about looking for lines to improve your compositions now I want to talk about a simple rule that is well worth learning. Some of you may have heard about it before. Its known as the rule of thirds. It simple involves splitting your frame into a grid like this

Then avoid placing your subject on the middle of the frames. Sounds simple but it will have a dramatic effect in improving your compositions. The other key thing to remember is to also avoid placing the horizon in the middle try and put the horizon either on the first third line so you have two thirds sky and one third land or sea or vice versa one third sky and two thirds land or sea. Here’s an example to show you what I mean.

The last think I want to mention is using frames. Photographers are obsessed with frames. We look through frames, we put photographs into frames and we also try to use frames when making pictures. If you look at the images you can see I have used the quay walls to frame the two boats in the image. Always try and look for doorways, windows, arches, to frame or to draw attention to your subject or scene.

Lastly I want to draw your attention to my favourite landscape series in China by one of my favourite photographers Nadav Kander and his project  Yangtze, The Long river.

Right thats pretty much the main topics I covered in my talk at the Culture Yard. If you found it interesting or want to ask more questions leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. If you are in Beijing stop by the Culture Yard for our next photography workshop.

In April we have

3rd April – Full Day Photography Workshop

6th April – 1 hour talk on Composition

13th April – 1 hour talk Understanding Light

 

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