Updated: 31 Jan 2022
Expert Photography advice and tips from Mark Brion
During many of my photography expeditions and workshops, one of the most common questions I get asked is regarding composition.
“I have a great camera and equipment so why can’t I reach the levels of professional Photographers when composing my images?
Getting your composition right on every occasion is difficult and takes a fair amount of practice and fine tuning.
Having read this article, you should start seeing a marked difference in the standard of your imagery which will take your photography up a level.
Time permitting and before setting off from home, there are a number of preparations that can be made. As a general rule I try to view and research an app called PhotoPills. This is a very reliable and accurate tool for any serious photographer to purchase. Rather than talk in any great detail about PhotoPills at this point some solid research on the internet will answer any questions you have about the app.
Two must view sites are Google maps and Google Earth. There will provide you with a visual reference to the terrain and the surroundings for the location of your shoot.
Together with weather forecasting sites, linking your terrain of the area from Google and information obtained from PhotoPills will provide you with a great deal of information before leaving your home.
Once on site at your desired location, don’t set up your equipment just yet. Walk around and have a good look at all your surroundings. Never rush this part of your preparation. Five to ten minutes of preparation could make the difference between a good shot and a fantastic shot.
Whilst on site, look for good leading lines or convergence in your scene. It could be a natural or man-made feature, a stream, valley, coastal cliffs or stone wall that leads your eye into the image.
Take your time looking for an interesting foreground. It could be an interesting rock formation, a water feature or beautiful grasses. Remember this will be the main forefront part of your image, so it is important.
Once a potential image has been found, I would normally take out my mobile phone and observe through the viewfinder to provide a good example of what your final image may look like.
Try in both landscape and portrait mode. One may look far better than the other.
Check for the position of the sun in relation to your potential final image. Do you want to have the sun behind you or shoot with the sun behind your subject? Remember, that if you using filters the lens should be 90 degrees adjacent to the sun.
Take in all your surroundings. Where is the light and where are the shadows? You may have to be patient and wait some time for the light and shadow to be at its best. However, this can be the difference between a good and a fantastic image. Also, wait for nice cloud formations to come into view.
Consider using the rule of thirds, leading lines and converging where possible. The addition of any of these factors this will improve your image and makes a more pleasing image for the human eye.
Still move slowly around your location. It may only be a matter of inches or feet but there may be an even better composition than you original viewed.
Also, look for safety issues in your vicinity. It is easy to have an accident when you are focusing on getting that perfect image. Even a small rabbit hole can be painful if fallen into. I fell into a quagmire last year whilst composing a shot!
Check through your viewfinder or on your live view screen to find the best foreground, middle ground and background/sky.
Once your image has been found, mark the spot with an object. Look around for safe and dry spot to leave your equipment. Check to see if the area is good for securing the footings. Is the ground suitable to take the weight of the tripod and camera equipment? Any slight movement with the tripod and camera may affect your final image.
Once the tripod is erected and the rest of the equipment is fitted including your camera, remote, filters etc. check your spirit levels on the tripod. Also adjust the height of the tripod and camera for the best angle to your subject.
If need be go to the camera settings and use the horizontal line marker to adjust your settings. Many people do not have a great eye for getting the horizon near perfect.
Confirm your lens selection. Do I want ultra-wide angled images such as 10mm, 14mm or 16 mm lens settings? Consider the depth of field for your final image. I may want to use a slight larger lens such as a 24mm-70mm for a more close-up shot.
Check all your camera settings – Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Try and keep your ISO as low as possible – 64, 100 or 200. There may be occasions when you have to exceed these limits but as a general rule keep as low as possible.
If you are experiencing windy conditions adjust your shutter speed accordingly. A slow shutter speed in windy conditions may blur objects in your vista such as tree movement. Use a faster shutter speed in these conditions.
Shooting from a tripod requires you to turn off the VR (Vibration Reduction) slide button on the side of your lens. As the lens is not moving around the camera does not have to compensate for movement. By leaving the VR button on may cause an adverse blur effect to your final image.
When composing your image consider the old photography saying “less is more”. What this means is do not clutter your image with needless objects. Try to keep your image as “clean” as possible and do not include any subject matter that does not add visually to your final shot.
Choosing your focal point is important. Most landscape photographers will either focus on infinity, at the hyper-focal distance or one-third into the image. This will be a subject of photography covered by another tutorial. As a rule focus on infinity and everything else should be in focus including most of the foreground.
Once completed take a test shot or two. Having taken your photo always view the image back in your cameras image viewer. Zoom in on your focal point of the image and see if it in focus.
You may not have another opportunity to visit this location again, so check in camera.
You have now done all the pre-shoot preparation. You are ready for your landscape photoshoot. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and make the most of your beautiful natural surroundings with a nice cup of tea or coffee in hand.
Minimum requirement of equipment for Landscape Photography should include the Camera, Tripod, Remote Cord and Filters.
Copyright 2022. Mark Brion Photography. Mark Brion is a professional Natural World Photographer, Photography Expedition & Workshop Leader.