1. Use a tripod to keep your camera steady. The vast majority of poor quality pictures are simply a matter of camera shake or blur which is relatively easily avoided by holding the camera steady. Handheld shots are difficult to achieve in poor light conditions and the best light for landscape photography is often early in day or late in the evening when light is low, so try using a tripod. It definitely works.
These images were taken at 10.30pm. Whilst there was a reasonable level of ambient light, it was not enough to capture an image handheld without significant camera shake. A tripod and cable release removed the chance of shake and blur.
2. Use the self-timer if taking handheld shots. As you press the shutter release there is a slight movement of the camera and doing this will allow a steadier shot. In fact using the self-timer or a cable release is advisable even when using a tripod.
3. Learn how you camera works! It might seem obvious but you will achieve better results if you figure out how to override some of your camera’s automatic functions. Most cameras have pretty good auto functions but they are not infallible and it is worth finding out how to override them when they get it wrong (which they do!).
4. Many images are ruined due to poor framing. Great shot, shame there is a horrid road sign/bin bag/passing car etc. in the view! Practice checking the view through the viewfinder for irritating distractions. Review the image on the screen if you can and check that you got it right before you head home, spark up your computer, download the image and notice the distraction then.
5. Get it right in the camera! Similar to the above advice but more about NOT relying on inbuilt filters/special effects at the time of shooting. Photoshop (other image processing software is available) will NOT fix everything. If you badly underexpose or overexpose an image in camera then recovering detail afterwards by relying on software does generally have a negative effect on an image, especially if you try to print it rather than just display it on a screen. I have seen thousands of images that look OK when they are glanced at on social media but really wouldn’t stand up to being printed.
6. Practice, practice and practice some more. The more pictures you take the better you will get if you look at them with a critical eye.
7. Use the best camera you can get hold of. Honestly, the best camera is the one you have on you when you need to take a photograph but better cameras take better pictures. I don’t mean you have the latest model with all the whistles and bells just the one you are likely to carry around with you. Some cameras have manual controls that make it very easy to take control of creative choices but I find that many cheaper models and many mobile phones hide all the features (usually hundreds of them) in complicated menu functions that are hard to locate and tricky to remember how to find.
Image taken using small compact point and shoot camera of just 6mp
8. Learn a few composition rules. The rule of thirds is a good starting point and many cameras nowadays allow you to overlay them on the screen to help with composition. Also try lead-in lines. There are many others like the golden triangle. It will help you make your images more pleasing to the eye.
The Rule of Thirds:The horizon and main subject in this photo have been positioned near lines or intersections for maximum impact.
9. Start observing how light works. When we take a photograph of something we are actually making an image of the light that is reflecting off the subject we are interested in. Light can be modified in some circumstances but in landscape photography we are generally using the available light source (the sun). Light changes throughout the course of the day as the sun rises, moves overhead and then sets. All through this time the light and the quality of it is changing. Some of the best light occurs early in the morning when the sun is low creating interesting textures on the landscape. Light clarity is high during early morning as atmospheric haze has not occurred yet. Sunrise and sunset can give bright colours as clouds refract the sun rays. Too many clouds and we are overcast with flat light conditions (no shadows to create relief or interest). Midday with harsh overhead light is often the least successful time for landscape photography.
10. Keep trying. Go back to locations at different times of day and practice getting your exposures right. Don’t be afraid to change your viewpoint – lie on the ground, stand on step ladders to change perspective. Often humans are drawn to images that are different from eye level perspective which is what we do when we take a snapshot. Snapshots are great memory joggers but they are rarely the best image that can be achieved in that location at that time!
The left hand image is taken at sunrise at 4.30am and was very disappointing. The image on the right is sunset the same day. Composition is better and the light was dramatic for roughly 15 minutes.