Although I do love photographing people and street scenes, I really do love taking landscapes and as a photographer who travels so much I do see some stunning places that make me want to stop and capture that scene so that I have it with me forever. This certainly doesn’t exclude having a human presence in the picture anyway.
Stepping out of a car quickly and snapping a picture of something we see very rarely ever produces the magic that makes a great landscape photo. I agree that if it’s a now or never then now is better than never. In this case then be prepared to walk a bit, look at what is around you, would it be better if you crouched down, is there something that could enhance the scene? a person walking by, a cyclist, animals, a flock of birds overhead etc. A landscape with people or animals can also ‘dress’ a scene making it instantly photogenic and can add depth and scale. Be patient! Patience in all photography is not just a virtue it is a necessity.
Light is everything in a landscape, which doesn’t mean it has to be sunny or dawn or dusk. Mist, rain, snow and interesting cloud formation can make for dramatic photos. If the weather is dull but what you see still grabs you then crank up the contrast and the colour to make them more saturated. Sometimes landscapes shot in monochrome with a red or orange filter can make for a more dramatic photograph and should be considered.
Filters are a very useful accessory for shooting landscapes. A polaroid filter is something I always carry with me when I’m shooting in the bright sunshine, it cuts out glare and mist but has to be turned carefully so that the photo doesn’t have a grey aspect to it. Neutral density filters can be very useful too. They can darken the photo in bright sunlight allowing you to achieve a deeper blue sky or allow you to use slower shutter speeds so that you can blur waterfalls or waves. A gradual neutral density filter will darken a bright sky or bring out the colour but leave the rest as you see it. Alternatively, most available camera software will allow you to add it in post production.
Ideally, to take great landscape photographs you need to find the most photogenic places in advance, see if there is a vantage point and then discover when the light is best or when something happens that could enhance the image. If you choose a photo workshop or tour then where possible all this is worked out for you in advance and all you have to do is show up with the right equipment, a good eye and some basic camera knowledge.
There are a few basic rules. A good depth of field is required, around F16 but you should try and avoid the highest f stop your lens offers as this will not be as sharp as the f stop before it. The focus point should be somewhere between the closest thing you see and infinity. If there is nothing to focus on then check the distances on your lens of the nearest focal point and the furthest, then set it between the two so that the whole picture is sharp. Most DSLR cameras have a depth of field button which allows you to see what will be in focus before you press the shutter.
Bringing a tripod is a good idea as it allows you to shoot at slow shutter speeds thus enabling a low ISO (which produces better quality) and a higher f stop even with a filter. Then there is the choice of lens. If there is a building involved, try not to get too close with a wide angled lens as it will distort the building, better to go further away and use a longer lens. Composition is extremely important so frame the scene to its best advantage, which rarely means having the main focal point in the middle of the shot. There is nothing to stop you taking several shots with different focal lengths and compositions.
My photo tours and workshops in Champagne, Paris, Provins, and Myanmar all offer plenty of opportunity to take spectacular landscapes so get your camera out and join me!