Digital Landscape Photography Tips

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Choosing a Good Tripod

Next to your digital camera, a reliable tripod is the landscape photographer's best friend. And here's the good news: You don't have to spend a fortune to get one.

My own tripod is a $4 thrift-store special, with a $15 pan head added on. With shipping for the pan head, I still spent under $25 for my tripod, and it's perfect for all my needs.

Of course, you may not want to troll thrift stores for your equipment. Still, you can buy a good tripod for a lot less than you might think. Here's what you need to know.

* Forget plastic. Aluminum and carbon fiber are the best tripod materials. If you're not wealthy, aluminum is much more affordable.

* Cross-braces are a must. Those little cross baces - the thin metal bars that connect the uppermost section of your tripod's legs with the center post - are an essential brace. They add stability far beyond the small amount of weight and cost they add. Don't buy a tripod that omits them.

* Go with a quick-release head. They're only a few dollars more, but quick release heads are worth their weight in gold. If you ever need to get your camera off - or on - the tripod quickly, you'll bless the day you spent the extra $10 or so.

* Go tall. Your tripod's cetner post is probably it's most unstable element. Choose a tripod that allows you to shoot most often with the center post extended half-way or less.

If you love landscapes, your tripod will quickly become your best friend... or a thorn in your side. Take your time in choosing the right tripod for you needs. This is one piece of equipment I definitely recommend buying from a camera store. Like an expensive suit, you don't want to buy a tripod you haven't "tried on" first

Why would you include people in your landscape photos?

Add Scale to Your Shot

Landscapes can present a unique challenge: In landscape photographs there's often no frame of reference for scale. You know the glacier you shot on your trip to Alaska was huge... but, out of context, it simply looks like some dirty snow on a hillside.

When you run into situations like this, use a familiar object to add scale to your shot. Taking a picture of a vast field of sunflowers? Include the farmer's barn in your shot, and people won't mistake them for daisies. Shooting California's giant redwoods? Put a person at the foot of one to show how big those giants really are.

One of the advantages of digital landscape photography is that you can take a shot without something that adds a sense of scale, view it immediately and then decide if your picture might look better with an object that adds scale.

What do you do if your landscape subject is too familiar?

Don't Always Shoot the Obvious

Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors take pictures of Yellowstone's Hayden Valley from the same turnouts along the Grand Loop Road. The pictures may be pretty, but they all look the same. That's because people tend to shoot the same landscapes - wherever they may be - from the same spots again and again.

Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge... Nearly every tourist's pictures look exactly like everyone else's. But yours don't have to.

Find an unusual perspective and shoot your landscape from there. Since most people are standing and hold their cameras at about eye level when they shoot, try sitting on the ground and shooting slightly upwards. Or get on the hood of your car and shoot slightly downwards.

Most people take pictures from where it's most convenient. Just walk 100 yards from a turn-out or parking area and you'll see a panorama that most people miss.

Another way to shoot interesting digital landscpes is to use specialty lenses - such as a fisheye - or special effects filters. Since you're shooting digital landscapes, you can get instant feedback. Experiment all you want. Just delete a shot if you don't like it and try something different.

What do filters do for your camera?

Filter Out the Bad

If you're looking to create digital landscape art, your best friend (and sometimes your worst enemy) is the sun. The sun provides awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets. But it also creates glare, harsh shadows and unwanted reflections.

In many cases, you can solve these problems with filters. For example, a polarizing filter will reduce glare. And a UV haze filter cuts down on the bluish cast that's common on sunny days. But you can also use an old photographer's trick to make the sun work for you.

Pros prefer to shoot outdoors in the early morning light. That's when the sunlight is least harsh. There's very little glare and the light is soft, producing pleasing photos - even without filters.

However, there are times when you won't have any choice but to shoot when the sun is shining brightly overhead. For those times, using a filter can mean the difference between an artful landscape and a wasted frame.

What type of equipment should you bring along for an outdoor shoot?

Shoot Without the Shakes

Shooting outdoors is not like taking snapshots in your living room. Rocks, uneven ground and the wind can all make it difficult to hold your camera steady.

For digital landscaping photos, your best solution is to use a tripod. Look for one that's light enough carry with you comfortably, but durable enough to take the wear and tear any elements dish out.

To reduce camera shake even more, use your camera's remote control (if it has one), self-timer or a cable release to snap your landscape photos.

If it's particularly windy, here's a trick birders use to keep their spotting scopes steady: Hang a weight from your tripod's center post. Even just a pound or two is enough to keep your tripod rock-steady in most winds.

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Guru Spotlight
Susan Sayour