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Landscape Photography Tips

Pictures on your Day Off

I took these photos while working for an architect who specializes in exotic coastal homes in the Carmel / Big Sur, California area. They were not part of the assignment, but the area is so beautiful that it was hard to resist taking photographs on my one day off. I vividly remembered an area that I had photographed many years before while studying with the legendary Ansel Adams. To the surprise of others, I continued to pack my photo gear despite the heavy fog and light rain. I knew that the tonal range of the white sea-foam and the dark water-saturated rock was hard to capture (that’s one reason why Ansel invented the Zone system). As good luck would have it, the drizzle stopped and the fog pulled back, leaving a soft even canopy of cloud light – the perfect illuminant for capturing a long tonal range. I chose a diagonal composition that would add energy to the frame and captured the costal rock photograph. When the sun finally broke through the cloud cover, I rushed the back to a scene I had noticed earlier. At first viewing the light had been too flat and the scene was lifeless, but the potential was there.  Now the scene was bathed in a soft raking light. I balanced the path on the left with highlighted rock on the right edge of the frame and captured the photograph.

Tips for Creative Nature Photography

This image was captured in the late afternoon when the sun was shining brightly on the mountainside and the water was in shadow.  Since the contrast between the two was so great, I made two exposures; one for the mountain and one for the water.  I then layered the two images together in Photoshop, combining the best elements from each exposure. This image was captured just after sunrise in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  As the light was still quite low, I took advantage of the longer shutter speed to pan my camera along with the elephant.  This allowed me to keep the subject in focus, while creating the feel of movement. Photographs and text by Los Angeles DPA Instructor Rob Schroeder

Kennesaw Mountain

Landscapes in the tradition of Ansel Adams are traditionally tack-sharp from front to back, taken at a shallow depth-of-field like f16, f22, or higher. But rules are meant to be broken. This landscape of a historic Civil War battlefield on Georgia′s Kennesaw Mountain was taken with a shallow depth of field, accentuated by placing the camera only inches from the ground, and later blurred further in Photoshop to create a dreamy, impressionistic image that I consider a metaphor for marriage: two trees in a field, growing separately but together. Over the years they grow upwards independently, but their roots become intertwined and inseparable.

Sun On The Horizon

As a nature photographer, sunrise and sunset are my primary times to shoot. I love the “sweet light” these two times of day provide. The color and quality of sweet light is unrivaled. The warm glow, the sidelighting, and the vibrant and saturated colors they impart can’t be had at any other time of day nor can they be faked in Photoshop. Every sunrise and sunset is different and the more you get out to shoot at these times, the more you’ll understand what I’m saying. There are many ways to exploit the sun’s effect at sunrise and sunset. First, when clouds accompany a sunrise on the eastern horizon or a sunset on the western, vibrant color may enhance your subject. Second, take advantage of the sweet light falling upon the landscape bathing it in golden tones of yellow, red and orange. Finally, and the focus of this article, is photographing the sun when it’s on the horizon. As a subject unto itself, unless the color in the sky is electric, you’ll find it’s better to include an additional element to add intrigue to the photograph. In that the sun is a very bright source of illumination, unless it’s dramatically diffused, backlit subjects that are included in the composition will reveal little or no shadow detail.  With this in mind, finding an interesting silhouette will greatly enhance the impact of the photograph. The more graphic it is, the better. For instance, an outline of a rectangular building will be rendered as a large black blob whereas an old leafless cottonwood will be much more pleasing. Equally as important as the choice of silhouette is where you place the sun and the main subject. Avoid compositions where both appear in the center. Try to use the rule of thirds as often as possible for both the sun and silhouette. There are concerns that need to be addressed if you plan to add this technique into your repertoire. First and foremost, avoid looking directly at the sun through your viewfinder, especially if you’re shooting with a telephoto. You need to squint and look at other parts of the frame when you create the composition. If there are no clouds to soften its intensity, this becomes even more critical. In situations like this, wait until the sun is almost touching the horizon. To get the proper exposure, take a meter reading without the sun in the frame and use this as your base point. After taking a photo with this reading, check your histogram to make sure you don’t clip either the highlights or shadows. If so, compensate accordingly. You may find that the exposure will rapidly change so check your histogram often to make sure you don’t lose detail in important areas. To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at to order your signed copy.

How to Photograph Fall Foliage

Autumn is my favorite season in which to photograph. A refreshing and invigorating chill permeates the air, and the warm colors of the season, combined with the low angle of the sun, make for extraordinary photographic opportunities. Although the best light occurs at sunrise and sunset, good pictures can be made during mid day hours by concentrating on close ups and backlit leaf studies. As with any photographic journey, the first step is to research the location. You need to know when the foliage usually reaches peak color. Just because peak color occurs in the beginning of October where you live, it doesn’t dictate this is the norm elsewhere. Factors such as altitude, latitude, and micro climates all impact when the leaves in a given area turn. The Chamber of Commerce and the internet are excellent resources. Additionally, foliage hotlines are set up during the season. Many photographers think of the grand landscape when it comes to taking pictures of fall foliage. They are glorious and make gorgeous post card type shots, but don’t overlook the smaller aspects of autumn. A single tree in peak color is a wonderful autumn subject. Move in closer to isolate a colorful branch juxtaposed against a polarized blue sky to create an abstract. Getting even closer, photograph a few leaves or even a single leaf showing its vein patterns. Additionally, while many photographers concentrate on looking up at the color on the trees, I want you to look down on the ground for interesting patterns of fallen leaves mixed in with pine needles and cones. Quite often the "intimate landscape" can net an image with greater impact than the grand one. Backlit leaves take on a glow making them pop right out of your photographs. Try to look for this as much as possible. Take a 360 degree walk around an isolated tree and notice the difference between the leaves when they′re frontlit vs. backlit and you’ll see what I mean. Metering a backlit scene can be a bit tricky so I suggest bracketing your exposures. Also, lens flare will occur more readily so make sure you shade the front element. For information about fall foliage nature photography tours, visit my website at

How to Photograph Rainbows

There’s nothing like dramatic light to take a scenic that’s been shot thousands of times to a new level. Impending storms, shafts of sun spotlighting key compositional elements, fire engine red clouds, all qualify but what rides highest on many landscape photographer’s list of most dramatic are rainbows. They have it all - prismatic color, a stormy sky lit by the sun, early morning or late afternoon light, and if you believe in folk tales, maybe a pot of gold. They’re adrenaline pumping phenomena that rev up many photographers’ juices. With each rainbow I’ve encountered over the years, upon completion of the shoot I look to the sky, wink, say thanks, and rush back to the motel to burn a CD and place it in a safe location. Finding a rainbow requires a number of natural events to occur. First off, the horizon by the setting or rising sun must be clear and the sun needs to be lower than forty two degrees in the sky. With your back to where it rises or sets, turn so your shadow falls directly in front of you so you’re facing one hundred and eighty degrees from the sun. The point at which you now face is known as the antisolar point. This is where the arc of the rainbow will appear providing there is moisture in the sky.  When all factors come together, a rainbow materializes. Understandably, they’re not an every day occurrence. When you’re out in the field and it’s rainy, look toward the horizon of the setting or rising sun. If you see an opening in the clouds, look for a foreground in the direction of the antisolar point that has character or interest and wait. Mount your camera to a tripod to ensure you get a sharp image. If a rainbow shows up, make sure you capture it exhausting all compositional possibilities. Shoot it vertically, horizontally, with a wide angle to take it all in, and with a telephoto to sample portions with the most dramatic color. Use a polarizer to enhance its color but be careful because as you rotate it, you can also eliminate it.  Don’t dwell on this as it’s visible through the viewfinder. Join me on one of my photo tours and I will hopefully be able to show you how to photograph a rainbow first hand.

Bird photos and patience

Patience is key! I set up this shot with the camera zoomed out and rested on a railing which was close enough and high enough to get this image straight on. The female bird came back to feed her fledgling numerous times, but I was patient and kept shooting until mama turned her head just right and the fledgling’s mouth was wide open. I used the camera with the flash turned off, so that I wouldn’t startle the birds, and framed the birdhouse to the right to give the image a good balance. Keeping the subject to the left tends to lead the viewer’s eye into the shot, since we read left to right.  

Tumbledown Mountain, Weld Maine

Leading lines are a great way to draw attention to the subject you want to highlight. In this case, I used the cracks in the rocks and the green scrub brush growth to lead the viewers eye to the mountain top. By also putting the mountain in the top one third of the photo, the composition is more pleasing and it gives emphasis to the leading lines of the foreground rock.  

Shooting from a Plane

Shooting from a plane can give you interesting views of the world. In order to avoid distortion, you need to keep the lens parallel to the window. If you have a polarizing filter, you can use this to help reduce glare. Don’t put the camera lens against the window though, because the vibration will ruin your photos. © Jon Canfield, Seattle DPA Instructor

A Neat Trick on the River

Photo Location: Chestatee River in the north Georgia Mountains. Photo Tip:  To shoot a canoe in a river, you need to rig the canoe so that it won′t move. I set a cable across the river and tied the canoe to the cable. Then my subjects could paddle all they wanted without going anywhere. I was able to make the shot at my leisure! © 2007 Joel Silverman, Atlanta DPA Instructor

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