You've seen the beautiful images on social media of the sweeping landscapes. You've taken the plunge and bought a DSLR with lens kit. You've even taught yourself about shutter speeds, ISOs and apertures. Now all you need to do is get out there and start snapping away and voila! Simple as that. Or maybe not........
Here's a few quick pointers to hopefully help newbies to the world of landscape photography to progress a little quicker on the road to becoming master of light! It wasn't that long ago that I was in the same position, I had the camera, I understood the basics of exposure, and I knew all about processing images, but I was a bit clueless when it came to being out in the field. I wasn't even sure what what I wanted to take photos of.
Get the technical stuff right.
We all know that photography is supposed to be a creative process right? But if you're new to the game, learn how to take photos that are technically correct first. Make sure the exposure is correct, while understanding that you can't always capture the entire dynamic range of a scene with one click. Learn how to read a histogram, ensure that your highlights never blow out, even if that means taking multiple shots of varying exposures to ensure that you capture all the information from shadows to highlights.
Make sure your focus is perfect. When shooting landscapes on a tripod, you should only really need to use manual focus. If your lens has it, find where the 'Focus To Infinity' marker is. This can be very useful for beginners using a wide angle lens at f16. For the first few years of taking photos with my Canon 17-40mm, I never really gave focus a second thought, I just set it to focus to infinity and then just worried about getting the exposure correct.
Always use a remote shutter or at least a 2 second timer to avoid camera shake. I've never used anything other than auto white balance and unless you're shooting astro or night images, use ISO 100 where possible and increase only when really needed. To keep things simple and to ensure that everything is in focus from foreground to background, use f16. Then all you need to do is adjust is the shutter speed to get the exposure correct.
And finally, it goes without saying that you should always shoot in RAW. When you shoot in jpeg mode, you're handing over control of how the image is edited to your device. You might as well just use your Iphone to take photos, which does a very good job of adjusting contrast, colour and sharpening when it saves a jpeg, but it throws away all the other information captured by your camera's sensor.
Be a copy cat
If you're struggling to find inspiration or not sure what to take photos of, literally try and replicate what your favourite photographers have done. Don't just go to the same location, actually try and produce the same image. Look at their composition, see how they've made a patch of grass into an interesting forground, notice their use of leading lines, and try and see if you can capture the same scene.
Once you're able to go out and put your newly acquired knowledge into action, the creative part will come later. Creativity should come after you're technically proficient and confident.
Learn how to 'Photoshop'
Taking technically correct images is only part of the puzzle. Everyone has their own taste when it comes to how much editing is needed with images but the simple fact is that every decent, professional looking image has been edited to some degree. I think that the landscape photography process is 50/50. Half what the camera captures, and half what is created in post processing. Landscape photography is one genre that definitely benefits from creative flair applied in image editing applications like Photoshop and Lightroom, and this is where you can make your own mark and develop your own style. Investing time and money in learning this side is as important, if not more so than learning how to use a camera. Adobe offer a Photography package of Lightroom and Photoshop for about $15 a month. Well worth it in my opinion.
Ask for criticism
Post your images to online photography groups that encourage constructive critisism. It's one of the best ways to learn. The first images that I took with my DSLR I thought were pretty great. I cringe when I look at them now! Join a camera club and enter your images in competitions, where a judge will give feedback and score your photo. It's also good to mix with like minded people who will have varying levels of knowledge who you can learn from.
Don't just look at your images on screen
Be your own harshest critic and print your images out. When viewed on a nice bright device, your images can look pretty good but the proof is in the pudding when you commit them to print. Colours can be darker than you thought, noise can become more visible, sensor spots suddenly appear and you realise the image isn't quite in focus. Printing your images is one of the best ways to improve as a photographer.
Don't get in a rut
Stay part of the photography community. Keep looking at other people's images and be inspired by them. Don't ever get disheartened because your images don't look like somebody's who has been in the game for a decade. For me the best thing about this hobby or profession is that I'll probably never stop learning. I don't think I'd ever want to be the perfect photographer because there's nowhere to go after that!