Through the Gadling Lens: adding some oomph to your landscape shots

I was recently talking to a friend of mine, and he was lamenting the fact that his landscape photographs seemed a bit “boring.” “I look at all these other landscapes in the Gadling flickr pool,” he said, “and they’re so much more exciting than mine. What can I do to make my shots more compelling?”

To be honest, of all my photography, I struggle with making my landscapes interesting more than any other — shooting people is easy, I think. It’s really good scenery that’s difficult. And so I thought I’d go through some of the amazing landscape photographs in our Flickr pool, and point out some of their aspects that make them compelling. With some luck, some of the observations will help catapult us all into become the Ansel Adams-quality photographers we all can be.
1. Shoot with a relatively wide angle lens.

First things first: make sure that you’re using the right lens. As you probably remember, we discussed the various types of lens for various types of photography before — and the upshot is that if you’re shooting a landscape, you need a lens with a smaller focal length, rather than one with a larger focal length. For most landscape photography, I would choose a lens of, say 50mm or less. If you choose one much larger — say 100 mm — you’ll likely be disappointed how much of the scenery the lens crops out of the resulting image (although that type of lens is fabulous for portrait photography).

2. Consider focusing on the foreground.

Like many of you, I’m sure, when I’m taking a photograph of a landscape, I tend to focus on the horizon, figuring that it makes the most sense: “looking out there,” after all, tends to be what we do when we take in beautiful scenery.


In looking through the Gadling photo pool, I’ve noticed that there are some photographers who, when taking their amazing shots, focus instead on the foreground, rather than the horizon. And as I think about it, this seems completely logical: after all, when we look out at a vista, our eyes naturally see all of the details closer to us, and what’s farther away isn’t as detailed. Why didn’t I think of this?

The following are some great examples of what I mean:

The two photographs, above, were shared by arex and shot in the San Francisco Bay area (as is likely obvious by the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the background of the second image). Notice how, in addition to using a wide angle lens, arex focused on the details in the foreground: the foam of the advancing wave in the first picture, and the bubbles of the retreating wave in the second? By focusing in the foreground, arex added a wonderful depth to the image, which conveys how beautifully vast the vista was. If, instead, arex had focused on the horizon, I don’t think the image would’ve been nearly as impactful.

3. Add people to the foreground, to help emphasize scale.

Sometimes, when you take a shot of a beautiful vista, it can be difficult to really communicate how vast the scenery is, or how massive the mountain, or how expansive the ocean. One great way to express the impressive nature of your shot is to place someone in the foreground for the purpose of scale.

Here’s what I mean:

See how the figures in the foregrounds of each of the images shared by jlaceda and Buck Forester, above, show the scale of the scenery behind them? I love how huge the view looks behind the person in the first image, and I really love how the figure in the second image has his back to the camera, and indicates toward the view: this sort of stance helps direct your focus, rather than compete with your attention as it would have had he faced forward. Beautiful work, both.

4. Consider using a novelty lens.

Novelty lenses can be considered more of an extravagance than a necessity; however, they can add wonderful dimension to a landscape shop. I’m a fan of the Lensbaby, a series of lenses designed for SLR cameras that can help you “selectively focus” on certain aspects of your image, leaving the remaining images deliciously out-of-focus. Here’s are a couple of great examples:

Both of the above images were shot and shared by ashcrowe, using a Lensbaby lens. Notice how there is a portion of each image that is in sharp focus (known as the “sweet spot”), while the rest of the surrounding portions of the image increasingly blur? The result is a lovely nostalgic effect, which plays beautifully to the antique subjects of the photographs, and makes for a compelling landscape photograph. Great work.

4. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of Photoshop.

Or, for that matter, any post-camera processing software. I’ve discussed before how I believe that post-camera processing is a tool for conveying exactly what the photographer was experiencing at the time of the shot, and I really believe that this sentiment is never more true as in the realm of landscape photography. In fact, when it comes to landscapes, I’m far more likely to really go to town in using photoshop, because it helps convey exactly the type of mood I was in, or the emotions I was feeling at the time of the shot. And the following are wonderful examples of exactly what I’m talking about:

The really fabulous shot shared by crafterm in Tasmania, Australia is made only more stunning by his processing treatment post-camera. The boat sitting on the still water is quite old, and as crafterm says, “I’m sure it could tell quite a few stories judging its age and use.” He further makes his point by treating the photograph in a sepia tone — as a viewer, the image looks very vintage and classic, as well.

And finally, I really love the image above shared by B
ryn Tassell
of the coastline on Vancouver Island. The photoshop treatment makes the entire scene other-worldly, not to mention conveys the absolute stillness of the water at the time of sunset. An absolutely amazing image.

Hopefully you find the handful of tips above useful in keeping at the back of your mind next time you’re out on your intrepid travels, and are capturing images of the stunning scenery. If you have any additional tips or images to share, please do so in the comments below. And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to send them directly to me at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom. I’m always happy to answer them here on Through the Gadling Lens.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more, click here.