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What is landscape photography, really? It shows spaces within the world, sometimes vast and unending, but other times microscopic. Landscape photographs typically capture the presence of nature but can also focus on man-made features or disturbances of landscapes.
At least, that’s how Wikipedia defines it. As you explore and delve into landscape paintings and photography, you will also notice the metaphorical, symbolic, and fantastical that can all be expressed in a landscape.
In this article, I would like to share some quick tips on taking great landscape photographs with your smartphone…no need for fancy equipment or trips to exotic places. Landscapes are all around you and your iPhone is in your back pocket!
Tip #1: Go “old school” By this I mean, do some research on the “masters” of landscapes. Go to your local art museums, crack open that old art history text that you paid hundreds of dollars for and never used, use your favorite internet search engine…and take a look at how they did it. Start with the painters. I’m a fan of the Hudson River School Movement…artists like Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church and a host of others. Pay attention to their use of light, of form and composition, of detail. Move from the painters to the photographers. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Galen Rowell are the “old masters” of landscape photography. Contemporary landscape photographers can be found on your Flickr, Instagram, and Tumblr streams. Three of my favorites are Gianluca Ricoveri, Sarah Jarrett, and Christoffer Collin. Compare their work to that of the painters. You will see many similarities. Keep what you’ve researched in the back of your mind as you go about shooting your own landscapes.
Tip #2: Give Your Landscape A Focal Point Don’t just point your iPhone at a landscape and shoot. You have to have a point of focus for your viewer. What is it about that particular scene that attracted your eye? This could be something as simple as a tree standing out alone, a boulder/rock formation, a barn or other structure. Use the Rule of Thirds to place that focal point in your image. Keep in mind that the western eye is trained to “read” left to right.
Tip #3: Foregrounds! The viewer’s eye needs a way into your landscape…something that invites them to look at your image. One way to do this is to place your focal point in the foreground. Not only are you “inviting” them to look at your landscape but you’re also giving your image a sense of depth – and interest. Get the viewer to look…and keep them looking!
Tip #4: It’s All In The Lines – Leading, That Is! This tip goes along with Tip #2 and Tip #3. Your viewer will start “reading” your image, looking for that focal point that you have given them to get them hooked. A great way to draw your audience in is to make sure your image has what are known as leading lines. This could be a path, a road, a river or even a moving object that will draw them in to the photograph.
Tip #5: What Is In Your Horizon? I think a crucial question to keep in mind when shooting a landscape is, where is your sky? This is important if your image doesn’t have a dominant foreground focal point (if it doesn’t, your sky will fill this need!) If the sky is amazing…then place the horizon line lower in your Rule of Thirds. If it’s nothing special, then place it in the upper third of your shot to make it less dominant. But then, make sure to have a dominant foreground! Post production “enhancing” can also help out in making your sky more dominant.
While I’m on the subject of horizons, do make sure they are straight. Yes, you can straighten them in post production, but at the risk of losing some of that great landscape. It’s easy to simply take a moment and use your grid lines to straighten up before shooting!
Tip #6: Watch Your Light The best time of day to shoot landscapes is not at high noon. While this might be the brightest part of the day, noon light does nothing for your landscape! Use what are known as the “Golden Hours” which are the hours around dawn and dusk. You’ll still have sufficient light to shoot with but it will be at an angle that brings out a landscape’s patterns, dimensions, and textures.
In this same vein, don’t let cloudy, overcast days scare you off. The same goes for rain, snow, fog, and all that sort of thing. Each of these elements can give the landscape a sense of drama or mood, or unintentionally create a fascinating ambiance.
Tip #7: Capture Movement Capturing movement….things like moving water, wind in the trees, waves of an ocean, waterfalls…can give your landscapes a strong point of interest and drama. However, a slow shutter speed is needed to do this well, along with a tripod to hold your smartphone steady. The native camera app doesn’t have this capability so you’ll have to use a camera app (I like to use Slow Shutter) that allows you to adjust your exposure time…much like an actual slow shutter setting. Practice using this app beforehand and then take several shots at different speeds to consider later. A tripod is a must here, as you don’t want any movement of your phone during these exposures. Anyway, using a tripod or some other steadying device is always a good thing whilst shooting landscapes! There are a number of iPhone cases that have tripod mounts built into them. I use a Manfrotto case and tripod. Joby also has a bunch of flexible tripods, but you’d still need a case with a mount. A DIY bag of rice or sand could even serve as a secure base during these timed shots.
Tip #8: Perspective Shooting a landscape straight-on is something you should always do first thing. Get it out of the way. This might be the best shot of the session and gives you a nice base image. Then…move around and shoot this same scene from different points of views. Get low if you can…shoot low and then point up. Go to a higher vantage point and do the same thing. Point that iPhone up, down, all around. Different perspectives bring a power all their own into any image…take advantage of this! You have no way of knowing which shot will turn out best or most interesting – so why not try every point-of-view on for size?
So there you have it…a couple of easy tips to help you with landscape mobile photography. I’m not saying this is all you will need, but certainly this will be enough to get you started!
Written by: David Hayes
Contributing photographer: Sandra Lundin, a 26-year-old day dreamer from Sweden, who lives in awe of the world’s beauty and cannot help but capture its best moments with her iPhone 6. All of the photos in this article were shot by Sandra, on her iPhone. Follow her on Instagram @myatilio.