Not just another snapshot! Landscape Photography Composition Rules

Mobile camera technology continues to grow rapidly giving everyone the opportunity to capture pictures. So what’s the big deal about landscape photography? Is it just another snapshot? Read this article if you want to understand the guidelines used by every landscape photographer. 

FACT: In 2014, the global mobile phone market size was worth about USD16.4 billion, growing by 13.4% from 2013, mainly stimulated by higher pixel counts of mobile phone cameras and OIS. It is expected that OIS will expand rapidly in 2015. 

FACT: In 2014, the iPhone 6Plus took the largest share of OIS enabled mobile phones with shipments of 18.20 million (about 25%), followed by the Samsung Galaxy Note4 with shipments of about 6 million. It is projected that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and most flagship phones in China will use OIS, and next generation Apple phones will also fully adopt OIS. It is estimated that shipments of mobile phones adopting OIS will amount to 178 million in 2015, surging 145% from 2014, and will reach 361 million in 2017. 

This is great news for us and I think it’s great that the quality of mobile phone camera technology has improved. So what makes a photo a great landscape picture? There’s no one single answer to this as camera kit, lens quality, skill and knowledge all play a major part but I think one of the fundamental corner stones to successful landscape photography is composition.In this article I just want to summarise some of the key rules behind composition. These guidelines are invaluable for the novice and the professional. 

Chase The Light 

The most dramatic light occurs at sunrise and sunset - this is known as the golden hour as the colour is warm and this helps reveal the tones and textures due to the low angle. If there are clouds in the sky then these can add even more interest. For this reason you should always shoot in RAW format for landscape photography as this maintains the shadow and highlight details much more than a Jpeg.If like me you have a very busy family life then getting up at the crack of dawn is challenging but it is worth it if you can manage it. I tend to capture images at different times during the day but I have to say that during the summer months from about 10am onwards until mid afternoon in Northern Ireland there can be alot of haze which makes capturing that picture very challenging - it’s certainly not impossible but you just have to position yourself so that the sun is behind you and that could mean having to come back again some other day to capture the shot you really want. 

Keep The Story Small 

Your landscape should tell a story. This could be a panoramic focusing on a wide angle with stunning cloud formations and interesting light. Or it could be a macro shot of something right at your feet. The key thing is that your picture needs to tell a story and the story needs to be kept small so that there are not too many elements that distract the eye. Having a wide angle lens is useful but it is certainly not a requirement. One of the disadvantages of mirrorless cameras is that the cropped sensor reduces the field of vision i.e. a 14mm lens on a mirrorless camera is near a 28mm lens on a full frame. Post-processing software such as Photoshop can help solve this problem. Just take multiple photographs at the same exposure level and use post-processing software such as Photoshop to stitch the images together. It is vital that care is taken with the overlap and for this reason a tripod should be used otherwise you risk ghosting where partial pixels from the different layers are visible.

Use filters 

The filters that I always use are a polarizer and graduated neutral density. The polarizer saturates a blue sky and removes glare. Without it, my skies lack contrast and my colours aren’t as rich and saturated. The graduated neutral density allows me to create a perfect exposure of a bright sky and shadowed foreground. A 2 stop soft edge is the most versatile, although I own many other variations. You can also get around this using processing techniques. For example, take a picture of the sky at the right exposure and take a picture of the land then use Photoshop masks and layers to get to the final picture. Personally I prefer to get it “right first time” at the capture stage as that’s what photography is about for me. Post processing is important for digital cameras but if you push those techniques too far then you’re moving more into digital art. There’s no doubt that digital art offers the wow factor but not everyone will tell you how they came to that final image … and not everyone asks that question … they just assume that the person captured the image that they are seeing. I guess it’s up to yourself to decide which direction you want to take with your photography. 

Rule of Thirds 

The Rule of Thirds should be considered a guideline but it is an important one. For the majority of photographic situations, it will help you compose a better picture. For landscape photography getting the main subject out of the centre of the picture provides a better image. Basically just think of your image divided into 9 squares. The Rule Of Thirds suggests that you should have your main object of focus on a cross-section on first or last column of squares. The horizon can also be located on one of the lines with either a greater focus placed on the sky or on the foreground detail. 

Leading Lines 

Leading lines bring the viewer to the primary focal point. They can be zig zag, bending, or diagonal, but should relate to the context of the overall image.

Frame It 

Adding a natural frame around your photograph can also draw the attention of the viewer particularly if there are no candidates for leading lines. 

Depth Of Field 

For landscape photography I like to have the background sharp and that means using a small aperture. If you read a book on this topic the suggested setting is F22. However, beware that some lenses can be impacted by chromatic aberrations and I would recommend researching your individual lens to find the sweet spot. With my mirrorless lenses I tend to use f11 for landscapes. 

Don’t forget these are just guidelines and guidelines are there to be broken. 

Alan Campbell is a local photographer located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Alan has created this blog to showcase the beauty of Northern Ireland through photography capturing images of the irish landscape and the Irish coast. Read more about Alan or see more of his work in his Landscape and Coastal galleries.

Test driving the Olympus 70-300mm lens on the E-M5

So what do you do with your children when they’re off school and the weather looks decent? Go to the park or go to the zoo and get a chance to play with my new lens? Well, I’m glad to say that my kids love animals and the choice was not hard to make but this time we decided to go to Dublin Zoo. I haven’t been at Dublin Zoo since I was a child myself and I have this really strange memory of being able to feed an apple to an elephant. Well I wasn’t able to do that this time but one thing hasn’t changed and that’s being much closer to the animals than in most places. That’s a good start for any photographer but I then was able to bring out my secret weapon … the Olympus 70-300mm zoom lens.

On a 35mm full frame camera that’s the equivalent of a 105-450mm lens. If you’ve ever seen one of those lens then you’ll know that they’re big. Thankfully on a mirrorless camera (Olympus E-m5) that’s not the case and in my very small camera bag I also had 2 other lenses and some filters.

So what did I think of the Olympus 70-300mm lens? I have to say I was not disappointed. The reviews said it was sharp throughout the focal range and it certainly was. OK, it’s a bit bigger when zoomed at full focal length but compared to full-frame zoom lenses at that size it’s still tiny.

One of my big fears when buying this lens was that the Olympus in-body image stabilisation would not be as good as the panasonic in-lens stabilisation. Oh, how wrong I was. The image stabilisation was brilliant. Now I did need to go up to 3200 ISO but for wildlife shots that’s fine. If I was shooting a landscape then that ISO has to be around 100-200.

The only disadvantage was that Olympus do not provide a lens hood with the lens and I really could have done with a lens hood when the sun was bright. I’ll have to buy one myself but come on Olympus a lens hood should be standard.

See some of my images that have been captured using this lens in my Nature gallery.

Alan Campbell is a local photographer located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Alan has created this blog to showcase the beauty of Northern Ireland through photography capturing images of the irish landscape and the Irish coast.

My Favourite Legacy Lens

This picture of a rose was taken using my 28mm Konica Hexanon lens on my Olympus OMD e-m5 camera. I’ve got some great auto-focus lenses but I have to say there’s something special with the Konica lens. This picture of the rose really highlights just what a wonderful image can be captured using these old lenses. 

I had nearly given up on using my legacy manual focus lenses as I just could not get the focus right - I blame it on my eyesight but I don’t think I’m the only person with this complaint. OK, the focus was alright in a few of the images but not sharp enough for me and I definitely deleted more out of focus images when using these old lenses … until now!! 

Did you know that you can set-up focus peaking on the Olympus E-M5 using one of the useless Art filters that Olympus has supplied? If you’re interested the settings are as follows: 

1) Change the mode dial on the E-M5 to “A” 

2) Menu > Shooting Menu 1: set the “Picture Mode” to “ART 11 Key Line” (press right and choose Filter II). You may need to repeat this step twice to get the art filter setting to stick. 

3) Optional step if you want magnified view during focus peaking: Menu > Shooting Menu 1 > Set “Digital Tele-converter” to “On” 

4) Menu > Shooting Menu 1: select “Reset/Myset”, then select “Myset1” and choose “Set” 

5) Menu > Custom Menu B: select “Button Function”, then select “Fn1 Function” and choose “Myset1” 

6) Menu > Shooting Menu 1: set the “Picture Mode” to “Natural” (or whatever you started out with) 

7) Menu > Shooting Menu 1 > Set “Digital Tele-converter” back to “Off” if you set it to “On” in Step 3 above 

When using focus peaking you just need to make sure you have more black lines showing around the point you want to focus on. It’s as simple as that! 

(Update July 2015: Great news that focus peaking is now included with the Olympus E-M5 Mark II)

See some of my manual focus shots in my Nature gallery.

Alan Campbell is a local photographer located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Alan has created this blog to showcase the beauty of Northern Ireland through photography capturing images of the irish landscape and the Irish coast.

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