There is certainly no shortage of advice that an aspiring landscape photographer can find online. Landscape Photography forums on the Internet are populated by self-appointed experts who ask nothing more than to give unsolicited suggestions and to warn against the evils of not following some arbitrary set of rules or what is perceived as common wisdom. Unfortunately, many half-truths or outright lies, if repeated enough times, sometimes assume the status of truths-that-should-never-be-questioned. These become like myths, but one can only grow in their craft when myths are examined ruthlessly and if necessary, abandoned.
Let’s look at some of those myths in detail.
Myth 1: You Must Have Great Light To Take Great Photos
Great light can really make a picture if you know how to use it and how to combine it with an interesting subject and compelling composition. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave the camera at home or in the trunk of the car if the light is not great.
A good photographer finds ways to exploit almost any kind of light. Overcast skies are perfect for shooting waterfalls and even harsh, high noon light can create interesting shadows and graphical subjects.
Moreover, digital cameras nowadays are very good at capturing colors and details that our eyes cannot see very well unaided. Careful and expert post-processing can bring out those colors and details and infuse life into an otherwise flat and boring scene.
Myth 2: You Must Use Manual Mode
Here’s my dirty secret: I use aperture priority about 90% of the time. I sometimes use manual mode and very rarely shutter priority. If I feel a photo might be over- or under-exposed, I use exposure compensation (I love the fact that my Fuji cameras have a dedicated exposure compensation dial).
Fact: Modern cameras are exceptionally good at nailing the exposure in almost every circumstance. Do you think you can do better? I’m not so sure.
I have nothing against photographers who only use manual mode. Sometimes we learn to use our cameras in a certain way and we stick with what has always worked for us. If manual works for you, be my guest.
What I can’t stand are photographers who look down on “beginners” who use aperture priority or, god forbid, the dreaded P mode. Give me a break!
That said, there are times when I use manual mode, but that has nothing to do with getting the right exposure and everything to do with getting a consistent exposure. For instance, I use manual mode when I want to get the same exposure for the main subject even when my framing changes because I moved or zoomed. I also use it when I’m taking a series of shots to stitch into a panorama or to combine for focus stacking.
Myth 3: You Must Use A Full-Frame Camera
Here’s another confession: I’ve never owned a full-frame camera and I don’t feel the need to own one.
If you are looking down on me because you use a FF camera and I use one that only has an APS-C sized sensor, let me introduce you to my friends who only shoot with medium format cameras.
The image above was taken with a 12MP, APS-C Nikon D90 and I printed it quite large. Enough said.
Myth 4: You Must Always Use A Tripod
If I can use a tripod, I will, but I won’t refrain from increasing my ISO, if necessary.
I didn’t have a tripod when I took the image above. I had been walking around Rome all day with some minimal gear; my legs and my back were tired enough and, if I had had to carry a tripod too, I would have probably already gone to bed and missed the best light of the day.
As the light at the edge of the day was getting marginal, I set the camera to auto-ISO with a minimum shutter speed of 1/60s to ensure I could get a sharp picture even when hand-holding. The camera chose an ISO of 2500 which adds some noise in the sky that is only visible when zooming in at 100%. If you print it, it goes away.
Myth 5: You Must Use A Panoramic Head To Take Panoramas
Fact: Photoshop and similar software have become insanely good at stitching together panoramas, if you take some precautions when shooting them. Panoramic heads are bulky, heavy, expensive, and not necessary 99% of the time.
I like to turn the camera to portrait orientation when I am taking panoramas because it gives me more vertical resolution. For this reason, I use an L-bracket so I can mount the camera on the tripod without turning the ball-head 90°; this gives it more height and more stability.
For the picture above, I was at a shutter speed of 1/10s so I decided to use the tripod that I had with me. I could have raised the ISO and hand-held the camera (see above) by increasing the ISO. In good light, I have no problems shooting a panorama hand-held.
(In this situation, the viewpoint from where I was shooting was crowded with people who had gone up the hill to admire the view of the Alhambra at sunset, a typical tourist attraction in Granada, Spain. Putting my tripod down helped me establish the boundaries of my space.)
Myth 6: HDR Looks Awful
HDR, or High Dynamic Range imaging, has gained a bad rep from people abusing it to produce garish, overcooked clown vomit. The best HDR, in my opinion, is the one that doesn’t look like it’s HDR; and I firmly believe it can be done.
I often bracket shots just in case I might want to do a HDR version of the scene later. On the computer, I have my own workflow for creating natural-looking HDR images and it has served me well on a number of occasions.
In this article, I listed six prevalent myths in landscape photography. This is not an exhaustive list and I am sure someone will disagree with me….if you do, please leave your comment below. So please don’t take this list as anything definitive; I wouldn’t want to establish a contrarian mythology.
Above all, use your own judgment and never stop experimenting and breaking the rules.