Unfortunately, there is no simple, quick answer to this question. Photography – especially landscape photography – is complicated. So many factors come into play with the challenge of capturing an incredible landscape photograph.
Landscape photography involves two main areas: the technical side and the creative/workflow side. Both a mastery of technical skills AND a creative/fine-tuned workflow are necessary to capture breath-taking photographs.
When I mention technical skills, I’m referring to such things as shutter speed… aperture… ISO… how to set up your camera… how to post-process your photos. Having a mastery of technical skills means having a deep understanding of how your camera works, how post-processing works, and how these two are intricately tied together.
So what happens if you don’t have the technical side of photography nailed down? Let’s compare the two photos below of Marymere Falls in Washington.
The first was taken in 2001. My technical skills at that time were not fine-tuned. As you can see, the image has many under exposed areas. The water appears blown out – too bright with no visible details. I didn’t know how to properly set the exposure. Also, the foreground is blurry. I didn’t know how or where to focus to get a sharp photo. Although I could see the scene with my own eyes and knew what image I wanted to capture, I didn’t have the technical skills to shoot it accurately.
In addition, the photo was processed incorrectly. I shot this as a JPEG photo. At the time, there wasn’t a great deal of knowledge about RAW versus JPEGs so I didn’t understand the benefits of using RAW files. I assumed JPEG was good enough.
My combined lack of technical knowledge and skills created an unappealing photograph that did not do justice to the beautiful scene.
Now look at the photo I shot of Marymere Falls in 2010. The composition is almost identical. But notice the rich colors and the image’s details. This photograph was exposed properly… the dark areas have appropriate color detail and tonal range… the waterfall now has smooth flowing water lines rather than the previous blown out look. The photograph was also processed nicely. I understood and was able to successfully use bracketing and combined multiple photos in post-processing. Between 2001 and 2010, I drastically improved my technical skills. I acquired the ability to capture a complicated scene with everything properly exposed and processed. The more recent photo allows people to look at the image and almost feel they’re looking out a window at the real view.
With a mastery of the technical skills, people often assume they can now go out and capture any photo they want. Remember… technical skills are only half of the landscape photography story.
To be continued….How to Get a Great Landscape Photo: Part 2