Exposure or Composition?

Beginner Landscape Photography: Learn to Shoot

Continued from Part 1…..Beginner Landscape Photography: Equipment

Exposure or Composition?

What should I learn first?

Now that you have your brand new camera, lens, and tripod, you are ready to conquer the world of landscape photography. So, how do you go about taking a good photo? It’s time to learn how to use your photography gear.

Now that I have the right photography gear, what should I do next?

When you acquire a brand new piece of equipment you need to get familiar with it. You will need to know what various buttons on the camera are for, how to mount filters on the lens (if you are using them), and how to quickly adjust your tripod to get it in position. I highly recommend spending time with your new equipment before you go on a workshop or head for a faraway, exotic location. You don’t want to be struggling with camera settings as the sun sets in a blaze of awesome glory over the Grand Canyon. So, get familiar with your gear, and be ready to use it when you arrive on location.

How should I go about learning how to take photos?

You can learn to use your camera with the help of the Internet, or by taking classes at a local photography club. Most photography classes start with a focus on composition, but we prefer to start out by teaching exposure. A clear understanding of how to get a proper exposure is critically important. Technical skills take patience and practice – but once you understand them, they will help you take great photos no matter the conditions. Learning to expose properly will also teach you to recognize light conditions that are suitable for taking a good photograph.

If you are not familiar with ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, that’s where you should start. Get a book at the library (if books are too old-fashioned for you, there are plenty of eBooks that will give you the information you need) – or check out basic photography classes at your local camera club. I always encourage beginners to set their camera to manual mode and work to understand how ISO, aperture, and shutter speed work together. I also advise students to learn to use the histogram on the back of their camera to determine the proper exposure for the subject. This exercise may prove a bit frustrating if you’re looking to create great photos right from the start, but it will prove invaluable in your future endeavors. Once you have mastered exposure in manual mode, learning to use other shooting modes (fully automatic, aperture priority, and shutter priority modes) should be a piece of cake.

If you’ve purchased a GND or ND filter, it’s a good idea to incorporate them into your workflow for controlling exposure. Read everything you can, take a few classes, and spend time working with your equipment. There’s nothing more important than learning the basics.

Punch Bowl Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon (OR), USA

Focus on Focus

Getting your pictures sharp is critically important, and there are lots of variables that can effect focus in your images… from using a tripod, to understanding aperture and depth of field. Start by understanding the focusing mechanisms that are available on your camera. Your manual will provide some basic information, but an internet search will probably offer far more useful information. Find out how to adjust your focus point, and how to use the Live View focusing option if you have it. If you shoot with a wide-angle lens, it’s important to get a handle on hyperfocal distance as well. Take the time you need to practice the techniques you learn, and soon, the tripod will feel like an extension of your body, and you’ll choose the best aperture and focusing distance without a second thought.

The Next Step: Learn about Composition

Exposure is a technical skill grounded in math. Once you understand it, you’ll be able to use the principals for every image you create. Composition, on the other hand, is an artistic skill that has almost limitless potential… and it’s something you’ll never stop learning.

You can start out by learning the basic “rules” of composition by taking a class, reading any number of books on the subject, or purchasing our eBook. (Of course, we recommend the latter – and when you’ve finished it, you might be interested in taking things further with our eBook on the Gestalt Principles of Perception.)  😉

Some people find artistic skills even more difficult to master than technical skills. Even those who are intuitively “artistic” will find that their vision and understanding evolve over time. Do keep in mind that the “rules” of composition are not set in stone. Once you understand why they are useful, you can break them as often as you like. Remember – you are the artist. So, you make the rules.

Am I Ready Now?

Once you can control your exposure and you know a bit about composition, you are ready to try your hand at creating some great photographs. Some photographers start out believing that they can just fix their errors in Photoshop. That attitude will make you a lazy photographer – and can often mean you’ll spend a lot more time in post, trying to make corrections that could have been avoided if you’d taken the time to do it right in the first place. Rather than relying on post-processing to make things right, challenge yourself to capture the scene in-camera. That won’t always be possible, but you’ll train yourself to recognize good light and make the most of your equipment.

Once you know how to expose and compose, next step is to learn how to process an image…

Continued on…Beginner Landscape Photography: Post Processing

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.

Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams

Landscape

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1 reply
  1. Dave Spindle
    Dave Spindle says:

    I just returned from a week of trying my hand at shooting landscapes. I have taken only macros and close ups for years, and decided to spend a week dedicated to learning landscapes.
    The location was Twin Lakes just west of Bridgeport in the Eastern Sierra mountains. My wife and I have been going there for years. So, I grabbed my new wide angle lens and started shooting.
    I won’t bore you with all the details. But, I was shocked at how much trouble I had with composition. Don’t get me wrong….the process was truly fun….but trying to make artistic sense of so many elements like mountains, sky, trees, streams and lakes etc was quite a challenge. I am not sure I made the correct decision to stubbornly stay with only a wide angle lens.
    I will be returning in October to the same area to try again.
    This time, I think I will force myself to leave the camera in the bag and spend more time “walking the scene” before plonking down the tripod and firing away.
    All in all, a very humbling experience. But I love a challenge, and will keep trying!

    Reply

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