Photography is all about the light and, as landscape photographers, we are constantly searching for the most interesting and evocative lighting conditions. Without it our pictures can be dull and lacklustre but when Mother Nature performs her magic, the landscape is transformed enabling us to capture some stunning imagery.
Some of my favourite conditions are shooting into the sun to capture those dramatic sunbeams, starbursts or beautiful back-lit scenes. Although this is counter intuitive to everything we are taught early in our photographic journey, this technique helps emphasise, shapes, lines and silhouettes to produce some striking images.
I’m extremely fortunate to only live a short 30 or 40 minute drive from the beautiful Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland. A photographer’s paradise, the northern section of coastline in particular is full of stunning sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and secluded bays waiting to be explored.
I seem to spend most of my time shooting by the sea. There’s something exciting yet fulfilling that keeps drawing me back. One of the things I love doing when shooting seascapes is shooting long exposures, as I love the effect this has on the movement of the water and the clouds. In this blog, I’m going to share a few tips to help you get the best from your seascapes. My preferred kit for my landscape photography is currently the FUJIFILM XT2 and the XF10-24mmF4 lens. Continue reading Secrets Behind Seascapes: 6 Ways to Improve your Photographs
Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography?
Well, I’m married to Lisa and as we don’t have any children, it leaves us plenty of free time to enjoy stuff outside of the home. We met through our walking group as we both have a love for the outdoors and it is that which helped me discover a love for photography. Initially I started heading to the hills with mates and just enjoyed climbing hills and mountains, but over time I came to appreciate the landscape and I was ended up trying to capture more than just snapshots of our hiking activities. This then developed into a strong affinity with photography.
How did you develop your style in photography?
I don’t think I really have a style, although just the other day someone said they could single out a “Greg Whitton shot” from others. I wasn’t sure how to take that but they assured me it was a good thing. I’m not sure I really believe it. I’m very much a photographer who strives to capture epic landscapes, typically made that way due to the pattern of weather in them. They tend to be very moody. I’m not a heavy user of post-processing, although I would say that I think I use most of the tools that Lightroom offers. Typically my images follow the same processing workflow which takes two or three minutes. It’s perhaps why they are easier to single out, they exhibit the same characteristics. I’m using colour a lot more these days. By that I mean I’m playing with individual colour channels to achieve a ‘mood’ that I want. It’s surprising just how effective this is, a minor nudge of the blue primary colour channel for example can do wonders.
Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?
A friend of mine introduced me to them. He was searching for his ‘perfect camera’ and seemed to have a new camera every week, Nikon, Sony, Ricoh, etc. I was using Canon, a 5DmkII. Eventually he got a Fujifilm X-E1 and was raving about the image quality. It was small and lightweight, and it wasn’t full frame. Naturally I didn’t really believe him. However, I started to notice I wasn’t using my own set up very effectively. I was hiking a lot and it was just too heavy. I wasn’t carrying it around my neck and was leaving it in my rucksack. As a result I was missing a lot of shots (I very much tend to shoot handheld on the fly as things happen quickly in the mountains). He showed me some of his RAF files and I have to say, I was impressed. I decided to experiment and bought an X-Pro1 and a bunch of lenses in a cashback deal. I took it on one dual shoot with the Canon. The Canon was on the tripod the whole time for ‘the big shot’ while I ran around the summit of a mountain with the X-Pro1 shooting handheld. When I got home to check the results, I had more useable images from the Fuji than I did from the Canon. When comparing images that were shot side by side, the Fuji had better clarity, less noise and were sharper. That was it, that one shoot persuaded me to ditch the Canon and go full Fuji. I don’t regret it a single bit.
Do you have a photographic philosophy you live by?
Simply shoot what you love and don’t listen to others.
Key inspirations – What & who inspires you?
Colin Prior is one of my photographic heroes. My photographic eye has certainly been influenced by his amazing body of panoramic work. In recent years I’ve followed Julian Calverley because his use of mood in landscape photography is almost second to none. I’ve also become a bit of a fan of David Ward. Every image I see from him fills me with wonder. He can make the most benign foreground subject so incredibly intriguing and unique. It blows my mind sometimes.
Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?
Oh crikey, not really. If I told you how I got most of my images you’d realise just how un-professional I am! My few words of wisdom would extend to, if you enjoy shooting the outdoors, then you must do it because you love the outdoors. Try to appreciate them for what they are and don’t get hung up on ‘the shot’. I go out to enjoy the outdoors first. A good photograph is a bonus.
What’s next for you?
Winning Outdoor Photographer of the Year has given me a massive boost in self confidence and opened one or two doors. But I’m learning that it still doesn’t mean people are knocking down your door for stuff. You still have to be pro-active to make the most of it. I’ve been really busy since then, but it’s not all photography, I have a full time job to do too. So, you’d be surprised how little I’ve been able to capitalise on the accolade. I do have a book coming out in August, ‘Mountainscape’ published by Triplekite. It is a book that contains many of my favourite mountain images from the UK, from vistas to more personal work. It’s available to pre-order from www.triplekite.co.uk. Beyond that I’m hoping to launch workshops later in the year (folks can sign up for news on them by contacting me through the website). Mind you, if anyone wants to commission me for anything else, I’m all ears!
I’m looking forward to the next generation of cameras from Fuji, I think we are going to be treated to something special. Recently we’ve seen huge advances in resolution & technology in the digital photography world, mind you, we don’t seem to have been held back by lower resolution, I won a major competition with only 16 megapixels to play with, it was the overall image that won, not how detailed it was. Others have achieved much more with much less. It is an exciting time for digital photography and it’s great to be involved.
In this tutorial I wanted to give you some of my favourite tips to get you started with landscape photography from the more obvious tips to some of the lesser known ones. I have not listed them in order of importance as I believe this is subjective, more so the order in which they came to mind.
Remember, you don’t have to apply any or all of these ideas to take a great landscape picture, but it may just help you on your way.
Although Fujifilm JPEGs are renowned for their quality, when shooting landscapes I strongly recommend that you shoot RAW. This is because more image ‘information’ is retained in the image than from a JPEG and this will allow more flexibility when correcting exposure, enhancing colours and boosting tones. RAW files can be processed & converted with the camera specific bundled software or you can use popular programs like Adobe Lightroom, Capture One etc.
Essential accessories you may have overlooked
When you’re going to be standing in the dark on a misty morning up to your kneecaps in mud there is nothing worse than not having the right gear to keep you warm and comfortable; after all, you may be out for a few hours in these conditions. Here are some accessories that you might have overlooked taking with you:
Wellies – May be obvious for wearing in marshland environments but also extremely helpful on the beach (where you might normally associate wearing sandals)
Headtorch – When going out to shoot a sunrise, finding the perfect location can be really hard if you cannot see where you are going. Make sure that it is a headtorch rather than standard torch to keep your hands free for more important things.
Strong windproof umbrella – When shooting long exposures it is vital to keep the camera as still as possible. A tripod is a must-have accessory but I’d also recommend using an umbrella to keep strong winds from hitting the tripod & camera during these long exposures. As an obvious bonus it will also keep you dry, which is particularly important if you need to switch lens.
Waterproof jacket with zip-lock pockets – Not just to keep you dry, but more importantly to keep useful camera accessories close to hand. Things like spare batteries, remote release cable, cleaning cloth etc. Whether dawn or dusk, when the sun rises or sets it happens very quickly and this is exactly when you want all accessories within easy reach.
A further tip is to keep as much gear in your car boot at all times. That way in your daily travels if you see a beautiful landscape, you can just jump out whatever the weather, walk cross-country across muddy terrain and have a much more enjoyable experience.
Think about composition even when you don’t have a camera with you!
Training your eye to ‘see‘ the best possible shot is probably the most important skill you could hone. The key point here is to imagine the frame of your camera whenever you see something beautiful. Think about all aspects of the shot; where would you stand to take the picture? Where would you position the tree/boat/sun in the frame? What lens would you choose and why? What aperture might you select to impact on the depth of field?
The more you ask yourself these questions, the quicker you answer them too. This means when you actually go to take a picture, you might just get it perfect first time round.
When you find a nice landscape location, try every conceivable angle you can think of until you get ‘that shot’ that brings a huge smile to your face. If that means getting down on your hands and knees, let it happen. After all, the picture you take could end up being your favourite of the day, month or even the year. And don’t be afraid to try an angle, look back at the image and think ‘That was no good’ because it is all about learning what works and what doesn’t.
Remember, the more you experiment, the more ‘mistakes‘ you make, the quicker you will find your own style and know what works for you. Here’s a shot I took that ruined my jeans and shoes, but to me, it was worth it!
Use ND grad filters
You may have heard the term ‘ND grad filter’ or ‘Graduated neutral density filter’ but not necessarily known what it means. Think of an ND grad filter as a pair of gradient sunglasses (the ones that go from dark to transparent) for your camera lens. Its job is to stop a specific amount of light from reaching the sensor of your camera – but why would you want to do this?
Well, when you look at a sunset with the human eye, you can see all the detail in the lights of the sky and shadows of land without any problem. Unfortunately, even the best cameras cannot do this as well as the human eye can. Therefore to try and get the best reproduction of what the eye can see the camera is going to need a little help.
This is where the ND grad filter comes in. By choosing the right strength ND grad filter and positioning it correctly in the frame, you can perfectly balance the exposure above and below the horizon to give a stunning image that is colourful, full of tonal detail and a much truer representation as to how you saw it with your own eyes.
Your next question may be which ones should I buy? Or how exactly do I use them? My recommendation is to read forums, ask other photographers and watch videos on YouTube to get a good understanding of the best practices to ensure great results.
Check the weather
Even within small regions the weather can vary quite a bit. You may find that location A is raining in the morning but location B is not. Use this information to your advantage, amend your itinerary to get the very best out of your day. There are lots of free weather apps for smartphones out there so have a look around to find one that suits you best.
Prepare an itinerary
When you go away on a specific landscape photography trip, take the time to plot out the locations you want to visit, what times you want to visit them and how long you will spend at each location. Although this sounds very regimented it will help to keep your trip on track. Of course, if you find one of the locations particularly beautiful stay there longer, enjoy the experience. Simply think of the itinerary as a check list or a guide to get the most out of your trip as possible.
Find the sweet spot for your lens
Getting the best out of your lens is important, especially in landscape images. Now if you are looking to get as much in focus as possible in your photo, simply set your lens to the smallest aperture available (which is the largest number) for example: f/16 or f/22. But if you are looking for the sweet spot of your lens (where it performs best in terms of clarity and sharpness), this is usually around 2-3 stops from the maximum aperture of the lens (which is the smallest number) for example: if you are using the XF14mmF2.8 lens then you expect to see the sweet spot at around f/8 as this is 3 stops from f/2.8.
Here are some other examples:
* at 18mm
It doesn’t mean that you have to abide by this rule of thumb but it can help you find the best quality from your lens quickly. If you find some spare time, I would recommend setting the camera on a tripod, take the same picture on a few different apertures with the same lens and then look back at the results – find an aperture that gives you the perfect balance between depth of field, sharpness and image quality. Once you know what it is, use it as a starting point when out and about taking shots.
Is there a ‘right’ hour to shoot landscapes?
One of the first tips to help capture better landscape images is to shoot at the ‘right‘ time of day. The golden hour is widely considered as the ‘best‘ time of day to take a landscape image. It is the hour in which the sun is rising or setting. This is due to a number of reasons but the main ones being the rich warm colours in the sky and the long trailing shadows that are created.
Don’t think that the only time you can take great pictures is at golden hour however, so many stunning images have been created at all times of day. Just think of it as a good starting point.
Extra tip: The time just before a sunrise or after a sunset is a great opportunity to take pictures too. This is known as the Blue Hour, it is called this because the indirect sunlight creates a blue hue in the sky and can help produce some of the most beautifully natural subdued tones.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)
This is one of the most useful tools in a landscape photographer’s bag of tricks. It is a third party application map-centric sun/moon calculator that shows how the light falls on the land. This allows you to know precisely where the sun is going to rise/set in a specific location way ahead of actually being there. It can come in handy when creating your itinerary as you can plot out the suns movements across a virtual map. The application is available on desktop, iOS and Android devices so it can be taken on-the-go as well.
When shooting any image it is very important to maximise the amount of detail captured from the lowlights to the highlights. This is especially the case with landscapes due to the difference in the exposure between the land and sky. You can use your eye to judge whether an image is overexposed or not when it is very obvious, but I strongly recommend you use the camera’s histogram to tell the full story. It will allow you to make much smarter decisions when deciding the best exposure for the shot.
You may or may not know that when the highlight details in a scene are overexposed and burned out they are impossible to recover and get back regardless of how good you might be in post-editing. This could mean white blobs in the sky instead of detailed clouds or white mass areas in the sea instead of crashing waves etc.
So how do you avoid it? Well, shoot RAW (to maximise post production flexibility) and then look at your histogram. You want to aim to get the bulk of the histogram information to sit on the right hand side of the scale – this is known as exposing to the right. The most important part of this technique to ensure that the trace of the histogram does not peak right at the end of the right hand side as this would mean the highlights have been lost / burned out. An easy way to adjust this can be to use the Exposure Compensation dial / button found on the camera and decrease the exposure in 1/3EV at a time and then recheck the histogram until it looks perfect.
Making mistakes is a natural part of learning any skilled craft. Accept that you are going to make mistakes along the way. You may take blurred shots, blow the highlights to kingdom come and delete your favourite image from the memory card by accident, but in the end, with practice, you will be a creative machine that can make beautiful images wherever you are, whatever time of day and with any camera & lens combination. Enjoy the journey and don’t panic, it will happen.
As with any tutorial there is always more that could be said, more tips that could be shared but the idea here is to give you a good starting point which you can grow from. Ask questions with other photographers, search tutorials online, share your images and ask for constructive criticism, look at work from inspirational landscape photographers and most importantly, enjoy photography.
Beautiful locations? Not essential. Golden hour? any time is good. prime lenses? zooms are fine.
Meet X-Photographer, Pete Bridgwood who will make you think again about how you take landscape photographs
For decades, the debate has raged as to whether photography is art. For most, the crux of the argument revolves around the camera itself, some considering that using a machine to capture images is ‘cheating’, while others argue the camera doesn’t create images on its own. Fine art landscape photographer Pete Bridgwood cuts through these years of discussion with incisive clarity: “I think the term ‘art’ is as relevant if a four-year old child produces a piece with crayons as any photograph or grand master painting – it’s still art,” he tells X Magazine. “Some people think it’s stuffy to define your work as art, that you put yourself on a pedestal if you define yourself as an artist, but I define it simply as ‘photographs that I take for me, not for anyone else’. I don’t shoot commercial images, I shoot to make prints that hopefully will sell if people like them.”
Pete studied medicine at university and subsequently followed this career path, but photography has always been an important part of his life; and despite a passion for both disciplines, he defines himself as a photographer rather than a doctor. “I was into photography at school and we had this great art teacher who ran a course after school, so I signed up. We’d sit around in a big group and he’d talk about the compositional elements of famous photographs, so from a young age I was looking at photographs in a critical way. “We learned all the wet processes in a traditional darkroom, so I learned the hard way with film. I think that teaches you to be more careful with exposure because if you get it wrong there isn’t the latitude to get it back. I was very lucky to have that grounding.”
Like many photographers, as the interest grows, the choice of subjects to shoot becomes more refined and when it came to choosing a specialism, Pete’s choice was simple. “Landscape is more controlled, you can take your time. With people photography it’s more reactive and interactional and maybe I’m not that good at interacting,” he jokes. “I tend to exclude people from my landscapes, because I think it’s nice for the viewer to be invited into the image and if it has people in there, the viewer has to share it with someone. There is a counterargument, of course, because featuring people invites others into the image, but I do tend to Photoshop a lot of people out as they always seem to walk into frame wearing bright dayglo clothing!”
While some may question Pete’s use of software in the context of his fine art image making, he’s very clear that post-production work is a very important part of creating his images. “It’s changed from film, when all the effort was put in in-camera. Now, I think half the effort comes in the field and half in post-production. Documentary landscape photographers would disagree, but I think you can do a lot in post-processing to create a more emotive result. It depends on the scene,” he explains. “Every photograph is a combination of three things: the photographer, the scene and the viewer. The percentages of those three elements vary from scene to scene and I love to actively play with those ratios. You could completely remove yourself and just take a picture and it will look gorgeous, or you can get a scene that you apply a lot of changes to and alter the feel. The trick is to not make it look that apparent.”
Emotional connection is one element that Pete considers crucial in his images. He works hard to convey a sense of place and communicate the essence of the location. This can be done in a variety of ways, but Pete feels much of it is down to exposure choice. “Every image has its own shutter speed that will make the image look quite different. I think it’s important not to just think of that as a panacea,” he explains, “what I’m more about is finding the right exposure, an exposure that matches the emotion of the scene. How much do you want the grass to sway? How much do you want the sky or the water to move? It’s really about controlling the texture rather than simply taking a blasé attitude, which is what I like to get across.” Pete’s pursuit of this emotional connection doesn’t always necessitate him travelling from his home in Nottinghamshire to ‘honeypot’ locations in the UK and abroad, he feels that great landscape images can be captured virtually anywhere. “In some places it’s more difficult than others, but all you have to do is look around. The barn you don’t subconsciously see on the way into work, the single tree on the top of a hill, you should pencil those locations in for revisiting,” he advises.
“I feel the same way about light. I love the golden hour and there’s no doubt it’s quite magical, but there’s no reason why you can’t get evocative landscapes in the middle of the day. Or in the pouring rain.” Whatever time of day he’s out, Pete always carries his X-series cameras: “I used to use Canon DSLRs, but I haven’t touched them in months,” he says. “I started with the X100, but the X-Pro1 was a game changer for me and I use both primes and zooms on it. I’ve also recently got an X-T1, which is wonderful. I shoot the vast majority of my images on an XF18-55mm lens. The attraction is obvious: all my Fujifilm gear fits into a small waist pack – camera, lenses, full filter kit – and that’s very liberating.” This latter point is crucial to Pete, X-series cameras help him to communicate an essential part of his creative process.
“The whole essence of fine art photography is freedom,” he tells us. “Freedom to express. Freedom to interpret. Freedom, freedom, freedom.”