Better Photography, Part III: Landscapes

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The sketchpad and easel, coupled with landscape portraiture, is a timeless pursuit for art enthusiasts. In the past century, photography as an art medium has come of age and the ability to capture excellent scenes and landscapes has been made possible through the development of the camera. This is a guide for anyone interested in shooting better landscape photos, whether you want to capture that ideal beach sunset or see car light streaks in your photos.

Use a tripod and cable release: Tripods can be found for around $20 to $30. As long as it can support your camera, pretty much any tripod can get the job done. A cable release is an external cable that is connected to a shutter button. Using one helps to minimize camera shake. They can be bought for less than $10 on eBay. Many cameras also have an option called ‘mirror lockup,’ which further minimizes shake for longer exposures by flipping up the mirror with the first click, then opening the shutter with the second click.

Use a low ISO: Set your camera to shoot in ISO 100 or 200. Lower ISO creates an image with finer details and less grain, or ‘noise.’ After all, details matter in landscape photography.

Use a small aperture: Using a smaller aperture (meaning a larger number) makes the depth of field very large and helps to bring the greatest amount of details in your composition into focus.

Slow shutter speeds: A slower shutter speed (one second or more) will make flowing water or breaking waves appear like a fine mist. It will also cause cars to leave streaks of light. Both effects are very aesthetically appealing. However, shutter speeds longer than 10 seconds will cause an increase in grain and noise when shooting digitally. Also, when shooting with slower shutter speeds, you absolutely need a tripod to keep the camera steady.

Get your sensor cleaned: Any dust that may be on the sensor will seem much more pronounced when shooting with a small aperture or when shooting a plain object (like the blue in the sky). In landscape photography you generally do both, so make sure your sensor is clean. The Canon service center for all of western North America is located in Irvine! If you are a Canon user, they will clean your sensor for you free of charge.

Use front lighting: You are able to capture most details in a scene when the sun is behind you. Keep this in mind when planning your composition.

Know the magic hour: The hour right before sunrise or after sunset can produce some great photos. The exposure tends to be fairly even and the sky can produce very elegant hues of dark blue and purple.

Location! Location! Location! Don’t be frustrated by suburban Orange County. You might be pleasantly surprised by a drive down to Laguna Beach, especially south Laguna Beach. Go down to the beaches at low tide and use the aforementioned techniques. Take advantage of UC Irvine’s prime location. Also, in springtime the hills above University Hills often get very green and make for a fun venue as well. Another fun tip is to go to a busy intersection about a half hour after sunset in order to photograph car trails. Use a shutter speed slower than half of a second. Newport Beach also has two piers, lots of beaches, yachts and lifeguard towers. These are all fun things to work into your photos. Get out and try it, and have some fun!

Ryon Graf is a fourth-year genetics major and a staff photographer at the New University. He can be reached at rgraf@uci.edu.
Please feel free to send him your questions about photography or your photos for critique.

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