Photo masterclass part 1: Landscapes

Welcome to our exclusive series to help you improve your wildlife and nature photography. First up, how to take better landscape photographs.

Photo masterclass part 1: Landscapes

Welcome to the first of our exclusive series on the art of wildlife and nature photography. In each installment, we will focus on a different type of photography and demonstrate how you can improve your pictures. Part one shows you how to take better photographs of landscapes. 

What could be easier than walking or driving up to a beautiful mountain, forest, lake or rocky shore and taking a prize-winning picture? There’s no need for specialist equipment – the subject is visually impressive in its own right and doesn’t run away if you get too close.

There’s plenty of time to choose the right lens, set up the tripod (you weren’t thinking of taking the picture without a tripod, were you?) compose the shot – and snap.

But if photographing landscapes is so easy, why is it that few images really do their subjects justice? Many photos show scenes that are undeniably breathtaking or inspiring, but the images themselves are not.
The reason is simple – pleasing composition doesn’t happen automatically or by chance. Regardless of how impressive a landscape may be, simply pointing a camera at it doesn’t guarantee a good photo.
So, how do you make an image of your local wood look more eye-catching than a holiday picture of the Grand Canyon? We’ll be exploring the best ways to compose and construct a picture for maximum impact, find out how to ensure that every shot is pin-sharp, and learn the importance of light and how to become visually sensitive to its changing nuances.
There is no formulaic way of taking a good picture of a wild place, of course, but there are a few tips and tricks that will improve your images overnight.
John Shaw has been a professional nature photographer since the early 1970s. He has won many awards and written seven books.
John doesn’t like rules in photography. Who says you have to shoot certain subjects vertically and others horizontally, or that you must use a wide-angle lens to photograph landscapes?
He stresses the importance of light, pointing out that it’s almost impossible to take a great picture in horrible light. “Most people take pictures of things – rocks, mountains, trees – but a good landscape photographer takes pictures of light,” he explains.
John points out that “anywhere in the world can be magical if you are there at the right time” and if you learn to take advantage of the different seasons and the best light at the beginning or end of the day.
And he positively loves bad weather. “Bad weather is really good weather when you’re a landscape photographer,” he says, “because you’re always looking for mood and drama.”
John thinks like an artist rather than a technician. “Just analyse the word ‘photo-graphic’ and you’ll begin to understand the importance of design,” he says. “Good photography is all about good design – shapes, lines, colours and textures.”
The golden rule is simplicity and, with this in mind, it’s important to peel away the visual clutter.
John wishes more people could use a 5x4 view camera, which shows the world upside down and backwards, because it takes away all familiarity. “What better way to force photographers to see beyond the subject and think in terms of those two key elements: light and design?”

John Shaw’s top landscape photography tips


  • Use the light

    Light is the essence of landscape photography. Beautiful or dramatic light can transform an otherwise ordinary picture into an extraordinary one. The best light is at the beginning or end of the day, at the edge between daylight and darkness, when the sun is close to or even below the horizon.


  • Design the picture
    Light may be the essence of landscape photography, but careful design is the basic ingredient. Think graphically – beyond the actual subject. Try setting the lens slightly out of focus for a few moments before taking the picture to help you see the shapes, lines, colours and textures more prominently.


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