Nearly a century ago, the first glimpse of Yosemite National Park inspired Ansel Adams to pick up his first camera. He soon began experimenting with a variety of camera equipment while shooting different angles from unique vantage points in order to produce his iconic landscapes so widely known today. Photography students of Adams' mastery have since learned his secrets for great landscape photography. Following these tips on your next visit to Yosemite, Yellowstone, or any of the other national parks in the U.S. will allow you to create your own works of art and bring home memories of your travels brilliant enough to hang on the wall.
Know Your Camera's Limitations, and Practice Taking Pictures
Photographers like Adams started their careers shooting with a camera that they soon discovered had limitations. To take good pictures, unless you invest thousands of dollars in pro equipment, you need to know your camera's limitations. It will save you frustration and disappointment after losing the shot of a lifetime.
If your camera lens can only shoot 18 inches from your subject, shooting a redwood's furry bark from three inches will create a blurry photo. If a Yellowstone elk appears hundreds of yards away from your RV, it may be invisible in the photo if your setting is wrong.
Many point-and-shoot cameras allow for different shooting scenarios. Switch settings for each scenario. Practice different scenes in your daily life prior to your trip in order to understand how each setting will give you the best shot.
Different Lenses for Landscape Photos
If your camera allows for different lenses, here's what you'll need for great landscape photos:
- Large expansive landscape vistas require a wide-angle lens.
- Wildlife in the landscape need a telephoto lens for close-up shots while maintaining physical distance.
- Up-close shots of foliage and insects require a macro lens.
Study How Light Affects the Scene
Lighting is everything in photography. Whether it's long shadows cast from low afternoon sun, a washed-out scene at high noon, or brilliant sun streaks through mountain trees in early morning, pay attention to where the light falls at different times of the day. Use the sun to your advantage.
Keep the sun at your back when shooting people in your landscape to avoid dark facial shadows. Landscapes without people? Ignore this rule. You may want the sun directly in front as it sets behind the Pinnacles National Monument or low on the ocean's horizon. Take your shot with the sun in various places in the scene for optimal results.
Landscape Photography: Close-Ups and Vistas
Not all landscape photos need to be an expansive view like Adams' Half Dome. Shooting details in the scene will often produce surprising artistic results. While Adams was famous for panoramic shots, he also shot up close and personal. His saguaro image allows us to see the interesting vertical details of the saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Monument. Look for similar details in your landscape photos.
Shoot From Different Angles
Most people make the mistake of taking a photo while standing, pointing at the scene, and shooting. Try laying on your back and shooting up. Climb up on a rock and shoot down. Lie on your stomach with the camera on the ground and take a shot. Don't be afraid to get your knees dirty. Adams knew that different angles and vantage points enhanced his art.
There's a saying among professional photographers that "anyone can take a great accidental photo if you take enough shots." You can take a lot of photos. For Adams, the number of photos was limited to the number of rolls of film in his bag.
We have the luxury of shooting hundreds of images with our digital cameras. Take two or more memory cards with you on your travels and fill them up.
If you love the scene in your view, take multiple shots. One may be blurry but the other one crisp. It will be more time-consuming to fish out the great photos, but it would be heartbreaking to know that your only photo of Old Faithful shooting high in the sky turned out blurry.
Follow these photography secrets on your next travels for great landscape photos. Who knows? You may even become the next Ansel Adams.
Laura Wrede is a professional freelance photographer and writer living in the Bay Area of California. Her art photography can be viewed at various shows and galleries throughout California. She offers photo tips for aspiring photographers on her PhotoGirlStudio blog.