- Scout with your camera! This is for all those people who use a tripod, which should be everyone. So many people tend to look at a scene, plop their tripod down and get their camera out of their bag and start shooting. Without giving enough thought to lens, angle, vantage point and composition. I start out walking around with my mid range zoom (24-85 or 28-70). I look for elements I want to include in the image. I decide placement of elements by walking forward/ backward, left/right and up and down with the camera to my eye. If this lens is the right on, then I find my spot and mark the place and the height and then I set up my tripod. If I need longer or wider for the scene I am looking for, then I can change lens up or down in focal length.
- Foreground emphasis in wide-angle images. Look for a prominent subject to put up close in the foreground in your image. So often we see wide-angle images that just include an expanse of scene and, while looking ok, is not the dynamic image that it could be by placing a foreground subject in the scene. One of my favorites in stream shooting is to find a big rock with something interesting on it (leaves, moss, etc). That mountain scene can be accentuated by place a really close up of a flower in the foreground.
- Use a polarizer.I see photographers all the time forget about the power of the polarizer. It is not just for blue-sky days to darken the sky or with water to take reflections of the water. It can slow down your shutter speed for a longer exposure allow for more creativity. It can take the sheen off of shiny leaves in the forest. It can enhance the color of fall foliage by reducing the reflections off of leaves. It can cut through some of the haze in a scene with distance to the subject (think Smoky Mountain vistas). It should be used more often than most people use it in nature photography. I even have one for my 200-400 lens.
- Use Mirror Lockup when possible. Often our landscape images have shutter speeds from seconds to 1/500 of a second. If you are using a polarizer, your shutter speed will be slower. Using Mirror Lockup allows the vibrations to subside resulting in a sharper image. Remember to wait about 1 second after mirror lockup before triggering the shutter.
- Shoot verticals AND horizontals.We tend to look at a scene and think that it is a horizontal scene or a vertical scene. Force yourself to try to compose BOTH when you find a great situation of subject and light. Why? Well, besides have a more complete portfolio, it is easy to tell an editor “Yes, I do have that scene in vertical also”.
- Always look behind you when great light is in front of you. John Netherton taught me this listen many years ago (almost a quarter of a century, wait, how can it be that long ago, I’m not that old!). We get so focus on a great sunrise, we don’t look the opposite way to see what the light is doing. Always look 360° to evaluate the light. And keep looking. Light is always changing; so don’t get so focused in one direction. I was having so much fun with this little guy that I almost didn’t notice what was behind. When I turned around, it was a WOW moment.
- Keep you image level. Use a bubble level in your hot shoe or learn to use the built in Virtual Horizon in your camera. This keeps vistas on the level and keeps the water in the ocean from running out one side of your frame. Level isn’t always what we want to do, especially when trying for a more creative look, but when the scene should be level; don’t think “I can fix that later in Photoshop (Lightroom, etc).