The Great Plains of Nebraska evoke a feeling of simpler times. Whether it’s stunning sunrises, or dramatic sunsets, the visual of seeing the plains in their entire splendor is something that can have us daydreaming about the old days, long before the development of our beautiful plains. Capturing these lands in all their glory takes some time to master, but when you do, the results can be truly frame-worthy. Scenes of the Great Plains make for fantastic wall hangings in homes, offices, or anywhere else that needs some positive energy sprinkled into it. This is photography for beginners so don’t fret! We’re here to give you a few tips so you can take some of your own scenic photo’s home to show off. So grab your camera, dust off your lens, and follow some of our beginner tips for landscape photography!
- Invest in a quality camera
Sure, your fancy phone can take some awesome photos of you and your friends, and your point and shoot camera can catch some good photos now and again. But for landscape photography, you’ll truly want to invest in at least a beginner level DSLR or mirror-less camera. Mirror-less and DSLR cameras provide maximum control over camera settings, which means not only is the baseline quality of the image automatically superior, the possibilities of creating professional-looking pictures are endless.
Mirror-less and DSLR cameras also allow the photographer to swap lenses. For sweeping canyons and caverns, it’s best to go with a solid wide lens that can capture a wide range of your landscape. For more detailed images, don’t be afraid to use a zoom lens or telephoto lens, so you can capture the hidden beauty in your scenes. Experiment with different focal lengths (the distance in millimeters between the lens and the camera’s sensor) to see how the same vista can render in different ways. Keep in mind, there are plenty of high-quality cameras and lenses out there that won’t deplete your bank account. You don’t need a professional grade camera to capture stunning photos, you just need to train your eyes to see the beauty you’re trying to capture.
- Your hands are not that steady, get a tripod
Yes, we know, steady as an oak you are. Except, not really! The reality is, our hands are just not steady enough to create perfect images out on the plains. A sturdy, quality tripod is a landscape photographer’s best and most essential tool. A tripod is ideal in low-light situations or during night photography, as the steadiness allows you to lower the shutter speed without sacrificing ISO, or grain. A tripod is also useful for experimenting with angles and perspective; depending on the landscape, you may choose to photograph shooting up, across, or down to produce a desired effect.
- Know your exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
This topic may frighten some who are brand new to photography, but trust us, it’s not only simple to learn, it’s flat out necessary. These are some of the fundamentals of photography, and you’ll want to spend some time playing around with your cameras settings to become familiar with the way they work. You will be happy you did once you start shooting scenes in different settings out there, where weather and lighting can change drastically, and quickly.
Aperture is the size of the lens opening, which lets in light. Shutter speed is the duration of time the lens is open; low-light or long exposures depend on a lower shutter speed to bring in as much light as possible. ISO increases brightness, however, depending on the strength of light, ISO might also add grain. Some photographers use grain to their advantage, but for a crisp image, try not to rely too heavily on ISO to compensate for light. All of these elements lead to exposure, which is the combined light that enters the camera sensor after adjusting aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
- Shoot in RAW format.
There are a variety of file formats, the most popular and familiar of which is JPEG. JPEG files automatically compress details, which results in image quality loss. RAW files, however, retain all data and information. While the processing time for RAW files is longer, the resulting images are easier to edit and higher in quality. All DSLR and large format cameras offer RAW as a file format. Advances in smartphone technology means your iPhone or Android can also shoot in RAW, with assistance from camera apps like Lightroom or ProShot.
- Prioritize Focus.
Most landscape photography relies on wide shots and a large depth of field to adequately capture the scene. A high aperture, adjusted with the f-stop, allows most of the subject to come into sharp focus. Use the grid-lines in your viewfinder or screen to find focus. Begin at either the top or bottom third of the frame, but don’t be afraid to experiment. While there are some examples of landscape photography that prioritize the foreground, resulting in a blurred background (known as a shallow depth of field, or portrait effect), most landscape photography captures the entire scene at once. If you have trouble getting clear focus across the entire frame, it is always possible to take a few shots with different areas of focus then layer them together in Photoshop during the editing process.
- Composition, Composition, Composition.
We mentioned earlier that the key to great photos wasn’t having the most expensive or fancy camera, it was having an eye for shooting great scenes. That’s where composition comes into play. Crystal clear, detailed photos can be uninspired without great composition, and photos that aren’t perfect in a technical way, can be amazing with great composition.
An easy tip for beginner landscape photographers is to build your scene around the horizon. Refer to the Rule of Thirds, which is a popular trick for composing perfectly balanced and aesthetically-pleasing photographs. The Rule of Thirds crosses three horizontal lines with three vertical lines. You can set these up through your viewfinder or on the back screen of your camera. The points where those lines meet are the points of interest; place the most dynamic or compelling parts of your subject here. Take care to keep the horizon along that middle horizontal line, and you should have a foolproof formula for a picture-perfect scene. Get creative with your composition, and the possibilities are endless.
- Try to find the best lighting.
The best light is soft and diffused, with a dreamy quality to it. True tones pop against that subtle light, which makes natural landscapes look all the more breathtaking. Early mornings before sunrise and late evenings, just before sunset, offer this “golden hour” light that photographer’s chase. When preparing for a shoot, make a note of sunrise and sunset times and plan accordingly. Remember, in life, and photography, patience is a virtue.
- But also, the darkness is your friend!
Once the sun goes down, an entirely unique scene emerges. Experiment with long exposure photography to capture shooting stars, light trails left by passing cars, and other natural phenomena. Long exposure builds upon the basics of photography, but requires a few extra tools along with some additional know-how.
In order to take a proper long exposure photograph, set up your tripod and set the frame. If the tripod is in a precarious position, weigh it down with a bag filled with rice, sand, or rocks. Next, you’ll want to set the camera to bulb mode through the DSLR camera settings. Bulb mode manually forces open the shutter past the typical standard of 30 seconds. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the exposure. A remote shutter release or cable release connects to the camera so you don’t physically have to hold down the button to capture the exposure. Once you’re ready, click down to open the shutter and start the photograph. Once you’re done, click down again, and you will have completed a long exposure photograph. Setting your timer will also work to avoid having to hold your shutter button and stay still.
- Get creative, shoot more, learn more, and take chances.
The more you shoot, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more creative you will become. That’s the bottom line. Remember why you fell in love with photography to begin with. Always look for creative new angles, subject matter, and perspectives. Photography is one of those arts where the beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. You create what you think is appealing. There is no right and wrong when it comes to creating amazing art, only guidelines to help you along the path.
So, now is the time to go out and shoot. Shoot thousands of photos. Take photos of every single thing you can. Technical know-how is a great thing, but nothing beats the lessons you can learn by simply doing more. Remember this: There is an image worthy of capturing in every single moment we have. It’s up to you to recognize the moment, and capture it. And don’t forget to pack your camera during your next visit to the Glidden Canoe Rental!