Composing Dynamic Landscape Images - Digital Photography School

Composing Dynamic Landscape Images

A Guest Post by Todd Sisson from www.sisson.co.nz and author of our Living Landscapes eBook – a guide to taking stunning Landscapes.

As a landscape photographer I am constantly seeking that next X-factor shot – an image that leaps from the screen or page and demands the viewer’s attention – preferably attention of the favourable variety.

If you spend an hour or two on a photosharing site like Flickr viewing landscape images in un- curated groups you will note that a very small percentage of the total image population stands out from the crowd.

However, if you view a carefully curated collection of top-shelf landscape images you will probably start to notice some themes appearing. Certain visual cues and devices appear across multiple images – there will often be subtle commonalities between these attention hogging photos.

In many instances these images will possess the qualities of what I consider a dynamic landscape image.

What is a Dynamic Landscape Image?

Summer Storm, Queenstown New Zealand. An example of a dynamic landscape image. To maximise the number of dynamic elements in this image I locked this composition off in the field and shot multiple images. The best of about five wave-action frames were then blended together to form the final image.

There is no dictionary entry that defines a Dynamic Landscape Image* – heck, there’s not even a Wikipedia entry – so it is a somewhat personal interpretation.

To my mind, a dynamic landscape image is one that in some way conveys the energy and scale of the natural world. Dynamic images also often seek to breach the confines of their 2D medium by inferring a sense of depth – many truly dynamic image have an almost 3D quality about them.

*As far as I am aware, the term Dynamic Landscape was first popularised by the late Galen Rowell – one of the most influential American landscape photographers of his generation. Rowell used the term to demarcate his work from the somewhat literal colour landscape photography that dominated the early 1970′s. Although he was certainly not the only photographer employing these principles in his work, he appears to have been an excellent self-promoter and the term is somewhat synonymous with his name.

Dynamic Composition

Composition is the backbone of all great photos – dynamic or otherwise – but it is essential in the creation of a truly strong landscape image.

I feel that the goal of a successful composition is to draw the eye into image and hold it there for as long as possible – which is seemingly, a maximum 15 milliseconds these days*. The following image is an example of an image that I feel achieves this objective.

Sunrise Over The Moeraki Boulders, Otago New Zealand. Seascapes lend themselves to the creation of dynamic landscape images.

This image combines all of the elements that I feel comprise a Dynamic Landscape Image:

  • Leading or converging lines
  • Interesting perspective
  • Visually interesting foreground elements
  • Visually interesting mid-ground & background elements
  • Vivid colour or incredible light
  • Vision-locking tonal control
  • Suggestion of movement

It is important to note that not all dynamic landscape images possess all of these factors. In fact, it is depressingly rare to have it all come together in one moment. It must also be stated that what follows is not a recipe for creating great images. Photography can only be practised as an art when personal interpretation is injected into the process – only use this information as a guideline for evolving your own images.

So let’s have a very quick look at each of these Dynamic Landscape factors.

Leading Lines & Converging Lines

One of the simplest ways to draw a viewer’s attention into an image is to use converging or leading lines. Converging lines have been used by painters for centuries to create the illusion of depth within a 2 dimensional medium.

This is why photos of wharves, roads, and rivers make such successful photographic subjects. Although many consider such subjects to be cliches, I strongly council my workshop students to shoot them heavily to build an awareness of the power of a line in an image.

Leading lines not only draw attention into the image, they can also help to hold the eye within the confines of the image.

Check out the crudely overlaid wharf image below combines the strong converging lines of the wharf with secondary supporting lines in the water, hills and clouds.

Look for these lines whenever you are shooting – they are almost everywhere.

The Wharf at Frankton, Queenstown New Zealand. Shoot ‘cliched’ subjects like wharves and roads until it hurts a little. The pain is just your visual muscles growing stronger. Shooting man-made lines will teach you to look for more subtle lines in nature.

Although the wharf is the primary leading line device in this image there are a number of leading lines present in the water, hills and clouds. The darker reflected lines in the water help hold the eye in the central region of the frame.

Interesting Perspective

As a photographer you are an artist not a forensic documentarian. You get paid the mega-bucks and live the champagne lifestyle to show your audience something a little different – that is your raison d’être.

Hence I rarely find myself shooting at my natural standing position. For some reason, compositions seem to get more dynamic the closer you are to the ground/mud/ snow/ice-encrusted cow turd – it’s just the way it is.

This is especially apparent when using an ultra-wide lens. Subject matter becomes incredibly diminutive and interesting leading lines really lose their visual power when viewed from 5 or 6 feet high – so try getting uncomfortably close and low.

Aim high also. Look for ways to gain elevation to find that privileged viewpoint – I find that this often works really well when shooting telephoto lengths for some reason. Try scrambling up banks, standing on cars and sitting on your wife’s/husband’s shoulders (sans tripod) in an effort to find an interesting perspective.

Paddock Bay, Lake Wanaka New Zealand. Getting uncomfortably low in this instance dramatically altered the perceived form of the rock on the lower right of the frame. B y moving about I was able to create the satisfying impression of the rock ‘interlocking’ with the reflection. Note the strong leading line formed here also.

Foreground Elements

I believe that a dynamic image almost always possesses a strong foreground element, or elements, that complement the greater scene.

Take a sunset/sunrise for example. Sure, spectacular light makes for great images, but personally photos that contain nothing but vast expanses of super-saucy red clouds do little to engage me as a viewer.

The best dynamic images typically have a strong point of interest in the lower half, or foreground. This is your visual entree into an image. If your foreground element happens to include leading lines you are quite possibly onto the much vaunted money-shot.

Lupin(e)s, Fiordland New Zealand. Yeah, this is cheating – foreground elements don’t come much easier than this. That aside, keen observers will note the subtle converging lines formed out of the lupin pattern. This was accentuated by deliberately placing a bloom in each corner and leaving a little empty space at the bottom of the frame. Sunstars make an exceptional background element (segues niftily to my next point)

Visually interesting Background Elements

I often compose back to front. Firstly I will find the subject of my image, say a spectacular sunset playing out on mountains, and then I will run around like a deranged prison escapee in search of a foreground element to complement the background.

It is very much a balancing act – defining who or what element gets to play the lead role in your composition. Ideally the background is where the eye should gravitate to and the foreground should pick up a gong for best supporting actor.

Milford Sound, Fiordland New Zealand. The star of this image is the dramatic light playing out in the clouds over the eye- catching form of Mitre Peak – the foreground & mid ground elements are critical supporting parts of the whole composition but don’t hog the lime-light.

Unusually, I didn’t scramble to find a foreground element for this image – I staggered. Four minutes earlier I had been happily sleeping in the back of my truck – my alarm went off and I saw this – panic ensued….

Vivid Colour or Incredible Light

By now it should be obvious that I have some un-checked colour-dependancy issues. I love colour*, especially natural light shows. However, I feel that vivid colour needs to be kept in balance and be a part of the overall composition. Too often I see images that rely solely upon dollops of super- saturated colour.

For a dynamic landscape image to work, balance must prevail. Hence I attempt to avoid filling the frame with too much colour (yes, there is such a thing – see below).

*I am even partial to the American version – colour.

Sunrise from Mt Taranaki / Egmont, New Zealand. In this image the main act was the rapidly dissipating beams of sunrise goodness and the rich colour in the clouds. Lens choice and composition mean that the sunrise colour is just one component of the image. I often like to keep dark forms in my images (anathema to the HDR readers amongst you) as a counterpoint to the extreme lightness of a sunset/sunrise. I find the dark hills here quite mysterious in contrast to the sunstar and clouds.

Too much colour. This was one of the most intense sunrises that I have ever witnessed. I should have just sat and enjoyed it – this is just too much colour for my tastes – it looks un-realistic. This shot has actually been partially de-saturated in an effort to tame the colour.

Vision-locking Tonal Control

I am tempted to trademark this term – it sounds like a mind-control experiment deployed by shady branches of the US intelligence community.

Basically all I am referring to is the phenomenon of vignetting.

The eye is drawn towards lightness within an image, particularly near the centre of frame. Furthermore, the eye is restrained by darkness at the edges of the frame.

When employed deftly, the viewer’s eye is gently drawn into the image by lightness and held there by the darker edges of the image.

Look at all of the images above and you will see this technique in use. Often this happens in- camera just by virtue of the composition and through use of ND grad filters. However, I will often darken the top edge of an image in post and even add a subtle vignette as the last thing I do. Weird Cloud formation & Road to Nowhere. Alexandra New Zealand. In order to achieve vision-lock here I painted in a brighter layer near the central portion of the image. A little vignetting was added to further enhance the effect.

Suggested Motion

Suggested motion, by way of blur or frozen motion is not always an achievable, or desirable, element to utilise within an image – but it can add another layer of dynamism to a composition.

Don’t just get locked into shooting long exposures either – frozen, or partially-frozen motion can convey movement just as well as a long exposure in some circumstances (see the first image, Summer Storm, for an example of this).

Moeraki Boulder, Otago New Zealand. Long Exposure motion blur creates a dynamic tension between the static boulder and the relentless sea. Note the other dynamic ingredients added to this image – interesting perspective, use of colour, vision-lock, foreground/background interest.

Can Dynamic Landscape Images be B&W?

Absolutely. There are many thousands of truly incredible B&W dynamic landscape images. No style renders texture and contrast better than B&W – at it’s best it is magnificent.

In order to compensate for their ‘lost’ colour Black & Whiters will often apply industrial grade quantities of Vision Locking Tonal Control (that’s why vignette sliders to go -100) and rely heavily upon strong graphical elements such as leading lines (you will find a lot of B&W photos of wharves and sewerage pipes heading out to sea).

I would show you an example of this, but I am mono-challenged. If you want to see B&W Dynamic landscapes at their best check out the work of Mitch Dobrowner & Hengki Koentjoro.

So Are All Good Landscape Images ‘Dynamic’?

Not at all. Stunning images can be made by avoiding almost all of the techniques that I have just espoused in this essay. Dynamic Landscape composition is just one style of landscape photography.

In fact, many of my favourite images by others are beautifully composed static, flat compositions. These ‘static’ images respectfully comply with the two dimensional constraints of the photographic medium and rely upon a separate set of visual devices in order to ‘succeed’.

Want to learn more about Landscape Photography? Check out Todd’s eBook Living Landscapes: a Guide to Stunning Landscape Photography.

Todd & Sarah Sisson are full-time landscape photographers based in Central Otago New Zealand.

Their work can be found as fine art prints & canvas prints at www.sisson.co.nz Todd also offers private and group photographic tuition. They can be found on facebook, Google Plus and twitter.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to DPS. Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

  • Stefan Maier

    Thank you so much for posting this. Your article has been one of the most inspiring and best-written that I have come across. Although I had been aware of these essential points before reading, your explanation has made it clear to me how they work together.

    Happy New Year! – We’re still waiting for it here in Europe.

  • Jill

    Just came upon this article today – I am so glad it was re-posted! I am a newbie, so I appreciate all of the tips. But the real reason I kept reading all the way to the end, was how you wrote the article, respectful, funny and informative – hope I come across more of your posts on this site – better yet – do you have any books yet?

  • Carl

    This was just reposted on Twitter and I enjoyed it for its composition rules, but there’s a lot of missing information. Many of these images have perfectly exposed foregrounds and backgrounds while shooting into the sun. A little mention is made of ND-grad and HDR, but you don’t say how you actually shot the images, which is what would really be helpful here.

    Are these strictly ND grad? How many stops are the filters? Are shadows brought up and highlights brought down? Are the foregrounds artificially lit? Are these HDRs? Are they blended exposures with a layer mask in Photoshop? Maybe a separate article on how the images were created, in addition to the composition rules?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelsmithy/ Darren Addy

    Does this one qualify?

    [eimg url='http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1088/4722534814_6d3cdb582a_z.jpg' title='4722534814_6d3cdb582a_z.jpg']

  • http://elindaire.zenfolio.com Elindaire

    Great article, one of the best reads on dps. Love your work also.
    New Zealand is an amazingly gorgeous place, I wish to go back there one day!

    If you haven’t been to Tasmania, beautiful place also, that I recommend.
    http://Elindaire.zenfolio.com/p449292885/e6a49bffc

  • http://www.scenestealer.co.nz Pippa de Court

    I am so proud to be a Kiwi!!! Fabulous images of our fabulous country.

  • Victoria

    To be absolutely honest, I am fed up with seeing these ‘spectacular’ over colour-saturated landscapes. After a while, they become so common that they are boring (to my eye). In fact, I find any image that is highly processed boring. They are reflect the artist’s editing and post processing skills, not their skill as a photographer.

    I still love the subdued colours of ‘natural’ landscapes. I still like ‘natural’ greens & blues.

    But having said that, since I started increasing my colour saturation a notch on my DSLR, I have loads more visitors to my PhotoBlog. It seems that the general public likes bright colours.

    I prefer slight ‘tweaks’ that enhance a good image that was well shot in the first place (if any pp needs to be done)

  • Janine

    This is just an amazing way of learning real photography. Thanks for the passionate blogging and sharing of your research and studies

  • http://jslartphoto.com Jeffrey

    I take landscape shots at and around sunrise and sunset. I have seen every spectacularly colored light displayed here in this article live and in person. The trick is to get it on camera and make it look good. Everyone has their opinion of what looks good but these shots are real. It takes persistance and a patient photog to go out every day and try to capture these dynamic scenes. Those colors and light come straight out of the camera without processing when you put in the time and energy out shooting during the “dynamic time”
    about 1 hour before to 1 hour after sunrise and sunset every day!
    Did I miss something or is this article from a year ago?

  • http://-- Rohinton Mehta

    An excellent article!

  • http://smallbusiness-ideas-for-women.blogspot.com/ gisela

    this article is very interesting….. I lOVE

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/ marius2die4

    An excelelnt article. This photos are excellent!.Good pictures fron the gamera and excellent skill in PS!

    Some of my pics:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2013/06/dealuri.html

  • Shaun Newman

    Great Article.. this has made me miss NZ so much that I feel a trip coming along…

  • Rachel

    What a brilliant article! So much information, thank you! I am looking forward to trying out all of these tips.

  • Riki Metz

    Thank you for the interesting and informative article- and for sharing the stunning photographs.

    Riki

  • Gwen Rea

    Truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for your input and tuition in this great passion. Your photos are exquisite. What camera do you use and what is your most recommended lens? I am a Nikon person, what would your recommendation be for an all round most versatile lens, I want to get the milky effect on dynamic seascapes specially and do a lot of birding. Gwen

  • http://www.colorvaleactions.com stacie

    Great tutorial on landscape photography! Makes me wanna get out & shoot :)

  • Benjamin O. Vargas

    I learned so much! It motivates me to shoot more landscapes! Thank you!

  • Elindaire

    http://500px.com/photo/41513636

    Barely any post processing, the scenery spoke for itself!

  • http://anhdrphotographer.blogspot.com/ zoli

    Since I consider myself an amateur photographer, some of tips presented in this article will help me to improve photography techniques. Thanks a lot!

  • Jo Grant

    Victoria Says:
    July 19th, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Please…How can I also increase my colour saturation on my DSLR (Beginner :)

  • Pixelpoppy

    i thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. However, I would have loved something more about some suggested settings especially to gain the control of sharp the depth of field – e.g. in the Mitre peak one with the foreground boulders and rushes.

  • http://www.jslartphoto.com Jeffrey

    @Victoria,

    Put your camera in landscape picture style and that will increase your saturation.

  • http://www.sisson.co.nz Todd Sisson
  • Naresh

    There is one question in my mind after seeing the seventh image above.
    Though it is a balanced photograph, I feel, the rock formations are highlighted because I like variety of rock formations in the water more attractive. If some one likes sunset behind the mountains, their eyes will be moving from rocks quickly to admire the sunset. My question is…
    Is it solely by virtue of a photograph, can any one tell which is main subject? (without getting into the mind of the photographer. Especially if there is no title write up to the seventh photo)
    Especially when it is a balanced photograph of water plus rocks and sunset and also balanced in terms of space occupied in the frame by both these subjects. Is it always that the background the main subject?

  • http://www.highcountryartworks.com Bernie Nagy

    Being a Colorado landscape photographer myself and teaching composition to my students, the above NZ article on landscape photographs and the images shown are perhaps the finest images I have ever encountered. I can’t wait to show my future students the pictures and let them read the article.
    Many of the pictures remind me of my short trips to the North and South Island of New Zealand. To bad I did not have the time as needed but plan to be there sometime soon again. A delight to get a genius photographer couple share their wealth of imagination and knowledge with the world.
    Bernie Nagy

  • budding-photographer

    I am a big fan of landscape photography and I always wondered how to take such visually interesting pictures. Thanks for posting!

  • Cosmo Cutie

    Brilliant post!! But feeling a little sad as haven’t been to NZ for 17 years. So many memories in your photos but have picked up some great tips too.

Some older comments

  • Bernie Nagy

    September 16, 2013 07:17 am

    Being a Colorado landscape photographer myself and teaching composition to my students, the above NZ article on landscape photographs and the images shown are perhaps the finest images I have ever encountered. I can't wait to show my future students the pictures and let them read the article.
    Many of the pictures remind me of my short trips to the North and South Island of New Zealand. To bad I did not have the time as needed but plan to be there sometime soon again. A delight to get a genius photographer couple share their wealth of imagination and knowledge with the world.
    Bernie Nagy

  • Naresh

    August 29, 2013 09:22 pm

    There is one question in my mind after seeing the seventh image above.
    Though it is a balanced photograph, I feel, the rock formations are highlighted because I like variety of rock formations in the water more attractive. If some one likes sunset behind the mountains, their eyes will be moving from rocks quickly to admire the sunset. My question is...
    Is it solely by virtue of a photograph, can any one tell which is main subject? (without getting into the mind of the photographer. Especially if there is no title write up to the seventh photo)
    Especially when it is a balanced photograph of water plus rocks and sunset and also balanced in terms of space occupied in the frame by both these subjects. Is it always that the background the main subject?

  • Jeffrey

    August 7, 2013 01:31 pm

    @Victoria,

    Put your camera in landscape picture style and that will increase your saturation.

  • Pixelpoppy

    August 7, 2013 11:28 am

    i thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. However, I would have loved something more about some suggested settings especially to gain the control of sharp the depth of field - e.g. in the Mitre peak one with the foreground boulders and rushes.

  • Jo Grant

    August 7, 2013 10:09 am

    Victoria Says:
    July 19th, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Please...How can I also increase my colour saturation on my DSLR (Beginner :)

  • zoli

    August 3, 2013 01:55 am

    Since I consider myself an amateur photographer, some of tips presented in this article will help me to improve photography techniques. Thanks a lot!

  • Elindaire

    July 27, 2013 09:32 pm

    http://500px.com/photo/41513636

    Barely any post processing, the scenery spoke for itself!

  • Benjamin O. Vargas

    July 26, 2013 11:55 am

    I learned so much! It motivates me to shoot more landscapes! Thank you!

  • stacie

    July 23, 2013 11:49 am

    Great tutorial on landscape photography! Makes me wanna get out & shoot :)

  • Gwen Rea

    July 21, 2013 07:01 pm

    Truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for your input and tuition in this great passion. Your photos are exquisite. What camera do you use and what is your most recommended lens? I am a Nikon person, what would your recommendation be for an all round most versatile lens, I want to get the milky effect on dynamic seascapes specially and do a lot of birding. Gwen

  • Riki Metz

    July 21, 2013 05:56 am

    Thank you for the interesting and informative article- and for sharing the stunning photographs.

    Riki

  • Rachel

    July 20, 2013 11:52 am

    What a brilliant article! So much information, thank you! I am looking forward to trying out all of these tips.

  • Shaun Newman

    July 20, 2013 02:05 am

    Great Article.. this has made me miss NZ so much that I feel a trip coming along...

  • marius2die4

    July 19, 2013 06:59 pm

    An excelelnt article. This photos are excellent!.Good pictures fron the gamera and excellent skill in PS!

    Some of my pics:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2013/06/dealuri.html

  • gisela

    July 19, 2013 05:15 pm

    this article is very interesting..... I lOVE

  • Rohinton Mehta

    July 19, 2013 04:16 pm

    An excellent article!

  • Jeffrey

    July 19, 2013 03:33 pm

    I take landscape shots at and around sunrise and sunset. I have seen every spectacularly colored light displayed here in this article live and in person. The trick is to get it on camera and make it look good. Everyone has their opinion of what looks good but these shots are real. It takes persistance and a patient photog to go out every day and try to capture these dynamic scenes. Those colors and light come straight out of the camera without processing when you put in the time and energy out shooting during the "dynamic time"
    about 1 hour before to 1 hour after sunrise and sunset every day!
    Did I miss something or is this article from a year ago?

  • Janine

    July 19, 2013 01:17 pm

    This is just an amazing way of learning real photography. Thanks for the passionate blogging and sharing of your research and studies

  • Victoria

    July 19, 2013 12:13 pm

    To be absolutely honest, I am fed up with seeing these 'spectacular' over colour-saturated landscapes. After a while, they become so common that they are boring (to my eye). In fact, I find any image that is highly processed boring. They are reflect the artist's editing and post processing skills, not their skill as a photographer.

    I still love the subdued colours of 'natural' landscapes. I still like 'natural' greens & blues.

    But having said that, since I started increasing my colour saturation a notch on my DSLR, I have loads more visitors to my PhotoBlog. It seems that the general public likes bright colours.

    I prefer slight 'tweaks' that enhance a good image that was well shot in the first place (if any pp needs to be done)

  • Pippa de Court

    July 19, 2013 09:29 am

    I am so proud to be a Kiwi!!! Fabulous images of our fabulous country.

  • Elindaire

    July 19, 2013 04:37 am

    Great article, one of the best reads on dps. Love your work also.
    New Zealand is an amazingly gorgeous place, I wish to go back there one day!

    If you haven't been to Tasmania, beautiful place also, that I recommend.
    http://Elindaire.zenfolio.com/p449292885/e6a49bffc

  • Darren Addy

    July 19, 2013 03:37 am

    Does this one qualify?

    [eimg url='http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1088/4722534814_6d3cdb582a_z.jpg' title='4722534814_6d3cdb582a_z.jpg']

  • Carl

    July 18, 2013 11:51 am

    This was just reposted on Twitter and I enjoyed it for its composition rules, but there's a lot of missing information. Many of these images have perfectly exposed foregrounds and backgrounds while shooting into the sun. A little mention is made of ND-grad and HDR, but you don't say how you actually shot the images, which is what would really be helpful here.

    Are these strictly ND grad? How many stops are the filters? Are shadows brought up and highlights brought down? Are the foregrounds artificially lit? Are these HDRs? Are they blended exposures with a layer mask in Photoshop? Maybe a separate article on how the images were created, in addition to the composition rules?

  • Jill

    January 4, 2013 05:33 am

    Just came upon this article today - I am so glad it was re-posted! I am a newbie, so I appreciate all of the tips. But the real reason I kept reading all the way to the end, was how you wrote the article, respectful, funny and informative - hope I come across more of your posts on this site - better yet - do you have any books yet?

  • Stefan Maier

    January 1, 2013 01:30 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. Your article has been one of the most inspiring and best-written that I have come across. Although I had been aware of these essential points before reading, your explanation has made it clear to me how they work together.

    Happy New Year! – We're still waiting for it here in Europe.

  • Christopher L. Nelson

    December 27, 2012 02:16 am

    Great article....Concise and well written, you have changed the way I have thought and will think about landscape photography. Thanks!

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri

    November 4, 2012 03:54 pm

    Cool Shots!!!

  • Simon

    August 27, 2012 06:40 am

    Loving these tutorials so much. This was my first attempt

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/25177906@N06/7866896558/

  • David Sargent

    August 20, 2012 10:48 pm

    These are wonderful tips. Totally makes me want to visit New Zealand by the way...
    Anyway, I have to disagree with some of these posted comments. While I do understand the appreciation for keeping a photo looking natural, my attraction is seated in the abstract and the "supernatural" if you will.
    It's like my taste in books; I prefer fiction over non-fiction.
    I will happily process my images with a boosted contrast, sharpen it and saturate it and even tweak the colors if necessary. I believe there are a lot of people out there who would appreciate an image that captures the beauty of nature and the idea of implementing more attractive qualities.

  • Todd Sisson

    June 19, 2012 11:38 am

    Arsh - thank you for your silent fanning :-) We have some big updates coming to the site over the next couple of months - I'll keep everyone updated on facebook.

    Julieco - congratulations on booking your trip to NZ - March is a terrific time to travel down here. Yes, I do private tuition as well as workshops - we have just announced our latest workshop (http://bit.ly/Kgq1V7) and I will be launching several more next month.

    If you are keen to do some private tuition I will happily include some location and travel planning advice into the package (this is something I do via skype or G+ with most of my overseas clients). I would certainly strongly counsel you to head south from Christchurch! Again - just message me on Facebook or through the website - I'd love to help you out!

    Cheers - Todd

  • JulieCo

    June 17, 2012 08:36 pm

    This superb article has fired up my enthusiam for landscapes again after some time off exploring other subjects. How fantastic that it occurred just as I finalised the booking for four weeks in NZ next March. I can hardly wait now, having seen those fabulous views. We will be wending our way in a hire car from Christchurch up to Auckland. I'd welcome any advice on places to go, stay and photograph. Also if you do any short courses (on location) please let me know.

  • Arsh

    June 11, 2012 07:14 pm

    Hi Todd

    Love all of your and Sarah's work. I've been a fan for a while now! All the pictures on your website are absolute delight to look at and they really capture the best of South Island.

    Cheers

    Arsh

  • Todd Sisson

    June 8, 2012 09:30 am

    @james gonneau - It appears that you are making fantastic progress - that's a really nice image.

    @gary mc nutt - good work. Try some variations with that path if you get a chance, using the leading lines by getting a little less low and going as wide as you can with your lens. Experiment wildly - it's cheap but valuable on digital.

  • Todd Sisson

    June 8, 2012 09:25 am

    @Tim Johnson - I recall pointing at the sun as being a big issue in the early days of DSLR photography. I believe it was a problem with CCD sensors (I recall we were never allowed to point a video camera at even studio lights 20 years ago) - maybe CMOS handles it better?. I have never damaged my gear through shooting at the sun - besides, DSLR bodies are virtually worthless after 4 years these days - I just use them hard.

  • Todd Sisson

    June 8, 2012 09:21 am

    @karen martin - not a dumb question at all. It all starts with getting a great composition in the field - then all of the shots are worked on in either Lightroom or Photoshop to enhance what is already there. I don't drop in artificial elements or fake skies for example. It takes a lot of practice and failure to get it right consistently.

  • Todd Sisson

    June 8, 2012 09:20 am

    Hey, thanks for all of those comments folks - the DPS Admin must have released a pile of them last night, as my email box was full this morning. I'm delighted that you are getting value out of this post.

    A few direct responses will follow....

  • Gustavo

    June 7, 2012 12:06 pm

    I took this one a few weeks ago at Los Cabos, MX.
    10sec. exposure
    Canon EF 10-22
    Canon 600D
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/realestatephotomx/7338261416/' title='03sunset@cabo' url='http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8150/7338261416_2f2c52f0a0.jpg']

  • Jaykay144

    June 4, 2012 10:51 pm

    Hey Todd:
    Love the writing as much as your photos. All that equals a very enjoyable post. Thanks I learned from spending time on it.

    In the big picture about types of landscaping photos and their rules | guidelines, I think the key element is the 'freshness' factor the eye & mind of the beholder. I guess that is why the planet seems addicted to the "news". What is new and different.

    Right now your presentation of Dynamic Landscape photos does it for me. Also very image and inspired by your website. Cheers!

  • Brian Sneed

    June 4, 2012 08:37 am

    Thanks for breaking down dynamic landscapes for us. I enjoyed the read.

  • John Dunne

    June 1, 2012 08:39 pm

    In a seemingly ever increasing trend of poorly constructed articles on similar subjects by writers who clearly only have a rudimentary understanding of the topic; and support said article with examples of someone else's work this essay is truly refreshing.

    Bravo Todd, I look forward to more of this type of quality content from you.

  • Tim Johnson

    June 1, 2012 09:17 am

    Fine article. However, I have one question. I continually warn my students to avoid capturing the sun with their sensors due to the risk of burning a spot onto the material. A couple of your images has the sun as part of the composition. How are you avoiding doing damage to your camera?

  • Gary Mc Nutt

    June 1, 2012 08:52 am

    Really great article, some amazing landscape photos and i really enjoyed the part about getting uncomfortably close and low, i had tried that before myself:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/garymcnutt/7270217892/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • Gary Mc Nutt

    June 1, 2012 08:48 am

    Really enjoyed this article, some amazing landscape photos and really enjoyed the part about "getting uncomfortably close and low" so here is low shot i did try before[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/garymcnutt/7270217892/' title='Swan Park-Buncrana' url='http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8013/7270217892_c1bb2e94ff.jpg']

  • Gustavo Gasca

    June 1, 2012 07:42 am

    I took this one last week while on a trip to Los Cabos, MX. It turned out interesting! No HDR in this one.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/realestatephotomx/7277958898/

  • James Gonneau

    June 1, 2012 06:43 am

    re: too much colour.

    I agree, it can happen, especially at sunrise:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgonneau/842292931/

    to my knowledge, I didn't hype this in post, and as above, actually tried to tone it down. This was a few weeks after I bought the dSLR, so its a jpg and I had no idea about what all those numbers meant, so it was really no better than P and S.

    Here's what a few years of experimenting, and getting great advice from this site can do:

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgonneau/6386253703/' title='November Bluffs 17' url='http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6050/6386253703_7dc3b13d8b_z.jpg']

  • DG

    June 1, 2012 06:02 am

    Stunning photos and well written!
    I love landscape photography and would like to experiment with it more.
    Thanks for the great tips and advice, hopefully it will make me a better landscape photographer!

  • DG

    June 1, 2012 05:56 am

    Stunning photos, and well written!
    I love landscape photography and would like to experiment with it more.
    Thanks for the great advice, hopefully it will make me a better landscape photographer!

  • DG

    June 1, 2012 05:53 am

    Stunning photos, and well written!
    I love landscape photography and would like to experiment with it more.
    Your tips have been very helpful, hopefully they'll make me a better landscape photographer!

  • kelly

    June 1, 2012 03:30 am

    i am an amateur photographer and quite honestly this has been the most helpful article i've read regarding great landscape photography. i really appreciate your back to basic approach with regards to composition and lines. we have a weekend trip planned where hopefully i will be able to practice some of these great tips. thanks again!! kelly

  • Karen Martin

    June 1, 2012 02:44 am

    I'm a novice, so this may seem like a dumb question, but I'll ask anyway. Were these effects taken when you actually took the shot or afterwards after you have downloaded the picture? Not sure how you get these effects.

    Beautiful photos, I only hope someday I could even have 1 like that.

  • Eric

    June 1, 2012 02:06 am

    Great article. I've seen a million "how to take awesome landscape" articles but this one captures the main points better than most, and more importantly, illustrates the points better than any article I've seen before.

    I really hope you return for more blog articles!

  • Jim Hunt

    May 31, 2012 12:08 pm

    You have an amazing landscape to work with. Im very very jealous. I'll add to the article by saying that if you shoot landscapes make sure your horizontals are actually horizontal.

  • Corporate Photographer

    May 31, 2012 05:05 am

    Stunning landscape images. Really interesting to hear some of the subtle techniques. I like the use of vignetting to enhance the main feature in the landscape

  • EnergizedAV

    May 31, 2012 12:02 am

    Beautiful work and inspiring! I avoid HDR, but building still and motion together sounds exciting. I can't wait to get out and try this! Thanks, Todd

  • EmSee

    May 30, 2012 08:45 pm

    Todd, superb article posted on DPS which will be appreciated by many photographers interested in landscape work. Not only will your comments and tips be useful and result in much better/more interesting images but more than that, will encourage people to make just that bit more effort to find and see the photograph and not just the scene - it is this kind of effort to 'get that shot' which makes photography so enjoyable.

    Your qualification to post the article is more than born out by the pictures you included - superb. It is a really good feeling for some reason to read an article written, and see their work, by someone who shares exactly the same philosophy, taste and techniques - or at least I tries to.

    Rgds

    EmSee

  • John

    May 30, 2012 08:35 pm

    @Todd - Yeah I mean regardless of whether it's been said before or not it's always nice to see them crop up as long as they are well presented with more unique photos to demonstrate the principles.

    Thanks for taking time to visit my site! I do love the D7000 it does all that I need and more which gives me plenty of room to grow as a photographer. Sure I drooled over those full frame cameras that just hit the market, but in reality do I really need them? Nope not in the slightest.

  • Xipha

    May 30, 2012 02:08 pm

    Great information, beautiful pictures, and very well written and full of personality :) Very fun to read, I hope you write some more articles.

  • Kartik

    May 30, 2012 11:56 am

    Sometimes, mother nature has some wonderful creations which become leading lines for very interesting compositions:

    Sun rise at Antelope Canyon in Arizona:

    Looking up via Antelope Canyon in Arizona:

  • Todd Sisson

    May 30, 2012 11:44 am

    Crikey - I'm not used to having comments on my blog posts, thanks everyone!

    Sorry, I can't reply to everyone, but a couple of responses:

    Peter Hansen re: HDR - yes, i was a bit generalist with my comment, I am not anti-HDR at all. I know that a couple of notable HDR practitioners like to keep blacks in their images (and get a fair amount of grief about it from others for some reason). Having said that, a lot of HDR that I see avoids blacks and darks like, well... the Black Plague.

    Tammy - Glacier National Park is stunning - try some of this stuff out there.

    Shariq - yes, it does look like a dessert - so much so that I licked that boulder after shooting it. It was very disappointing - salty and gritty. Not recommended.

  • Grant S

    May 30, 2012 11:30 am

    PLEASE do more posts like this - I'd love to see more of Todd's writing on this topic. Landscape photography is something I'd love to learn more about.

  • Derek Scott

    May 30, 2012 11:00 am

    Very nice post. A lot of good information here. And I really like your work, keep it coming.

  • Tammy

    May 30, 2012 10:55 am

    Being a novice photographer, this was a nice article to come across as I am going to Montana and Glacier National Park in a couple of weeks. I haven't done a lot of landscapes yet especially on that scale so these were helpful hints for me. Loved seeing the beautful images!

  • Mei Teng

    May 30, 2012 10:45 am

    Please write on static landscapes in your next blog post on DPS. Looking forward to hearing from you :)

  • Mei Teng

    May 30, 2012 10:39 am

    Lovely images. NZ has some amazingly beautiful landscapes.

  • Peter Hansen

    May 30, 2012 09:39 am

    "I often like to keep dark forms in my images (anathema to the HDR readers amongst you)"

    Why does this necessarily need to be an anathema? I think HDR's should have a bit of black in them just as any other photo should. Oversaturated HDR photo's just look completely unrealistic, partially because there's no reference point for the eye. I think that the bit of black sort of ties the picture together and gives the viewer a sort of reference as to what the natural light (or lack thereof) was like. Just a thought.

  • Morkel Erasmus

    May 30, 2012 09:27 am

    Fantastic blog post, Todd! Thanks for allowing him, Darren.
    You brought out some great points and communicated them in a succinct and effective manner.
    And you are so right...having all of these come together is depressingly rare.
    Good light to you!

  • Shariq

    May 30, 2012 09:19 am

    Thanks for this piece, Todd. Some interesting concepts in there, although leading lines is something I do naturally.

    Some stunning images too. All are excellent but I am obsessively in love with the last one - the lone Moreaki boulder. It looks something like a delicious dessert trying to run away from you in a fantasy sequence. Or something like that.

    You live in a beautiful country with some very inspiring landscapes. Heading over to your website now to view more of your work. All the best.

  • John Pfeiffer

    May 30, 2012 09:10 am

    HDR is usually synonymous with 'over processed.' With only some exceptions, the preference for these garish relults might appeal best to the buyers at Wal-Mart. Natural looking landscape photography seems an art whose day has passed, and this article wins with a professional's confirmation!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    May 30, 2012 08:58 am

    Hi

    ...here is a Y factor from down under, no HDR super saturated stuff here

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/into-the-mist/

  • Scottc

    May 30, 2012 07:21 am

    A good article, one of many on landscapes and it's a subject that needs constant reminders.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5794645246/

  • Todd Sisson

    May 30, 2012 06:18 am

    Thanks for taking the time to comment folks!

    @John - Thanks for your kind words, glad you got some value out of this. You are correct, these things have all been written before, I can only re-present them from my experience. Of course, that is the thing with proven principles - they don't change and there are only so many of them :-) Some lovely work on your site too - loved that Trap Falls and the freaky tarantula shots. Do you like the D7000? I think it is a fantastic camera.

    @fuzzypiggy & @steve - yes, there is a large amount of work out there these days employing these principles. My personal preference these days is towards shooting 'quieter' more traditional landscapes. However, judging from my sales and online response rates, there is a much smaller market for such shots (maybe I am bad at that kind of shooting :) - 'dynamic' landscapes are very popular.

    With regards to colour. Warm colours are highly attractive on a subliminal level - caveman stuff I believe. Back in the film days we would always use an 81A filter to warm up shadows on daylight film. This is one of the underlying factors behind the popularity of HDR work - HDR shots generally tend to accentuate and saturate the warm end of the spectrum.

    Cheers - Todd

  • Steve

    May 30, 2012 03:10 am

    I agree with the previous comment. I would prefer to keep a photo as natural as possible but high saturation, in particular, reds seems to be more popular and certainly gets a higher hit rate. Obviously this is a psychological thing which travel magazines tend to take advantage of as their pics are usually high saturation.

    I use an 'hdr layer' to bring out more tones and details but keep the photo realistic and this has proved popular.
    I also find people in landscapes are popular too:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Scenes-of-Olhao-Portugal/G0000poIsSG3qQDA/I0000EtoXlG5Cc3s

  • Fuzzypiggy

    May 30, 2012 02:11 am

    The problem comes when everyone over does it and we end up with page after page of incredibly stunning images but sadly they all start to look the same after the first two or three pages. Lots of long exposure seascapes with rocks and red skies. If that's what's selling, then great.

    The one key element that always seems to grab people's attention is making sure there's loads of red, orange and yellow. I can only assume that when people are browsing they see small thumbnails and we're hard-wired to respond to red/orange colours, they immediately become drawn towards them.

    I did a little experiment on another sharing site. I am normally very resevered about the amount of saturation, I much prefer to use more pastel colours on my landscapes ( most likely because I live 24/7/365 with the dreary UK weather! ) but I uploaded some shots where I had deliberately increased the reds and oranges, in some cases adding fake red skies. The number of views immediately started going up! Not very scientific I grant you but blasting the the red and orange tones seems to be a vote winner.

  • Mridula

    May 30, 2012 02:04 am

    These are lovely images and I wish to share some that I took on a recent trek to Everest Base Camp!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/05/everest-base-camp-trek-day-1-kalthmandu-lukla-flight-and-lukla-phakding-walk.html

  • John

    May 30, 2012 01:12 am

    I'd have to say that on the whole this topic of creating dynamic and compelling landscapes is something that has been overly talked about you didn't do a terrible job explaining it again. And to be honest, it's something that will be explained again and again, and rightly so - it's important!

    Whether we're full time pros or newly introduced to photographing landscapes it's always important to remember the basics and the web is full of guides and techniques to get these things done, but of course, each person writes them differently and each set of complimentary photographs gives new inspiration to would be photographers.

    So while, overall, I've seen the basics of this article before, I must say that I love the photographs you choose to showcase in the post - The first two are stunning so thanks for sharing those!

    Great job, and if you've got some time, check out my site http://www.phogropathy.com I do some landscapes from time to time as well - of course nothing compared to what you've got here!

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