Tips for better landscape photos with your mobile phonePosted: November 15, 2011
This guest post was written by Daniel Berman aka @reservoir_dan on Instagram. Dan is a fine art photographer, filmmaker & digital artist with a specialty in landscapes, abstractions & people. He is the founder of the Mobile Photo Awards. With a background as a producer of music & nature programs for television, Daniel brings a lifelong passion for the imagery of the natural world to his photographic art. He lives in the scenic hills surrounding Milton, Ontario.
In many ways, landscapes are the hardest kind of photography to produce with a mobile phone. Most landscape shots taken with a DSLR have the advantage of filters, depth-of-field control and ultra-long exposure times. Mobiles have none of these advantages. Yet stunning images of the natural world are produced everyday by mobile photographers. Here is the first of a two part series of tips on how to improve your mobile landscape shots.
1. When to Shoot: Magic Hour
In landscape photography when you decide to shoot is as important as what you decide to shoot. Early in the morning and just prior to the evening sun going down are the landscape photographer’s favorite times of day. The light is softer and casts a glow upon the land that is fleeting, ethereal and, well, magic. Hence the term magic hour!
It’s also important to recognize that the type of light is as important as where the light is positioned. When lighting people, for example, we never would place a light directly over the head, we typically try and start by placing the light at a flattering 45 degree angle and then get creative from there. It’s the same thing for landscapes. When the sun is lower in the sky it sends light across the land instead of shining a harsh light directly upon it.
When you’re out in magic hour take a look around and notice how the light works, how it reflects upon the water or dapples behind the trees when it’s lower in the sky. Look to shoot directly into the sun sometimes but also use the sun as a sidelight – let the light come from your left or right and spray across a field. You’ll notice that the grass has more depth and character when the sun isn’t hitting it directly from behind. Beyond magic hour, look to shoot during a foggy morning or try and catch that mist in early spring after an afternoon rain just before the sun pops back out.
2. What to shoot: Vantage points.
With a DSLR, one has the advantage of using long shutter speeds and filters to make the clouds wispy or water have a silky sheen. Those techniques just aren’t possible with mobile phones. There is no control over shutter speed, iso, or aperture. You need to find things of interest because it’s harder to create things of interest with technique. Be willing to pull the car over and get that sunset on the side of the road! Trample through that farmer’s field to snap a shot of the statuesque tree after a summer day’s rain. Look for points of interest in the landscape like animals, a solitary tree in a field, or rain water in a puddle reflecting the sunset. Be creative and keep your eyes open!
3. How to shoot: Composition
Often, people forget to incorporate the whole scene into a shot. One little point of interest becomes even more so when juxtaposed against it’s natural background. So, a tiny duck in a pond can offer a sense of scale when seen next to a gazebo against a backdrop of trees. We sense the whole world of the duck, where he’s going and where he’s been. It tells more of a story if we can see a micro-environment instead of just the water and a duck.
Pay attention to the rule of thirds and use it with your horizon. Use the grid lines in your camera app to place your horizon on the top or bottom third and not in the middle. This directs the viewer’s eye to what is important in the composition. Is the main subject on the land? Then put the horizon closer to the top of the frame. Is the sky spectacular that day? Then give it more space in your shot.
You can break this rule when doing reflection shots. In that case, try placing the intersection of the land and the water closer to the middle to give the image a mirror-like sensibility.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment when Dan talks about color, black and white, and recommends some apps to use to improve your mobile landscape photography!
Oh and make sure to enter the Landscape category in the Mobile Photo Awards!
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