May 19, 2016

Adding Epic Scale To Your Landscape Photography

Words + Photos : Jonathan Sweet

What I love about shooting with my iPhone is its portability. However, a fixed focus lens can make taking epic landscape photos more challenging. Especially when trying to make them look as impressive through the phone as they do in person.

So how do we overcome challenges in image quality, depth of field, or scale? How do we make the mountain look as impressive through our phone as it does in person?

In this post, I’ll break down three aspects of photography that will help you demonstrate scale in your own photos.

Epic Scale Landscape 1

#1 – Framing the Subject

What I find inspiring about landscape photography is the endless opportunities to frame unique shots. The combination of the natural elements like mountains, canyons, and water help to compose the image. While changing the angle of your camera creates entirely different photos, from nearly the same location.

Framing uses your natural surroundings to lead your eye to what you want to highlight in the image. The reason this can be so powerful in landscape photography is because landscapes can overwhelm the eye. By focusing the viewer to something within the landscape whether it be a person, a peak, or even a reflection, you are able to showcase the landscape’s scale in a more meaningful way.

Epic Scale Landscape 2

Center framing is a standard place to start wherein the mountain peak or the subject is in the center of the image.

If you look at the shots of Castle Mountain, particularly of the ones where the skateboarder is riding down the road with the mountain in the distance, the trees act as a natural frame so that your eye immediately focuses on what’s in the center of the photo – the skateboarder and the mountain peak. That being said, I’ve still managed to play with my composition by putting the skateboarder in the center of the image but also in line with the mountain peak so that your eye gets drawn to both.

With the skateboarder and mountain directly in line, the comparison between the two makes the mountain even larger despite how far away it is from the photographer (as well as the skateboarder).

Epic Scale Landscape 3

Off-center framing is perhaps a less intuitive way to frame a shot, but can lead to more interesting compositions.

In this photo taken at Abraham Lake, the rock face is framing the portrait so that your eye goes to the top half of the image where the subject is looking out over the lake. By framing the image this way, your eye is led in a line from the textures in the rock to the person in the photo. It creates a diagonal line of interest in an otherwise vertical photograph. By playing with both where the subject is in the photo and what natural elements you use to frame your subject, in this case the rock and the water, I was able to make the photo more interesting.

Epic Scale Landscape 4

#2 – Playing With Light

 

Light is incredibly powerful in all photography and this extends to landscape photography, as well. The way it creates natural highlights and shadows within the scene can add both depth and intrigue. But what I love most about natural light is that it has so much to teach someone when it comes to photography. Spending time outside and observing how the sun creates highlights and casts shadows, you can better learn how light affects images.

Epic Scale Landscape 5

Overcast Days and Indirect Sunlight

My favorite type of light to work with is soft, even light. This is usually found during cloudy days or during golden hour (about an hour before sunrise or before sunset).

On my way across the Icefield Parkway between Banff and Jasper, I looked over to my left and saw this lake with a massive peak hovering over it, which created a beautiful reflection. The weather was perfect – the the clouds provided a soft light on the whole scene and there was practically no wind, which meant the timing couldn’t have been better. The mountain was dusted with snow but the lake had completely thawed so you could see the mountain’s reflection in it. Without hesitation I hit the brakes and pulled over. We lost our minds at how spectacular the view was — the most gorgeous color you could think of for a lake in the mountains — before all hopping out to start shooting.

When it’s overcast it’s easier to expose for the whole scene, which results in the landscape’s size coming across more impressively.

Epic Scale Landscape 6

Direct Sunlight

Direct sunlight provides a hard light, which results in greater contrast and much larger shadows. This can work for dramatic portraits or architecture, but it won’t work for reflections and details because when the light is harsh, you lose a lot of those details.

Uneven lighting makes it hard to expose for the whole image, which can make depth hard to demonstrate. That being said, shadows and sunbeams can add a layer of depth to an image so practice shooting in every kind of light!

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