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Landscape photography

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO • F7.1 • 1/1000 • ISO 200

I began my photography career as a classic landscape photographer. Gradually, however, I became more and more interested in travel photography and storytelling, particularly once I was introduced to the world of the multivision. This is because, for me, multivision in particular demands an authentic narrative that allows the artist to inspire and share personal glimpses behind the scenes.

But what I like most is returning to my roots and my true passion: portraying unique and less-frequented landscapes. Using a lightly artistic style, I want to show these regions as I have experienced them, expressing my fascination with the beauty of our planet.

I’m often asked what the secrets behind such exceptional landscape shots are. It would take a whole book to answer this question in full, so I’d like to focus here on just four essential ingredients.

A colleague once told me the following formula: a photo consists of the components “subject”, “mood”, and “technique”. For each component you get a maximum of 10 points, and you need at least 20 points to make a good photo.

I would also award another 10 points for “emotion” as I think this also plays an important role. As a rule, I try to start with 10 points for the subject.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO • F9.0 • 1/400 • ISO 200

Subject / spectacular landscape

I feel especially at ease in lonely, remote landscapes—preferably in volcanic areas that look as if they could be from another world. It is in these places that I feel closest to my dream of traveling to the moon, and where I can take my best photographs. That’s why I spend a lot of time researching and looking for precisely this kind of location. Traveling to these regions requires much more effort and can even become something of an expedition; but it’s worth it if I can achieve 10 points for the subject.

One such example is the rarely visited southern part of the Atacama Desert in Chile. The numerous lagoons there are particularly spectacular, with the icing on the cake being the snow-capped peaks in spring—so it’s maximum points for the Tres Cruces volcano reflected in the Laguna Santa Rosa.

For me, it’s important to find landscapes and areas that suit you and where you feel at ease so you can trans-fer this feeling to your photos.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO • F2.8 • 1/125 • ISO 1250

Mood / light
In photography, light determines the mood. Having the sun behind you ensures perfectly lit landscapes, while sidelight is ideal for dramatic shadows, and backlight is well suited to spectacular sunrises and sunsets, amongst other things. 

You can see this effect here in my example, with the silhouette of the highest volcano in North America—the Orizaba in Orizaba, Mexico—standing out against the golden glow of the first morning light; definitely worthy of 10 points.

Just as important is the mood that weather conditions lend to the subject, like radiant sunshine, decorative clouds, mystical fog and dramatic rain. It is therefore really important to be in the right place at the right time. That way you have enough time to look for the ideal composition and, what’s more, to wait for the de-sired mood.

Technique(s)

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO • F14.0 • 1/10 • ISO 200

 

Alignment / low angle

The next time you find yourself looking through a few pictures, ask yourself these questions: Where do you look first? And where do you look last? Are you drawn into the photo, and why? How does your gaze move to the main subject? Does your gaze rest on a subject, or does it move restlessly back and forth without finding a fixed point?

In this impressive photo of the Svartifoss waterfall in Iceland, for example, adopting a low angle from just above the surface of the water and aligning with the flow draws the eye of the observer directly into the im-age, while simultaneously allowing them to feel the power and force of this natural spectacle.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO • F7.1 • 1/150 • ISO 200

Foreground / wide angle
“Foreground makes a picture healthy,” according to ancient yet still pertinent photographic wisdom. A strik-ing foreground situated close to the lens lends depth and excitement to a landscape photo. Combined with the low angle mentioned above, the viewer’s gaze is skillfully guided into the image via the object in the foreground.

This effect can be seen in this example from the Maranjab Desert in Iran, where, armed with my M.Zuiko 7–14mm F2.8 PRO lens, I went right up to the honeycombs of salt so that I could direct the gaze over the hon-eycomb and into the vastness of the desert right up to the rising sun.

Here, I especially appreciated the vari-angle flip display on my OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which saved me from having to lie in the wet, abrasive salt.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO • F6.3 • 1/5000 • ISO 200

Size reference point:

In large, broad landscapes I like to work with a size reference point. In this example, the people in the fore-ground throw the enormous dimensions of the fantastic Caucasus Mountains into sharper relief. Having a reference size recognizable to the human eye allows the viewer to perceive the actual magnitudes involved. This doesn’t have to be a person—it could also be a tent, an animal or a backpack.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO • F2.8 • 1/4000 • ISO 200

Aperture, soft focus:

In a landscape photo, a consistent sharpness of focus tends to produce a two-dimensional effect. For this reason, I sometimes like to work with an open aperture, like in the photo of the fantastic Landmannalaugar landscape in Iceland. The soft focus in the foreground creates a natural frame and lends the image a three-dimensional depth.

Emotion

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO • F6.3 • 1/1600 • ISO 200

Exposure:

Even Ansel Adams said that he wanted his images to express what he felt and not what he saw. In order to express these emotions, I sometimes consciously overexpose or underexpose a shot. In my example from Papua New Guinea, I deliberately underexposed the dramatic, blazing sunset by a few apertures to intensify the golden light, to reduce the palms to silhouettes and also to show the sun as a white, glowing, ball of en-ergy.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 • F4.0 • 1/40 • ISO 800

Image processing:
For me, however, when it comes to creating the emotions I want to express, image processing is the key task. I give each tour its own appropriate imagery For example, I processed my photos from Japan to be very colorful to reflect its exuberance; the images from the more hostile Danakil Desert in Ethiopia on the other hand were significantly desaturated.
A good example of the potential options when it comes to “emotional image editing” are the two different versions of the lava lake at Erta Ale. In “my” first version, I created a much softer and friendlier impression using warmer light and a high dynamic. The second version looks much more dramatic due to higher con-trasts and colder colors.

Final thoughts
The most important tip I can give is this: practice, practice, practice. Look at as many images by other pho-tographers as you can. What do you like, what do you dislike, and why? Look for the rules I mentioned and the patterns in the images.
But most importantly, go out and take photos! Start by photographing subjects that you like, and then find your own interpretation. I learn the most, for example, when I take a few pictures here and there without thinking about the composition, but just using my gut instinct. Then afterwards, when I’m at home in front of the computer, inspecting and analyzing the photos, I very quickly recognize what works and can then suc-cessfully apply this next time around in a targeted manner.
What’s most important though, is the fun and enjoyment you have taking photos. This enthusiasm will trans-fer to your pictures, and—taking into account the tips mentioned—this will almost automatically produce good photos. On that note, I wish you lots of enjoyment and good light



Products shown:

E-M1 Mark II

M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO

M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO

M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6

M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO

M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    Great photos. Unfortunately most mortals don't have the money to travel to the remote places of the world and the luxury of waiting for the perfect weather and finding the perfect viewpoint. Instead we end up on tours to a place swarming with tourists and the words of the guide ringing in our ears "Back at the bus in 15 minutes!"

  • Thx  and you are definitely right, I also always tell at my workshops. But with knowing your camera and some photography basics and tools you will be able to shoot better pics within those 15 minutes!

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