So you've just pitched up; you're sitting outside the caravan and something catches your eye. How many times have you happened upon a stunning scene on-site, or witnessed amazing light, grabbed a camera to capture it, only to be disappointed by the image that pops-up seconds later on the preview screen? Don’t worry – you’re not alone.
Read through this photography masterclass and be sure to upload your caravanning pictures to the Out & About Live Gallery or email them to us for the chance to see them in Caravan magazine.
"It looked much better than that in reality" is a classic photographer’s excuse when boring family and friends with endless holiday photos. Fortunately, you can use this handy guide thanks to Caravan magazine
to greatly improve your campsite creativity.
The biggest failing of most landscape photographs is that they look flat. You could argue that the reason is because photography is a two-dimensional medium. However, it is possible to create an impression of the missing third dimension – depth – by including foreground interest in your photographs.
Ripples or rocks on a beach, furrows in a ploughed field, a river or a stream, a patch of wild flowers, boats moored on the edge of a lake, a fence or a wall – all kinds of natural or man-made features can be used as foreground interest, although those that create lines are particularly effective, because they help to lead the viewer’s eye into and through the composition.
To make the most of foreground interest use a wide-angle lens, move in close so the feature is only 1m to 2m away from the camera and shoot from a low position, maybe kneeling down. Turning your camera on its side and shooting upright images will also help to emphasise the foreground.
Make the most of light
If one factor can make or break a great landscape it’s the quality of light. Most experienced landscape photographers prefer to shoot at either end of the day because that’s when the light is at its very best. Be on location 40 minutes before sunrise to capture the pre-dawn glow – this applies particularly to scenes containing water, as the colours in the sky will be reflected.
Once the sun comes up, the light is relatively soft and has a rich warmth for 30-40 minutes, while shadows are long and thin, revealing texture and adding depth. At the end of the day, the last hour before sunset is often referred to as The Golden Hour because the light is fantastic and bathes the landscape in a sumptuous glow.
Stick around for sunset, which will be better if there’s broken cloud above the horizon. The light is less attractive in the middle of the day, but you can still take successful shots. In winter, snow scenes look fantastic when the sun shines, as do fields of poppies, sunflowers and oil seed rape, shimmering beneath the blue sky.
Keep everything sharp
Including foreground interest is one thing, but how do you ensure everything in the scene from front-to-back records in sharp focus? Depth-of-field is the zone of sharp focus in a photograph and it’s controlled by two main factors – the focal length of the lens and the aperture that lens is set to.
Wide-angle lenses give more depth-of-field than telephotos and small apertures such as f/11 and f/16 give greater depth-of-field than wider aperture such as f/4 or f/2.8. A third factor that’s often overlooked is the distance the lens is focused on. Many photographers assume that if they stop the lens right down to f/16 or f/22 and focus on infinity, the whole scene will be recorded in sharp focus. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees, especially if the foreground interest is close to the camera.
Creating a balanced composition that’s easy on the eye is important and the easiest way to achieve that is by using The Rule of Thirds. All you do is divide the camera’s viewfinder into a grid of nine rectangles of equal size using two imaginary vertical and horizontal lines – like a noughts and crosses grid. If there’s a focal point in the scene – a main feature – position it on one of the four intersection points created by your imaginary grid. Many landscape photographers consider the top right intersection point is the best one to use.
If you’re emphasising the foreground with a wide-angle lens, position the horizon on the top horizontal line in the grid so the composition comprises 1/3 sky and 2/3 foreground. This is a good ratio to work to, though often you may just want to include a narrow band of sky at the top of the frame. If you’re emphasising a dramatic sky, position the horizon on the lower horizontal line so the composition is divided 2/3 sky and 1/3 landscape.
On the whole, it’s best to keep the horizon and key elements away from the centre of the composition and the rule-of-thirds helps you to do that. Break this rule at will!
Use a tripod
They may be a hassle to carry around, but there isn’t a serious landscape photographer anywhere who doesn’t use a tripod – for several good reasons.
First, if your camera is on a tripod, you don’t have to worry about slow shutter speeds causing camera shake, so you can use small apertures to maximise depth-of-field and a low ISO for optimum image quality even in low light. Long exposures can also be used creatively, to record motion is moving water, say.
Second, it’s easier to fine-tune the composition when you camera is on a tripod and leave the camera in position so you’re ready to shoot when the light improves. The same applies when it comes to aligning filters.
Third, using a tripod slows you down. It’s easy to adopt a snap-happy approach if you’re handholding the camera, but if you have to dig out a tripod and set it up, you’ll only go to that effort if the scene is worth it.