How to Take Beautiful Landscape Photographs

August 18, 2015
How to Take Beautiful Landscape Photographs

I have always been passionate about wildlife and wild landscapes, and so recently I decided to enrol in a one-day photography course.

Normally I will default to the Hipstamatic app on my smart phone for a quick shot, but I wanted to better understand what makes for a good photo, and what might be some of the basic rules I could keep in mind when looking at life through the lens.

So off I went to Chris Bray Photography, and spent the first half of the day on a photographic crash course, followed by a chance to apply what I’d learnt. I’d love to say I was instantly transformed into an exceptional photographer but alas, people spend their lives perfecting this craft…I’m a good example that you can’t cram a lifetime of learning into eight hours, but you can at least get a grip of the basics to send you off in the right direction!

So I touched base with Jonathan, who took my course that day, to see if he could share some insights with our Outdoria friends.

How did you get involved in photography and why?

I have always had a love for the natural world and over time began trying to capture it through a lens. I remember begging my parents to get me a camera when I was young. They finally caved and I began snapping away (far too liberally) on a little point-and-click film camera. None of those photos were any good but it certainly ignited the passion of trying to capture what I saw around me.

I enjoyed wildlife and nature and after school saved up for my first real camera – now a DSLR in the digital age.

During my university days studying biology I began exploring photography more and more, hoping to somehow dovetail these two keen interests of mine and to share the beauty of the natural world with others through images. Around that time I met Chris Bray, a recognised Australian Geographic Photographer, and ended up doing some work with him in his growing company, Chris Bray Photography. I’ve worked with Chris and his wife Jess for over five years now and love helping others capture unique images through our 1-Day Courses and our Photo Safaris.

lion on safari in Kenya

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What makes Chris Bray Photography unique?

We believe in simplifying photography so that we can empower everyone to enjoy its beauty. Photography is something we’re obviously passionate about and we get a real buzz from sharing this passion with other people, helping them to explore photography for themselves and get a similar love from this medium. We therefore spend a lot of time making photography accessible; whether through our free tutorials online, our 1-Day Photography Courses around Australia, or our private, small-group photo safaris to the world's most wonderful places. We want to help people capture the beauty of the world around them.

We’re actually Australia's largest photo safari operator, taking guests with us to incredible places while offering the highest quality, small-group, unique operations, focused on providing the access and luxuries the others don't - such as exclusive charter of ships, planes and helicopters. We can therefore give guests what we know they want and experiences they’d otherwise never get in larger tours.

We're passionate about conservation, too. Many of the incredible species we delight in sharing with you are endangered and many of the pristine environments under threat. We strongly believe in giving back - not only to the local people, but also directly to conservation projects. We want to ensure that the next generation gets the same opportunities to photograph our beautiful world.

Has technology meant we're now taking different photos than before, or are we taking the same sort of photos we've always taken, but just relying on technology to make them better/ more impactful?

The basic elements that make a great photograph haven’t really changed in the digital age, but photography is certainly now much more accessible. That’s where I see the major change occur. Photos are now effectively free, being stored on memory cards and computers we can take thousands of images without having to worry about getting photos developed or spending hours inside dark rooms. We can also share images more easily via social media and email, which means we are living in an image-saturated environment. I think these factors have probably shaped photography and creativity, with people now searching for fresh images and being able to experiment a lot more. The essence of photography remains the same; we are still capturing light after all, but the digital age has seen the development of new tools which can help us capture unique images which were nearly impossible in the days of film.

water flowing over rocks tasmania

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Why is photography important?

Good question!

Photography has an important role to play in many areas. From a conservation perspective it has proved invaluable in documenting how things are, so we can notice changes occurring over time. It’s also helped raise awareness of pristine areas which might be under threat and has in the past helped ensure their protection. Places like the Franklin River come to mind here - famous photographs documented the beauty of the area and raised awareness in society of the need to protect it.

I also see photography playing a big role in teaching us to appreciate what’s happening in the here and now around us. In the hustle of life we often fail to live in the moment and appreciate the small glimpses of beauty that happen everywhere we look. Something simple like the dew droplet on a leaf catching the morning light can make an amazing photo if we take the time to notice and capture it. I love the way that photography helps us recognise these glimpses and make the time to appreciate them.

What are some of the key features a good photo will usually have?

Photographers often talk about an image having the ‘wow’ factor. Normally these ‘wow’ images have simply pulled various elements together really well such as good composition and good use of lighting – these two elements are pretty key. Often a ‘wow’ photo will have the added element of conveying something to the viewer. Sometimes this might be a sense of the photo telling a ‘story’ but often it’s simply helping the viewer feel part of the scene so that they can relate to the image. If a viewer feels like they are present witnessing the scene for themselves they tend to engage with the image.

If you’re taking portraits of people or wildlife, start by trying to take the photo from the eye level of the subject. If it’s a landscape, try and include some of the foreground like the beach or some rocks so that the viewer can understand the scene.

tasmanian beaches

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What are the three most common mistakes people make when taking photos of landscape/ wildlife?

Wildlife and landscapes are two quite different photographic subjects, which bring their own common errors.

With wildlife a common challenge is getting the photo sharp and making sure the focus is on the eye. Because animals move a lot the photographer needs a fast shutter speed to ensure movement doesn’t come out blurry. It’s always important to continually refocus on the eye of the animal to ensure it’s sharp.

For landscape photos patience is more important than many people realise. Trying to capture great images when lighting is harsh (like in the middle of the day or in harsh sunlight) is nearly impossible so it’s important to get set up early and then wait for the lighting to improve. In terms of basics, I see a lot of photos with crooked horizons so try and make sure these are nice and straight. Commonly I see landscape photos where the whole scene is included in the photo and therefore the shot has a lot of wasted space where not much is happening. Sometimes it’s worth trying to notice something interesting in the scene and then trying to capture that, rather than fitting everything in the photo.

If I could concentrate on three key areas before taking my photo, what would they be?

Firstly think about your composition. Try and pay attention to ‘rules’ such as the ‘rule of thirds’ by pulling your subject or the horizon away from the centre. Think about what’s going on in the background behind your subject and try and include something in the foreground as well.

Secondly aim for correct exposure so that your photo doesn’t come out too bright or too dark. Your camera normally does a good job at calculating this but be aware of areas in your scene that are very dark or very bright, such as dark shadows and bright sky. Try and avoid these extremes in your image.

Finally, make sure your focus is right. Your camera does a good job at autofocusing so make sure you autofocus on the key subject in the scene to ensure it’s sharp. This might be the animal in wildlife photography or something like a rock in the landscape.

Do you have a favourite Australian destination to photograph and if so, why?

Personally I love Tasmania. It’s really diverse and relatively untouched, a great combination for photography. It’s got amazing locations for seascapes (such as Bay of Fires) and obviously incredible landscapes and waterfalls. It’s one of our favourite domestic Photo Safari destinations so we actually run two trips here, our ‘East Coast’ Safari and now our new ‘Tasmanian Wilderness’ Safari which includes a floatplane flight over the Gordon River and a door-off helicopter flight to photograph Cradle Mountain from the air!

river flow inlet

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Do you have a favourite overseas destination to photograph and if so, why?

I’ve been lucky enough to go to Kenya a number of times to help run our Photo Safaris. I remember dreaming of taking photos in Kenya as a child and every time I’ve visited I’ve been blown away by the local hospitality and obviously the wildlife encounters. I’ve regularly had to pinch myself when in Kenya that I’m actually getting a chance to see these amazing sights. It’s pretty much the Holy Grail in terms of wildlife photography and is on everyone’s bucket list. We love sharing these experiences with our Safari guests and are thrilled we can offer several Photo Safaris to Kenya every year.

elephants on safari in kenya

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