The fifteen second landscape appraisal

• Looking into Great Langdale •

• Looking into Great Langdale •
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• Looking into Great Langdale • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

The classic landscape shot deserves one last look.

There’s nothing more frustrating than a poor landscape shot. You have the right light and place, the right angle too. Then the final shot looks wrong. Here is how to avoid the last moment mistakes.

Right up to the last moment…

You are on location and getting ready to take your shot. What do you do first? ‘Work the scene’, that’s what. Two things to remember about every landscape shot…
• The first location you put your camera down will be wrong
• The first time you compose the scene it will be wrong.
OK, these may not always be true, but they usually are true. If the first place you put your camera is where you take the shot you have missed the million other angles and places. You could have done a better job. So read the article on ‘Working the scene’ and then read the rest of this article.

Working the scene may involve a lot of different shots. In Landscape loves I pointed out that you can spend a great deal of time getting the final shot. When doing landscapes I often spend over an hour on working toward a final capture. Sometimes I may take 50 shots before I am ready for the ‘one’. Take your time. Think it through.
More after this…

You are ready…

Now to take the shot, the ‘one’. It’s time for the “Fifteen second appraisal”. You are going to do three things in this final check. Each will take five seconds.

  • The frame: You need to check all is well with your framing. Check you have included all the elements you want in the shot. Check the frame captures your scene as you intended it. Look for odd elements creeping into the scene that you have not spotted on the edges. Check that you have excluded all the undesirable elements on the edges of the picture too.
  • The compositional elements: Every picture is improved if you use compositional elements to help the eye see the scene. Make sure that you have a way get the viewer into the scene, leading lines, strong features, dramatic light and so on. Whatever you have identified will capture the viewers eye, make sure you know they are there. Dissect the scene, know why the composition pulls the eye into the scene and why the scene has depth and why the eye is held in the scene.
  • The continuity check: With this final check you are looking for a state of harmony and the absence of the three D’s…
    1. Discordance: Do all the elements come together? Is it complicated, can it be simplified? Do the colours clash? Is there anything in there that does not ring true with the rest of the scene? Is the scene harmonious or broken? Do the compositional elements pull the eye or split the view. Anything out of place?
    2. Disruption: Is there something in the scene that will change or disrupt the shot? Look for a moving car, a rolling fog bank, the wrong shaped wave, walkers stepping into the frame. You are checking for all things that might disrupt the shot.
    3. Distraction: Are there things in the scene that will spoil the view and draw the viewers eye away from the central message of the shot? Think of blown highlights, over-bright colours out of place, odd-items (bins? rubbish? pick-nick furniture? power lines?).

The fifteen second appraisal does not seem a long time. It is just right after practice. So take this check-list with you and practice it. After a while you should be able to do it in fifteen seconds without a check-list. Make it a habit and your landscapes will improve.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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