An Insider's Guide to Travel: News, Tips, Information & Inspiration

How to Take Photos of Sunsets & Landscapes That Look as Good as Real Life

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Sony Nex-5Sony Alph NEX-3n
NEX-5T camera & The Sony NEX 3NDigital cameras these days make it easier to focus on composition. Not only will some models crop the shot like a pros, but view finders are no longer those tiny little peepholes.The Sony a3000 ups the ante with a Tru view finder that offers a live preview and key shooting information. The Sony NEX 3N and NEX 5T have a 7.5 cm LCD screen that flips 180 degrees. Flip the viewfinder downward to take high-angle shots over crowds or flip it upwards to take hassle-free self portraits (no more awkward selfies). The NEX 5-T uses Wi-Fi to send a live image preview to a wireless tablet, which basically acts a remote viewfinder.
Sun over wine country

Photo credit: Andy Katz

The first thing to consider with landscape photography is the best time of day. “If you use beautiful light, the quality of your photography is going to increase 1,000 percent,” says Katz. The best time of day is when the sun is at an angle. That includes early morning, half an hour before sunrise. Once the sun starts coming up, the beautiful warm light become white light and is nowhere near as appealing. Late afternoon light is two hours before sun set as well as an hour after sunset.

“Look around to see where the sun is hitting. Look all around to see where the sun is setting. Move around and change angles. You can lean down, stand up,” says Katz. “Light is everything with a landscape. You really can’t shoot a great landscape if the light’s not good.”

If you’re not out in the morning or at sunset, pray for a cloudy day. Light is also very pretty when it is overcast. Diffused light is soft, flattering light and then you can shoot throughout the day. If you’re trying to shoot the sun itself, in a sunrise or a sunset, it’s hard to get it to look as good as it does in real life.

Amazing cloudsKatz notes it’s always much better if the sun is behind a cloud. If you want to have some detail in the shadow area, you need to wait for the intensity of the sun is going to create. In order to expose correctly, the shadow area gets very dark. Be mindful of backlighting your photos, meaning you are shooting towards the sun. You could instead be using that light on your subject, whether it is a person, mountain range or storefront window.

Most importantly, take time to be creative and experiment. The great thing about shooting digital is that you can take as many pictures as you want. There are instances where backlighting can give you a really cool effect. “What I love about photography is there are really no rules that are 100 percent rules,” says Katz.

It’s also important to think about the composition of your shot. Look in the view finder, there are things you do you want in there and things you don’t. You don’t want anything in your frame that doesn’t add to the image that you are after. You don’t want distractions in the corner. You Narrow walkwaydon’t want glaring people or glaring colors. On the flip side, remember friends and family often make photos better. Get your shot of the mountains, and then throw some people in front of the mountains. We always want the first, but the latter has a better chance of making the fridge…or Facebook.

Next, you have to make sure you have what you want to be in focus, in focus. Generally the automatic focus of the camera is right in the middle of the frame. Then they put the subject dead center in the bullseye. This is generally not what you want to do. With just about every camera, push the shutter halfway down to lock the focus, then you frame your subject and push all the way down and take the picture.

“Be aware of trees coming out of someone’s head, look what’s behind the person’s head and make sure that’s what you want,” says Katz. Despite all the fancy features of cameras today, the key is to not let the camera take over too much control. When you’re shooting landscapes, playing with the focus can be really fun. If you’re manually focusing, you can fill the frame with clear daisies, and throw the snow-covered peaks in the background into a blur. If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, use a wide angle for landscapes. You can capture more at once, be closer to your subjects, and really capture the vastness you see.

And last but not least, take a moment to review your photos after you take them. Katz reminds us all, “Digital mistakes are so easy to correct on the spot.”

Text by Courtney Crockett & photos by Andy Katz