Getting the Perfect Landscape Photo with Canon

Canon EOS N1 film camera
After studying with Ansel Adams I was so influenced by his work that I wanted to create images of the majestic world we live in. ©Laurie Klein

Picture this…. breathtaking scenery, dramatic clouds, majestic mountains. We grab our Canon camera and snap away. Of course, the image is perfect!  But is it? Is the photo a snapshot or a work of art?  When my images are in exhibits or published in books, I can’t stand next my audience and personally explain why my images work or what I was feeling. The image has to speak for itself. So, let’s talk about creating exceptionally strong interpretive landscape. But first a bit of background.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
I was scouting areas for a workshop I was teaching in the San Juan Mountains and out of the blue the clouds started coming in creating drama in the sky and adding so much more texture to this image. ©Laurie Klein

Canon EOS 7D and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
This image was taken in Boston at the Mount Auburn Cemetery. I wanted to frame the image with the tree on the top right and the contrail was important compositional elements so I wanted it to be in the most dramatic place, it echoed the diagonal lines I was using for dynamic tension. I got down on the ground so I could get the placement of the contrail in the best spot. ©Laurie Klein

When I was in undergraduate school, my mentor, Nile Root, gave me one of the best assignments I have ever had (and I challenge you to this assignment.) I was asked to select one subject: i.e. a mountain, a person, a lake, a street, clouds, a building, a theme, etc. and commit to it for a period of time. Yes, that means longer than a week, and preferably longer than a month. The reason being is at first, we take the snapshot and we record the obvious. When you commit to a project over a period of time, amazing images can be made. Probably near the beginning of your project you may hit the proverbial wall of “I just don’t know what else to do". That is the magical moment when we go deeper. We feel the subject, take risks and make it our own. 

Canon EOS 7D and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
I saw these trees and I had to walk around them 3 times. I knew there was a photo there but at first didn’t know how to capture it. It was back lit and I knew my exposure would be critical. There were also birds in the trees so I wanted to make sure there was separation between them and the trees. I also wanted space between each tree so the compositional rhythm would stand out more. I eventually found the right space and exposure for this image. ©Laurie Klein

Nile was a huge part of my growth as a photographer. He knew I had a good eye for composition and helped me tap into my feelings when I photographed. He saw my potential even when I could not. One day he said to me, “Laurie, it is time for you to study with a colleague of mine." His colleague was none other than Ansel Adams.  Those men both changed my life.  They helped me find my voice as a landscape photographer the ability to create emotive imagery and my technical knowledge are part of what I learned from these two giants. Also because of their influence I became a photographic educator.

Canon EOS 20D and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
I took this image in the Bahamas. I had just done a post wedding shoot with a couple and we hung the tool we used for the shoot on a close line to dry. This image was a gift and unplanned. I paid attention to all that was going on and the drama was accentuated by the deep sky, plus no pollution or clouds to add to this capture. To me it is a dance between nature and fabric of life. ©Laurie Klein

Tips I have learned from the past 40+ years as a photographer.  

  1. Understand compositional tools: Line, shape, negative/positive space, textures, patterns, color, and tonality. The strength of leading lines such as “S" shapes, and diagonal lines.
  2. Learn your craft: Capture a good histogram. Don’t look at your image on the back display and critique them. When you do that, you switch into left brain analytics, which is judgement, and it isn’t an accurate representation of the image. Shoot in Manual mode, then YOU are telling the camera what you want with depth of field and motion, otherwise your camera is selecting this for you.
  3. Camera placement and lens choices: Spend time before shooting, walk around your scene looking at different angles and camera subject distance, don’t just zoom in. Do you want a lot of depth of field or compression of space? Answering those questions will help you choose your lens and focal length. The lens I use the most is the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM. I like a lot of depth of field when I photograph landscapes, plus the perspective of a shorter lens. I have used the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, it would be a brilliant lens for those of you who are doing macro work.
  4. Photograph with intention: Be deliberate when photographing. Everything in your image should be there for one of two reasons, composition and/or content. 
  5. Pre-visualizations: Read about what Ansel Adams and Minor White speak about on this subject. Learn the rules so you can then break them.
  6. Patience: Sometimes we have to wait until the lighting is right, or the clouds are in the right place for strong composition and content. Sometime we need to repeatedly go back to a spot where we have photographed before. It isn’t always one and done. 
  7. Framing: What to include in the photo and what to leave out. Often less is more.
  8. Preparation: When you arrive at your destination, look around before taking out your camera. Breathe in the landscape, see the beauty, tap into your feelings and emotions, and then begin your photographing. Stay present in the moment. 
  9. A curious question: Which eye do you photograph with? What do you do with the non-shooting eye? Is it opened or closed? It helps to keep the non-shooting eye open, so then you can look at the whole frame and not just what is in the middle of the frame. It helps with objectivity with composition.
  10. Clouds: They can make your skies more interesting. I always use a lens hood especially when a large part of my image is the sky, so I don’t experience lens flare.
  11. Lighting: The time of day you photograph and the weather will increase the atmospheric feelings of image and its drama.
  12. Study other landscape photographers’ work: Ask yourself, what it is about their work that resonates with you or doesn’t?  What feelings do these images provoke? The more you do this, the more you will understand your style.
  13. Make work prints: Live with your images.  Make inexpensive 4x6 work prints and put them up on a cork board. This helps you develop a stronger relationship and understanding of your photographs.

Canon EOS 7D and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
I took this image in Colorado a few years ago. It had been a long time since I had photographed in Colorado. I decided that I wanted to go back to my roots of studying with Nile Root who was from Colorado and with Ansel Adams. I felt I was channeling their energy and vision. I patiently waited for the storm to start descending in the area. ©Laurie Klein

Thank you, Canon. You have been with me through film and digital. I have a Canon EOS 6D. I use this camera for my commercial work and  love how it fits in my hand. I like having different cameras for different needs. So I am thinking my next Canon will be the EOS 6D Mark II with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. That will be a stellar combination for my landscapes.

Remember my challenge, and post your images on Instagram: @lauriekleinworkshops @shutterbugmag, @CanonUSA. #teamcanon, #lauriekleinworkshops #Shutterbugmag #canonengagementcenter