This may seem to be a very obvious thing to do: you just point your camera and click the shutter release — simple!
Or is it?
This is fine for a simple snapshot but there are a few more things that you need to take into consideration in order to produce a quality landscape image.
Note: This is a fairly simple introduction, so experienced photographers may want to skip this.
In order to take the sharpest shot possible, you must take a number of precautions to ensure that your camera is as steady as possible. You could achieve this by placing the camera on to a nearby wall or gatepost, or better still use a tripod. Tripods come in assorted shapes and sizes, from small beanbags to large, heavy-duty behemoths that appear to be constructed from lengths of scaffolding. Over the years I have amassed a substantial collection of tripods that cover the whole range. The three that I tend to use on a regular basis are:
1) A Joby GorillaPod
This is a superb little gizmo that is easy to carry and to use, and can be adjusted to just about any position imaginable. I use this in conjunction with a ball head for total flexibility, allowing shots to be taken from angles that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. It is so versatile that I carry it around even when I have a tripod with me, since it can be used in situations where I would struggle to set the tripod up: I have wrapped it upside down from branches of trees and wrapped it around fenceposts while leaning through a hole in a hedge.
2) A Slik Pro 340DX
This is a lightweight tripod that is very easy to carry around, especially when going out for a whole day. The construction is very high quality and the head is fluid and easily adjustable once you are comfortable with the pan and tilt controls. It is fine with smaller lenses, but a little unstable with larger, heavy lenses. The one thing to watch out for is that the rubber feet can work free, especially when using it in muddy environments, but the manufacturer happily sent me a whole pack of replacements when I contacted them about it.
3) A Manfrotto 190X Pro
This is the latest addition to my tripod stockpile and it fits the gap between the Slik 340 and my old Slik 88, in that it is heavier and sturdier than the 340 but not as cumbersome and tiring to carry as the 88. I opted for the Light Duty Grip Ball Head rather than the standard pan/tilt head as that also fits neatly between the total flexibility of a ball head and the trigger-regulated control of a pan/tilt. I'm still getting to grips with this one, so I'll keep you posted how I get on.
Okay, so you have your tripod set up and your image framed nicely in the viewfinder. What now? Well, unless your tripod is exceptionally secure, the very act of pressing the shutter release will cause a slight movement that will result in a degree of blurring in the image. In order to prevent this there are a couple of options available:
1) Self Timer
The Self Timer built in to your camera, as its name implies, is intended to allow a small time delay so that you can run around to the front and be included in your shot. You can also take advantage of this delay to steady your shot. When using the Self Timer this way, I usually have it set to two seconds so that I can hit the shutter release and have plenty of time for the camera to steady itself before the shot is taken. If you are particularly heavy-handed, you can increase this delay to five, or even ten seconds. On my Nikon D300, the menu looks like this:
2) Cable Release
The preferred way to fire the shot is to use a Cable Release. The name originates from the days when an actual cable was used like a plunger to physically depress the shutter release button. Modern cameras tend to use an electronic firing mechanism, either by having a remote release connected to the camera body via an electronic wire, or via a wireless release. A sample of shutter release mechanisms for various cameras are listed here.
A large number of lenses, and even camera bodies, have a built-in Vibration Reduction feature (also known as Image Stabilisation). This is intended to allow hand-held photographs to be taken in low light situations and usually produce excellent results. When using a tripod, however, they can cause problems. The mechanism works by detecting vibrations, but in situations where there is no vibration (such as using a tripod or resting the camera on a wall) then this mechanism can actually cause a small amount of vibration and thereby create a small amount of blur in the image. So, if you have a VR/IS lens or body, remember to switch it off when it is not needed.
This section does not affect compact or mirror-less cameras.
SLR cameras use a hinged mirror to allow the image in front of the lens to be seen through the viewfinder, in a similar manner to which a periscope functions. There is a much clearer explanation here on Wikipedia. When the shutter release is pressed, the mirror flips up to allow the light from the lens to hit the sensor. This action can cause a small amount of vibration which, in turn, can cause a small amount of blur in the image. In order to counteract this vibration, most SLR cameras have an option called Mirror Lock or Exposure Delay. Activating this will cause a short delay, usually a second or so after the mirror lifts but before the shot is fired, reducing any vibrations during exposure. On my Nikon D300 the menu looks like this:
So, which of the above options do I use? All of them, of course!
If you would like further information on how to take professional-quality images in an easy to read form, then I can heartily suggest Scott Kelby's series The Digital Photography Book:
The content of this blog entry, as with all my blog entries, is my own personal opinion. I don't profess to be the fount of all knowledge on any particular subject; I'm just a guy with a camera and a computer, and around forty years experience taking photographs, both film and digital. I am still experimenting and learning, and I've done more things the wrong way than the right way, and from this I have learned what works and what doesn't. To quote Albert Einsten, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." There may be a great many blogs, books or magazines that take a different view to my own and that's how it should be. There is never any single, definitive way of doing things, but what I write about here is what works for me. If it works for you too, then that's great!
Disclosure: In order to pay for the hosting and upkeep of this site, I have taken the liberty of including links to the Amazon site for any items that might be of interest. Please feel free to ignore them or to just click through to find out further information in a new browser window. However, if you do decide to make a purchase via the link then Amazon will kindly reward me with vast riches beyond my wildest dreams (I wish!), which will enable me to fund my increasingly expensive hobby.