This is probably the most basic, but also most fundamental advice one can give regarding landscape photography. When going about taking photographs of Jeju’s landscapes I find this mantra far more relevant than whether my lens aperture opens up to f/1.4. There’s a rather popular saying among photographers: “f/8 and be there”, meaning that it’s more important to be at the scene you want to capture than to worry about the minor technical details. This is certainly a worthy rule to follow, but as a landscape photographer do yourself a favor and stop down to f/11 or f/16 in order to increase the depth of field of your scene.
People often think that landscape photography is somehow difficult and that it requires expensive equipment. It is not and it does not. It is actually rather simple, if one is not there when the light does its magic, it matters not what kind of gear is involved, one simply will not get the shot. Of course, a decent SLR with a filter or two certainly helps, but it’s not a prerequisite. In fact, the lighter your gear, the easier and faster it is to be at that right place.
The other couple of requirements are time and patience, because the conditions may not be ideal the first time for that five star photo one wants to capture. Many times I have hiked an oreum without any particularly meaningful results, but whenever nature does put on that special light show and I’m there, ready to capture the spectacle, it’s a mighty satisfying experience.
Of course the question does come to mind: where is the right place and when is the right time?
Realistically, the right place depends on where you are and what’s on offer. As a Jeju Island resident, I’m quite lucky, having access to hundreds of oreums with many opportunities for all sorts of landscape photography. If you reside in a city, a trip to a nearby national park is always a good place to start at for some instant landscapes. This is not as difficult as it sounds, even in Seoul. National and provincial parks are quite abundant in Korea, as they should be in a country which is geographically 70% mountains. However, do scout around where you live. There is often some local scenery one can usually take advantage of. A landscape photo does not always have to be a grand sweeping vista.
“The right time” does vary from photographer to photographer, but ideally it is not the harshly lit mid-day. For many, it is the golden hours of dawn and dusk that are the most appealing. This is when the light is the most magical in the way it bathes the environment, creating all kinds of saturated colours, textures and shadow play. The weather also has a large impact on the sense of drama within an image, so it’s wise to work with it, instead of waiting for that perfectly sunny day. Go out during those times when it’s dark and overcast with foreboding moods, or when the sun’s rays pierce the storm clouds making scenes of inspiration. You’re bound to get wet at some point, but it’s nothing a rain jacket can’t handle.
Some additional tips to consider: Use a tripod. Your images will always be sharper than if you rely on your hands. Also, keep the horizon straight as you capture the photo. It’s easier than having to deal with it in post production, where an extremely crooked horizon can cost you precious resolution. Take advantage of the rule of thirds and break it when appropriate. If you’re presented with an amazing sky, push the horizon closer to the bottom of the frame. If the foreground is more interesting, move the horizon nearer to the top of the frame. In general, always pay attention to the sky and what it’s doing and how you can make it interact with the rest of the scene. Lastly, do try to change your point of view. Don’t get stuck on one particular angle that everyone takes a shot from. Explore the surroundings a little and you may walk away with something really unique.
by Mario Taradan, SPC resident landscape specialist.