Critique: get advice on how to improve your landscape shots

Mike Langford helps readers improve their shots with simple and effective tips

Western Australia Rocks

Before

After

The strength in this image is all at the top, starting with the strong graphic line of the horizon. The intense colour of the ocean is beautifully offset by the soft round shapes and colour of the rocks on either side. What isn’t working in this shot is the ramble of bushes in the foreground, which brings little to the overall image. At first, I found it difficult to really see the graphics, but, when I converted the image into monochrome, the shapes in the upper half then became obvious. However, the overall strength of the image is in the combination of both the shapes and the colours, so I have left it as it was originally shot — in colour. I have also added a small crop to the left-hand side, so that the rocks come out of the top-left corner as they also do on the right.

Kinloch Jetty

Before

After

What really works in this image is its mood, which is enhanced by the cool-blue tone. This is somewhat distracted from by the bright sky and the top of the mountains being cut off. When you are shooting things like mountains, and you have strong shapes, you need to either leave the tops in the shot or fully out of the shot. As I have no choice in this, I have decided to crop them out altogether, which allows the eye to concentrate more on the jetty and the mist. Also, always make sure your horizon line is straight, and that you are square to your subject when shooting anything architectural. Here, I have realigned the perspective a little in Photoshop using Distort, and cropped a bit on the left so that the corner of the jetty comes out of the left-hand corner.

Milford Sound

Before

After

The timing of this shot is great, as the tonal range of the soft afterglow of the sunset just sings. What doesn’t work is that the reflection is actually lighter than the sky, which just doesn’t happen in nature. If you have used a neutral-density graduated filter to achieve this, then you need to bring this back just a little in post-production, as I have using Photoshop, making it just a bit darker than the sky. Having done this, I have then made the overall image a fraction lighter using the curves adjustment. The other problem is that the horizon line is dipping slightly to the right. 

Overall the image just feels a bit cramped, and, as a result, the mountains don’t express the majesty they usually have. By extending the canvas size at both the top and the bottom, and using Content-Aware in Photoshop, I’m able to give the mountains more space, which makes them look bigger. This is actually just an optical illusion, as I haven’t touched the mountains at all.

I’ve also cloned out a couple of small highlight distractions — both on the left and right — so that the eye just enjoys the beauty of this place.

This article was originally published in D-Photo Issue No. 68. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine to add to your collection below: