Tips for better landscape photos – Part 2

This post is part 2 of Daniel Berman‘s landscape tutorial for mobile photography. Dan is a fine art photographer, filmmaker & digital artist with a specialty in landscapes, abstractions & people. He is the founder of the Mobile Photo Awards. With a background as a producer of music & nature programs for television, Daniel brings a lifelong passion for the imagery of the natural world to his photographic art. He lives in the scenic hills surrounding Milton, Ontario.

In our last post we discussed how to improve the landscape shots you take with your mobile phone. We touched upon when to shoot, what to shoot, and how to shoot. This week we are going to expand upon those ideas and talk a little bit about what iphone photo apps to try and how certain filters work. Also, we will check out what look for when deciding whether to process in Black and White or Color.

1. Apps: What App Did You Use?

Asking someone what apps they use, or what camera they have is a little like saying to a chef “…wow, that was delicious, what kind of oven do you have? And where do you get your knives?” The point being that a photo, much like a great meal, is the vision of the artist and using the same tools as someone else will never bring you their results. That said, there are certain methods you learn so that you are able to create images with logic and precision and not just with luck. To use another analogy, like a great golf swing, if you learn how certain apps work your results become planned and you’re not just hacking around hoping to hit it straight. Although, hole-in-ones are lucky no matter who hits them! Ok, enough comparisons, let’s check out some apps to try when processing your landscapes.

One of the beautiful things about creating images for yourself is that you are free to do anything you want. That is to say, if you’re creating images professionally for a client you must meet the needs they require. If you’re shooting a baseball game for a newspaper it’s not a good idea to make the sky yellow, the batter green and the rest of the field black and white. It might look cool but the photo editor, who is presumably looking for “reality,” isn’t likely to be pleased with your artistic touches. Likewise, when shooting a wedding the couple who have hired you probably don’t want to be autopainted and made to look like they’re in a Van Gogh image. Well, they might, but somebody’s Mother-in-Law might not so be careful if you try. But when you’re doing iPhoneography for yourself then do as you please. All this is to say that the notion of an image being “over-processed” is relative. If you’re the “client” then do whatever you want. You want a yellow sky? Go for it. One way to achieve that look is to use the cross-process filter in the app CAMERA+.

Cross processing was discovered in the 1960’s when certain types of film were developed using chemical solutions intended for a different type of film. The results are unnatural, with slightly surreal colors and high contrast. The results vary but often the whites in your image will become more yellow. So, if you shoot a pond on an overcast day and the picture is kind of blah, try calling up CAMERA+ and applying the cross process filter and watch your sky take on an appealing yellow character. For slightly different results try the cross process filter in other apps such as Iris Photo Suite, Tiffen PhotoFX and Cameramatic. Try combining retro effects with a cross processed look to achieve even more interesting effects and colors.

2. Monochrome: or When to Go Black & White

Why would we shoot landscapes in Black & White when color seems to be so much a part of what makes the natural world beautiful? Well, it’s been said that shooting people in color shows their clothes and shooting them in black & white shows their soul. The same idea applies to landscapes. There is something about a great monochrome landscape that really draws you in, in a way that color can not. The details and shadows take on a character of their own. Objects stand with power and dignity. The eye is drawn to the impact of the subject matter and not distracted by the interplay of colors. A quick look at an Ansel Adams print will confirm these ideas.

For me, black and white landscapes work best when there is a single subject as the centerpiece of the image. Try and look for a strong focal point, little details like a heavy contrast in textures, or shapes that jut against one another in silhouette. The best thing to do is experiment. I use the app NOIR on my iPhone to control the light and isolate part of the frame that most interests me. NOIR gives you a great deal of control over how the light and contrast are spread throughout the image. I also use FilterStorm to black out parts of an image to draw the eye to the central subject. Other apps to look at are MonoPhix, Dramatic B&W and even some of the “films” in Hipstamatic (although if you must use that app please crop out those awful frames!)

One of the great things about shooting with filters is that they allow the photographer to have more control with their aperture and shutter speed. Neutral density grad filters are my favorite because they let me “stop down” the sky and get a more even exposure between the top and bottom of the frame. Most likely, you’re not fitting your phone onto a tripod and attaching a matte box with $200 filters. No matter, that’s what apps are for! Let’s talk grads.

Graduated filters are ones that have a darker hue starting at the top of the frame and gradually become lighter until somewhere around the middle they turn clear. This lets you darken parts of an image so that more of your frame is exposed properly. The app PhotoFX by Tiffen has a whole range of grads you can apply in post. Have an ugly white sky? Snap a Grape colored grad on your image, adjust the opacity to your liking, move the position around a bit and voila´! A lovely sky! Now, you can then take that image and process it in other ways without having to think about whether you are going to be stuck with a less appealing top half of your frame. Experiment with different colored grads and even try stacking them upon one another to create a new palette of colors. The world is your oyster with a handful of grads on your phone!

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Remember, the best way to learn anything is to do it!

Daniel Berman

2 Comments on “Tips for better landscape photos – Part 2”

  1. Justn_sd says:

    Thanks for the great advice! People ask me all the time which apps I use. You’re right, you still have to take a good photo Before you apply apps. … You still have to cook a good meal before you make it look good

  2. ok, just a simple question. i got my iphone when they 1st came out. the pic quality is poor, and the lens cant be kept clean. what iphone do you recommend for pics that can be blown up significantly, and is there a reason to do the post in the phone rather than on a computer. i’m a little lost on this. thanks

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