Landscape photography is about a moment in time, a given place, and a photo. There is no formula for the perfect image. If there were, photographers of equivalent skill would take exactly the same photos. They don’t, and that is what keeps photography interesting.
Landscape photography relies on your interpretation. You see a landscape, you note your emotions, and you envision the image you want to create.
But how to get there? You might feel like a traveler trying to get to a distant city, while following an unreadable map. The key is finding the perfect exposure.
This article will give you the skills to get from that point A, the envisioned image, to point B, the image you’ve got in your mind’s eye.
What Are Perfect Exposures?
The ideal exposure comes from a combination of things: the camera’s metering, the settings you choose, and your personal vision. There is no such thing as “correct exposure”. What is right is what YOU want, not what someone else wants.
You will find many articles that will describe in detail the “proper” way to expose a landscape photograph. They may tell you how your histogram (see below) should look, or what is right for RAW vs. JPEGs. I call hogwash on all that.
The trick to good exposure for landscape photography is knowing how to attain what you envision.
Metering Modes for Landscape Photography
Take a moment and imagine a landscape. Any will do, but imagine it in some detail. The sunlight, the shadows, the bright reflections off the water, the sun itself, the dark mountains. Picture all the diverse and juxtaposed areas of brights and darks that make an image compelling.
As lovely as these are to the eye, they are a nightmare for your camera. The meter has to look at all those lights and darks and decide on an exposure to capture it. It isn’t easy, and the camera needs your help to make that decision.
There are three primary metering modes used by most manufacturers. Here is how they work.