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30 Tips, Tricks, and Personal Advise in Landscape and Cityscapes Photography

August 28, 2017

Below are collections of tips and tricks in shooting landscapes based on my own personal experience in the field and knowledge gained since the start of my journey two years ago. 


When shooting during twilight (blue hour)


1. Understand the 3 phases of Twilight (Civil, Nautical, & Astronomical).


Depending on the country of your location and/or season during the year, twilight can last for 10 mins up to 1 hour. This will help you in your decision making in the field and strategy.


2. Do not use filters at this time


Per experience, starting from the civil twilight up to the near pitch dark, you can do long exposure of 10 secs up to 10 mins (using ISO100, F16) without the need of any filters. It will be just another set of glass on top of your filter.


Note: Maybe the exception is the "Natural Night Filter" released by NISI recently (or any similar types of filter in the market). I haven't use it personally so its hard to provide useful comment. Although i expect that you could achieve a similar look and effect using Photoshop and 3rd party software without it. I suggest that you try it yourself and seek advise from the right people.


When shooting a Long Exposure shot


3. Firstly, you should learn the basics 

   - knowing the essential gears and how to use it properly (sturdy tripod, remote/ cable release) 

   - learning the camera settings (exposure delay, mirror lock up, bulb mode) 

   - others (manual focusing, VR/VC of lenses to turn-off, etc.)


4. Blurry effects in the image.


Good -

when its intentional like the ICM technique -


People motion blur to create a sense of motion -


Not good -

Blurry boats on a cityscapes shots  

Blurry trees and foliages on landscapes and waterfalls shot.


You can capture a separate image using a faster shutter speed to avoid blurred foliage or boats, then blend it later in the post.


5. Be flexible and learn how to read and anticipate the changes in the light (it was faster during and around sunset to blue hour)


Usually, the steps are:

a. Identify the base exposure settings (including the GND),

b. Select which ND are you going to use

c. Check the new exposure time using your cheat sheet or mobile apps 

d. Execute


But, there are cases on which the light changes right after your clicked the shutter (e.g. the sun shows up from the clouds, or it hide behind the clouds). In this cases, you should perform in shooting adjustments (-/+ 20% of the total time), depending on various factors. You need to learn and adapt in different situations. You will learn and master it in time and through experience. 


If you want a very comprehensive information, check this blog:

(By Joel Tjintjelaar)


6. If you want a fine art type surreal clouds (not the typical streaky clouds), exposed for 5 mins or more. Understand the type of clouds and observe the clouds movement. 


7. Light leak is your main enemy during a super long exposure shot (5 mins shot above - otherwise don't bother). You may use a cover cloth to cover your camera body and lens to prevent the light leak. Also, cover the view finder of your camera. 

8. Try various exposure times for different water effects.


Play around with your shutter speed (e.g. from 1/100 sec. to 5 mins). Long exposures should not always be a silky smooth effect (although it was best for fine arts image). Sometimes, getting the water streaks and ripples are better than having that silky smooth effect (especially for waterfalls and seascapes). 


(By Ted Gore)


When is the best time to shoot


9. Your aim is to shoot during Magic Hour (Golden Hour, Sunset, and Blue Hour)


This is the time where the sun is low in the sky producing soft and diffused light. Most photographers are waiting for this time to shoot for their portfolios (including me). 


10. But sometimes, you should disregard the magic hour and just shoot around! 


- when your shooting landscape monochromatic fine art, timing doesn't really matter. You can shoot during the night, mid day, magic hour, or twilight. 


- when shooting infrared landscapes.


- when your visiting certain places and you have no opportunity to shoot during sunrise/ sunset


- when shooting aerial photography in blue sky conditions. It can be stunning as you are able to view the emerald and turquoise hues in the water below.


- when shooting in places like canyons, streams, beaches and outback. The contrast is enhance when shooting while the sun is a little bit higher in the sky. The striking contrast between white sands, blue skies and cottony white clouds can only be taken on a bright sunny day.


Tip 1: Refer to the brochures of tourism websites or luxury hotels and resorts. you can see that most of the shots are taken during the harsh mid day, and even in Google search).


Tip 2: When photographing during middle of the day, make sure that the image are well lit to avoid areas of deep shadows.


Tip 3: The use of polariser can further add on the contrast values of the image.


When shooting cityscapes


11. You can definitely shoot a single exposure shot, but shooting multiple frames and learn how to combine and process it all together is the key for those amazing cityscapes shots.


This includes:

 - Combining images for panorama (vertical and horizontal)

 - Combining bracketed shots (to cover details of highlights and shadows)

 - Combining separate shots taken for skies, for buildings, for car trails, digital signages, etc. 


Check this out: 

(By Daniel Cheong)


12. Avoid blown out highlights


I'm guilty of this mistakes in the past because most of my shots are just 1 frame long exposure shot for 30 seconds. Best advise is you bracket your shots and paint back the blown out highlights. 


13. Avoid that cringy warmth/ orangey colour looking cityscapes


Cityscapes with cool bluish colours (for illustration only)

Cityscapes with warmth colours (for illustration only) - sometimes if you shoot in jpeg or SOOC and your white balance is in auto-mode you can get this similar colour.


14. Shoot multiple frames for car trails and blends it via lighten mode in Photoshop.

(By Elia Locardi)

Check this out:


15. Correct the perspective distortion and straighten the lines (as applicable)


If you're using a tilt-shift lens (best for cityscapes), then you may not have this kind of problem (or if you still have some distortion, maybe less adjustments in the post might be needed). 


16. When shooting architecture and cityscapes, focus on your main subject: which is the cityscapes and architecture!


Most of the time, our focus are shifted totally on the skies instead on the architecture or cityscapes itself. The beautiful skies is the Batman, while the cityscapes/ architecture is the Robin. It should be the other way around, or atleast 60:40 in favor of cityscapes and architectures =)


(By Joel Tjintjelaar)


17. Other tips: 

(By Jimmy Mcintyre)


When shooting seascapes


18. Safety first. Observe how the waves behaves. Don't turn your back on the incoming waves.


19. Shoot multiple frames to get that nice streaky water waves. 


Sunset shot at the Pinnacles

Check this out below:

(By Michael Shainblum)


(By Ted Gore)


In using Post Processing Software


20. Don't be afraid in using post processing software


You should not be afraid in using Lightroom and Photoshop (most importantly Photoshop). How much post processing is up to you. The trick is not to master every tools in Photoshop. The critical is you should know the basics, the essential tools in Photoshop/ Lightroom and when to use the specific tools during your workflows. You will improve by constant practice, attending workshops, and by watching tutorials. And i say it again, by practice =)


Important Tip: The heavy hitters in landscape photography nowadays have mastered all these key aspects 1) Careful Planning and Visioning 2) Actual Execution in the Field 3) Post Processing (with web posting and/ or printing in mind). Their visioning doesn't start and end in the field, but rather up to the end product (output). In some cases (maybe in most cases), the idea is not to get it right straight from the camera in a single frame, but like a master chef, to get the all the key ingredients and pieces from the field (hence they captured different elements of the scene, shoot multiple images, use different lenses for perspective, etc.) to come up with a masterpiece or to create what's in their mind (a high level visioning)    


21. Learn to apply your adjustments locally


This includes contrast adjustments, sharpening, saturation, vibrance, adding noise, grains, etc. Use the mask and opacity to make a subtle adjustments. 


When shooting landscapes and everything in between


22. Fix the little things, it makes a difference. 


Remove the dust spots, halo, chromatic aberration, and crooked horizon. Include this as part of your workflows so you will never forget it. 


Always remember that your images will be judged by people having different backgrounds (from casual viewers who might likes anything that you have posted in FB, your friends and family, some experts in landscape photography, judges in a competitions, and down right to your critics) 


23. HDR vs. Luminosity Masking


Personally, i'm not a fan of HDR (High Dynamic Range). There are lots of people who creates over-saturated, super contrasty, with weird halos, and cringy HDR'ish looking photos. This technique kills the natural contrast of an image. But if use properly, it can be very useful and effective especially in Cityscapes photography (Daniel Cheong uses Nik HDR Efex Pro or Oloneo PhotoEngine in his Cityscapes images - corrected via Digital Blending).


Luminosity masking is the preferred choice of most landscape photographers as it creates a smoother, more targeted, and natural looking blend. I had spent a lot of time to understand this technique. Almost all of the heavy hitters in landscape photography today have mastered the use of Luminosity Mask. You can do it manually using the RGB channels in Photoshop, or purchased a Luminosity Panel from Tony Kuyper or Jimmy McIntyre. 


Link (Raya Pro):


Link (Tony Kuyper Panel):


24. Don't use Graduated Neutral Density all the time!


I have this bad habit of putting GND every time i shoot a landscape shots previously, even in cases where there is no clear horizon. Only later,  i realised that it doesn't make any sense at all =). You can simply bracket exposures and then blend it later in Photoshop.


25. Include objects of known size for scale, such as a person/ human element


Sunrise shot at Currumbin

 Sunrise shot at Fingal Heads

Here is one photographer who is really good for including human element to create depth on his images:

(By Max Rive)


26. Do not shoot with wide angle lens all the time! 


Again, i have this bad habit of using the '14mm' of my 14-24mm 2.8 Nikon lens in the past even though the situations doesn't requires it (my intention is to create a unique perspective because not everyone have UWA lens). UWA is the bread and butter of a landscape photographer, but a good landscape photographer knows when is the right time use telephoto lens or mid zoom range for landscape shots. 


When to use telephoto lens:


- When shooting rolling hills/ canyons

(By Michael Brandt)


- When focusing on an image that is far from you (instead of shooting wide then crop it afterwards)

 - When capturing the real 'soul' of the majestic mountains

(By Marc Adamus)


27. Not all sunset, sunrise or landscape shots should have that colourful skies (orange, red, magenta)


Within the past two years, my aim is to get a colourful sunset/sunrise skies with orange, red, and magenta colours which is not bad.


Byron Bay Sunrise shot

 Redcliffe Sunrise Shot

But then lately, i realised that there's a real beauty in landscapes taken with dark and moody atmosphere. Those that are taken during stormy and foggy conditions. Also, those taken during dawn and dusk. 


Dawn burst in Byron Bay

This shot taken in an overcast weather condition (i'm so frustrated that time) but won me some awards and money in 2016:


Princes Pier - Tranquility


Also, check the following images below:


(By Enrico Fossati)


(By Erin Babnik)


28. Not all landscape shots should be done using a Long Exposure


When i first learned the long exposure technique two years ago, it becomes a habit. Every time i will go for a landscape shoot, i always aim for a long exposures shot, like a mechanical robot.


I have missed a lot of opportunities to capture magical moments because of this short minded habits.

- Like a dog running near the beach to catch a fish (happened just in front of me, but that time it was a distraction, plus i am busy setting for my long exposure shot. I am not aware on whats happening around and all the possibilities).

- A guy in his Kayak passing through the frame during a sunset shot (it should be perfect together with the sun setting down to the horizon but I have no intention to include him in my shot because i'm aiming for that long exposure shot that never materialised)

- A quite number of wild kangaroos in Cape Woolamai in Philip Island Victoria, queuing and staring at me while I'm walking back to the parking (maybe around 20-30 roos). But i have no time to capture them because my mind is still on the long exposure shots that i did few minutes ago.  


Also, i've got several test shots taken (in preparation for long exposure shots) which turns to out to be better than my actual long exposure shots:


Below are images which i have taken accidentally (test shots)


Melbourne SouthBank

 Webb Bridge


29. Arrive in the scene early and stays late.


Pretty self-explanatory. There are lots of instances that i left my shooting location right after the sunset. 5-10 minutes later, the magic happens. 


This is not a bad shot, taken during the sunset, but i left this location immediately after the shot. 


St. Kilda Pier, Melbourne Australia

But 10 minutes later, something magical happens. All i can do is stare and regret while the magnificent colours of the skies shows up and the clouds on the right side moves quickly to the left and spread out. 


I-phone shot taken by my wife (15-20 mins later, and i'm already far from my original vantage point):

Another one: This intense sunset colours happened 15 mins after a boring/ dull sunset. 


Sunset shot taken at Docklands, Melbourne, Australia

I packed my things and leave the location right after the sunset, then 5 mins later, i'm not aware that something magical is happening. A super intense sunset with red, yellow, magenta and orange colours was about to show up. 15 mins later, while walking back to our apartment unit, i curiously look back, and saw the magic. I quickly, runs back to set up my tripod, but have missed atleast 15 mins of super intense colours. But anyway, i still got some decent images out of that incident. 


Before and after (both are SOOC shots):


Dull and Boring Sunset:

20 mins later:


30. Just enjoy and keep clicking! Your best shots are the ones to come!






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