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Scott Kelby on Shooting Landscapes Like a Pro

Even though we’re not Ansel Adams, we can surely get better photos than the ones in the gift shop, right? Scott Kelby shares Pro Tips for capturing the wonder of nature, including the golden rule followed by every professional photographer.
This chapter is from the book

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If you ever get to shoot in some truly amazing outdoor locations, like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park, it’s really a very humbling photographic experience. The reason why is you’re looking at this amazing vista, at the sheer grandeur of it all, and it looks so awe inspiring you’d figure a chimp could even take a great photo of it. I mean, it’s just so spectacular, how could you mess it up? Then you set up your tripod, look in your viewfinder, and it happens—you begin to silently sob. You’re sobbing because you bought all this expensive camera gear, with multiple camera bodies and lenses that cost more than a Toyota Prius hybrid, you’ve got more filters than a Ritz Camera store, and your camera bag weighs approximately 54 lbs. You saved all year, took your two-week vacation from work, bought round-trip airfare, and rented a huge SUV big enough to haul you, your family, and all your expensive gear out into the sweltering summer heat of the canyon. Now you’re looking through your viewfinder and what you see doesn’t look half as good as the stinkin’ postcards in the park’s gift shop that sell for $1.25 each. Tears begin to stream down your face as you realize that you’re not going to get the shot you came for. And whose fault is all this? Ansel Adams—that’s who. He screwed up the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and a dozen other locations for us all. But even though we’re not Ansel Adams, we can surely get better photos than the ones in the gift shop, right? Well, it starts with reading this chapter. Hey, it’s a start.

The Golden Rule of Landscape Photography


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There’s a golden rule of landscape photography, and you can follow every tip in this chapter, but without strictly following this rule, you’ll never get the results the top pros do. As a landscape photographer, you can only shoot two times a day: (1) Dawn. You can shoot about 15 to 30 minutes before sunrise, and then from 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how harsh the light becomes) afterward. The only other time you can shoot is (2) dusk. You can shoot from 15 to 30 minutes before sunset, and up to 30 minutes afterward. Why only these two times? Because that’s the rule. Okay, there’s more to it than that. These are the only times of day when you get the soft, warm light and soft shadows that give professional quality lighting for landscapes. How stringent is this rule? I’ll never forget the time I was doing a Q&A session for professional photographers. The other instructor was legendary National Geographic photographer Joe McNally. A man in the crowd asked Joe, “Can you really only shoot at dawn and dusk?” Joe quietly took his tripod and beat that man to death. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but what Joe said has always stuck with me. He said that today’s photo editors (at the big magazines) feel so strongly about this that they won’t even consider looking at any of his, or any other photographer’s, landscape work if it’s not shot at dawn or dusk. He also said that if he takes them a shot and says, “Look, it wasn’t taken during those magic hours, but the shot is amazing,” they’ll still refuse to even look at it. The point is, professional landscape photographers shoot at those two times of day, and only those two times. If you want pro results, those are the only times you’ll be shooting, too.

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