Shooting Nature and Landscapes

In this weeks episode of John talks about some techniques that are used to capture vast landscapes...in a small frame. John goes over the basics of how to capture different areas of the landscape, sky, and foreground in order to have a variety of shots to use in post production.

Video Transcript

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Shooting nature, and landscapes in particular, can be very challenging for the videographer. How do you get all this in this? The first thing you need to know about getting the good landscape shot is how to wait.

The sun is your sole source of light and since you can’t move it, you’ll have to wait until it gets into the proper position. Generally, the best time to shoot landscapes is in what’s called the golden hour. About one hour after sunrise and about one hour before sunset, there’s a lovely warm quality to the sunlight. Generally, you also want to avoid shooting around high noon.

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In order to convey a better since of space, some basic composition tips might help.

First off, when shooting landscapes, don’t split the middle of the frame with the horizon. If you’re emphasizing the skyline, a more aesthetically pleasing shot could be had by placing the horizon line in the bottom third of the frame.

If the landscape itself is the most interesting feature, put the horizon line in the upper third of the frame. Even with the widest of lenses, your generally not gonna be able to capture your entire scene in just one frame.

Panning across the scene is one way of accentuating the vastness of the landscape. There are a few rules to remember for good panning. The first is to leave handles on each side of the pan. Essentially, five to ten seconds of a still frame both before your camera move and after. This helps immensely in giving you plenty of editing options later.

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Second is to hold a constant speed on a nice, fluid head tripod. Any jerkiness in the pan will spoil the whole effect.

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Don’t settle with just one speed of pan. Get a fast, medium and slow version of each scene, again, for editing flexibility.

When are you gonna be in this location again? It’s worth the extra time and effort to get that perfect fit in the edit bay.

The third and most important rule is that any pan has to be motivated. A good pan is a short journey between two composed shots rather than the shot itself. Make sure you know where you’re panning from and where you’re panning to and, most importantly, why you’re panning in the first place.
For landscape video, the reason is mostly to give a sense of fastness, but there could be other reasons as well.

Another way to capture an entire landscape is to shoot wide, medium and close-up shots of specific features that you want to call attention to.

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It’s most common to start on the wide shot and then move into the details you want your audience to see. However, starting in on a close-up and revealing the whole scene can be very effective as well. Either way, having several shots of various sizes really opens up your editing possibilities.

When you’re in a beautiful location, the sense of space surrounds you, but once you put it on tape, it compresses itself down into a rather disappointing 2V video. In order to get a better picture, try to artificially add some depth your frame. The most common way to do this is to add something in the immediate foreground, such as a tree or plant that contrasts with the great distance of the landscape. This variance in size accentuates and artificially enhances the sense of depth in the frame.

The one dimension that works actually better in video than reality is the dimension of time. Time lapse photography is a beautiful and effective way of conveying a sense of space and a grand sweep of time. It’s a fairly easy thing to accomplish with today’s editing software and you don’t need special cameras to get this effect anymore.

Hopefully, these tips will help you make better video if you find yourself in the great outdoors. As for me, I’m still pretty cold, so I’m going back to the office.

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For more details, take a look at these articles using this DVD on your computer.

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