The Making of a Fine Art Landscape Photo


Welcome to my first in the series of "The Making of a Fine Art Landscape Photo". I highlight one of my most liked and personally favorite photos, the Serenity Seascape. A large 40" acrylic Serenity Seascape print hangs in my dining room to set a calming and serene mood at our household during dinner. I believe there are 4 characteristics that make this photo special - the composition, the lighting, the location and the processing.

What elevates one photo out of thousands into a popular fine art photo? What steps can we take to replicate the successes of our best photos? Let me begin with the single most important element of a great photo, the composition. The Serenity Seascape clearly has 3 separate areas of interest, the lower third or foreground contains limestone rocks with a small boat. The middle ground water, docks, distant boats and people; the last third a setting sun and beautiful sky with clouds. The rule of thirds makes this an engaging photo that puts the viewer into the world of the photographer at the same time and place.

The 2nd critical element is the lighting and lighting is best near sunset and sunrise. The sun casts beautiful shades of golden light during these times. After the sun sets or before it rises offers yet another opportunity for great color. Any clouds that sit near the horizon will offer opportunities to catch an array of color as the sun dips under the horizon. 

The 3rd element is the selection of the location. The Serenity Seascape is located in Key Largo, Florida. While there are many personal preferences, it is hard to go wrong with landscapes near the sea or mountains. Sea scapes and mountain ranges are universally appealing to the vast majority of landscape lovers. It may take a few trips back to your favorite place before you spot the perfect composition and the weather cooperates.

The final step to success is the post processing of the RAW image files. RAW image files are simply the sensor data that the camera captured. A RAW image is not processed by the camera, in other words, the software inside of the camera does not sharpen, saturate, or edit the photo. The editing of the photo is left entirely to the photographer. The Serenity Seascape consists of 3 exposures taken at +-2 stops. I blended the 3 exposures using Photomatix Pro software. Using 3 exposures allows one to capture a lot more detail in the final image especially in the shadows of a setting sun. I correct the blended image in Adobe Lightroom by adjusting color, clarity and sharpness using gradient filters which allow more precise corrections. The last step is an export to Adobe Photoshop where I add a vignette and utilize luminosity masks to color correct and grade the highlights in the photo. 

In summary, I believe if you follow these core principles you will be on your way to capturing a wall hanger worthy photo. Even if your editing skills are not as advanced you will always be able to go back and re-edit your favorite photo as your knowledge increases. Bad composition and lighting can never be fixed so take your time out in the field and plan out the shot and timing of the light before you click.