One of the best ways to add interest and variety to your landscape photos is to include water in the scene. Although I love to photograph seascapes, sometimes there’s no coastline nearby, or I’m looking for calmer waters. Lake photography is a great way to add water to your landscapes that gives a very different feel to seascape photography.
There are many different approaches to photographing lakes. You can make them the focus and main subject of your photos, or include them as part of a larger scene. Try these tips for better lake photography.
18 Lake Photography Tips
1. Go Wide
If you’re going for epic, all-encompassing lake photography, you’re going to want to go wide. A wide-angle lens will allow you to include the lake and the surrounding scenery into one frame. How wide you can go will depend on what lens you’re using, but I would recommend using the best wide-angle lens you can afford. Panoramas can be a great way to go really wide and capture even more of the scene.
2. Frame The Scene
You can add interest to a scene by finding natural frames for your photos. Using overhanging branches of trees on the lake edge, frame the scene by placing the leaves and branches around the edges of the photo. You can also try photographing the lake through a window or door if possible.
3. Use Side Light
Although you can create some great photos with the sun in front of the camera, if you want to create lake photography with depth, try using side light. Shooting with the sun off to one side of the scene will allow the light to fall on the scene in a way that shows the shape and depth of the landscape. It also means you don’t have to contend with the extreme dynamic range of bright sun and dark shadows in the scene.
4. Play With Long Exposures
Slowing down your camera’s shutter speed can create a beautiful long exposure look. Long exposures will give your lake photography smooth, silky water and clouds, as well as removing moving objects such as people. You can create long exposures by either putting a neutral density (ND) filter on your lens, or shooting during low light, such as blue hour.
5. Jetties Are Your Friends
There’s something about the meeting of natural and man-made elements that makes a great subject. I’m a sucker for a jetty or wharf when I’m photographing a lake. You can use a jetty to lead the eye into your photo and create contrast between the solid structure and the moving water.
6. Watch The Foreground
There’s a saying in landscape photography that also applies to lake photography: put a great foreground in front of a great background. Instead of filling your foreground with water, find some point of interest on the bank of the lake or in the water. It could be rocks, a log, a boat, or even wildlife.
7. Compose For A Great Background
The other half of the above tip is to look for a great background. If your foreground interest leads the viewer into the photo and on to a beautiful background, you’ll have a winner. Mountains make the perfect background to lake photography, but even if there are none, try to compose your photo so that it doesn’t include a large expanse of empty sky. Even interesting clouds can work.
8. Shoot Vertical
It’s tempting to always photograph the world the same way we see it – horizontally. As I mentioned in tip #1, you may want to go wide and capture as much of the scene as possible. However, consider shooting vertically, as it allows you to focus in on one part of the scene, often the most interesting part. This works especially well if you have a telephoto lens.
9. Lead The Eye
Another principle of landscape photography, leading lines can help to draw the viewer’s eye through your lake photography. The human eye naturally follows lines and shapes, so composing your photos in a way that takes advantage of this will make them far more visually satisfying. You can use anything from man-made objects such as roads and bridges, to any part of the natural landscape – mountain ridges, tree lines, even the lake shore.
10. Layer It Up
While we’re on the subject of shapes and lines, it’s worth considering your photos as a collection of shapes and layers. Every element in a photo is adding something to the scene. It’s your job to decide if you want more of less of it. Layering your photos can be very effective when done well. Think of the grass, sand, water, mountains, and sky as layers, and use them to your advantage.
One of the unique characteristics of lakes is how still they can be. This allows you to capture images with reflections in the water, which always look great. Capturing water that looks like glass isn’t difficult with lake photography. Your chances are much better early in the morning, so plan your photos for sunrise if you want stunning reflections.
12. Raise The Horizon
Unless the sky is particularly interesting, try minimising how much of it you include in the frame. I generally try to keep it to one third or less of the frame. This allows over two thirds of the frame to fill with what you came to photograph – the lake and the landscape. It also makes it easy to apply the rule of thirds.
13. Get Up High
Getting a higher perspective means you can capture more of the lake and the surrounding landscape. Sometimes you can even capture more scenery on the other side of hills that you wouldn’t be able to see from the ground. You can get a higher perspective with a drone or aeroplane, or by climbing to a high point such as a mountain or building.
14. Get Your Feet Wet
Sometimes you want to take the opposite approach and get as low and close to the lake as possible. This might mean getting your feet wet. Getting right down close to the water can make for some really interesting lake photography. Just make sure you don’t get your camera wet, and don’t put yourself in danger for the sake of a photo.
15. Look For Contrast
Another element that is known to draw the human eye is contrast. Finding contrasting elements in the scene can add interest where there has been none. Contrast can come in many forms – colour, brightness, and focus. It could also include contrasting subjects such as man-made and natural elements, as mentioned in tip #5.
16. Add A Human Touch
If there’s one thing that Instagram has taught us, it’s that people love taking photos of themselves. A human element can add something to your photography that nothing else is able to. You may not be comfortable on the other side of the lens, so it doesn’t need to be you, but try finding a willing model and placing them in the scene to make it come alive.
17. Capture The Lake’s Personality
Not all lakes are calm, tranquil places. Some are busy, or even ferocious. Every lake has its own personality, which can be defined by the topography, the weather, its uses, and even its popularity. Try to capture the unique characteristics of the lake in a way that shows its personality.
18. Mix It Up
Lake photography doesn’t need to be monotonous. Whether you live in Canada and have 2 million lakes to photograph, or live on an island with just a few, you can create a huge variety of different images using these tips. Taking a different approach to each photo and mixing it up can ensure you keep it interesting and come home with a ton of lake photography that you’re proud of.
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