Two Ways to Capture More Color in Your Landscape Photos

When I first started photographing landscapes, I thought buying an SLR would instantly provide me with deeper, more colorful landscape photos. In theory, I was right – it provided me with the means to capture more vibrant landscapes, but I still needed to take extra steps to make it happen.

This article goes over a few simple ways you can take advantage of your SLR and photograph your environment with more color, and deeper saturation.

Autumn Light

1. Adjust Your Exposure
The amount of color that is present in your photo is directly related to proper exposure. Colors will appear muted and muddy when underexposed, or overly bright and washed out when overexposed. A simple way to correct this is to either increase or decrease your exposure to compensate – but depending on your scene, it’s not always that straightforward.

In landscapes, it’s difficult to capture a perfectly exposed scene throughout your frame, especially when the sun is present. Parts will be in shadow, others in sunlight. While some of your image may be exposed well for color, other sections can be thrown off balance in the process.

You see this often when exposing for both the ground and sky – typically, it will take two entirely different exposure settings to capture both the ground and sky properly, and your camera can only pick one exposure within a single frame.

Before Sunset

In the photo above, I blended two different exposures together, which gave me much more detail and color than if I just used one evaluative exposure for the entire frame.

If this is the case, you have several options to selectively adjust the exposure of only certain parts of your frame.

Exposure Blending/HDR
This method utilizes your digital darkroom to blend different exposures together, and helps you regain color and lost detail. You can find out more about this process by visiting my in-depth tutorial on exposure blending.

Graduated ND Filters
These filters will limit the amount of light that enters your camera for only a certain portion of your frame – it’s like a pair of sunglasses for only half of your lens, which works perfect for balancing out landscapes where the sky is typically much brighter than the ground.

There are distinct benefits and drawbacks to both methods, which are discussed here – GND Filters vs. Exposure Blending: Which is Better?

2. Change Your Light
While you can take several steps to adjust how light enters the camera, you can also change the light of your environment.

The sun has a fantastic way of adding depth and texture to a scene, but it’s not always helpful if your goal is deeply saturated colors.

Try an upcoming landscape shoot under overcast skies. You’ll notice that the harsh highlights and dark shadows are gone, which allows you to capture more detail. And when you pick up more detail, you can photograph color in its true, vibrant form.

First Fall

However, you don’t need to wait for the sky to cloud up for this. As long as your photo isn’t being affected by the sun or any other harsh light, you’ll capture deeper colors.

The blue hours are a good example – that time of twilight just before the sun rises, and just after it sets. The color palette captured during this time is typically on the cooler side, and very rewarding.

Bar Harbor Sunrise

When you adjust both your exposure and your light to suit your environment, the end result will be an all-around more colorful image.

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