CS178 Assignment 6 - Landscape and Nature

Bryce Canyon at Dawn. Photo by Andrew Adams.


We explored the man-made environment in assignment 4, and then arranged scenes contrived especially for the photograph in assignment 5. It's time to return to one of the richest sources of beauty for photography: nature, and particularly the natural landscape.

This week we'll be especially exercising the things we learned in the composition lecture last Thursday. The difference between a mundane landscape and a great landscape is often composition. Pay attention to lines, framing, suggestive forms, diagonals, s-curves, balance, rhythm and texture. We'll also be exercising the Photoshop skills learned in section.

You might like to use this assignment as a reason to head up into the hills that run along the peninsula. Skyline Drive is dotted with nature reserves at which great landscape photos can be taken. If you're feeling really adventurous, the Mecca of landscape photography is only a five hour drive away (Yosemite).


As usual, there are five requirements, which you should meet by taking 5-10 photographs. Below each one justify your choice of camera settings and comment on compositional elements of your scene.

Before you begin, you'll find it helpful to read through the landscape examples in the Ansel Adams chapter of your course reader: "Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs".


  • Requirement 1: Use an S-Curve
    S-Curves can be used in photographs for a variety of purposes. They can lead the viewer's eye to the subject, convey a sense of depth (eg a road winding into the distance), or they can be flat compositional elements that create a balanced scene. At least one of your photos this week should use an S-Curve for one of these purposes. Describe in the comments what purpose the S-curve serves compositionally. Note that the S-curve we refer to here is not the same thing as an S-curve you might use in a curves layer in Photoshop to enhance contrast.
  • Requirement 2: Improve on Nature with Photoshop
    For at least one of the landscape photos you take this week, touch it up in Photoshop and make it even better. Make at least one local edit, like dehazing a region with a judiciously painted on curves layer, or removing an eyesore with the healing brush. Additionally, make at least one global edit, like color-correcting or recropping and straightening the entire image. Post the before and after photos to Picasa. The difference can and probably should be subtle, but there should be a clear improvement.
  • Requirement 3: Panorama
    In assignment 4 you took an interior panorama, and had to be very careful to rotate the camera about the center of the lens to avoid artifacts. This week take an exterior panorama of a landscape. You'll find that landscape panoramas are far more forgiving, as the scene is mostly far away so small movements of the photographer do not materially change the point of view. It's easy to make a boring landscape panorama that simply compresses multiple elements into the frame. Find a subject wide enough to justify the use of this technique.
  • Requirement 4: Texture
    Take at least one shot in which the main, or even sole compositional element is a natural texture. Use a small aperture (large F-number) to get everything in focus. Interesting natural textures include grass, rock, sand, and clouds. Use Photoshop to take advantage of the full tonal range available to you, from black to white. You'll find that textures under grazing light appear richer, which leads us to the next requirement...
  • Requirement 5: The Golden Hour
    Landscape photography is best done in the golden hour. This is the hour after dawn or the hour before sunset when the light is a rich golden color and strikes the earth at a grazing angle, emphasizing details. At least one of your photographs this week must be of a landscape taken during the golden hour. Dawn is definitely preferable, as the air is much clearer, but if your sleep schedule makes dawn either too late or too early, sunset is also acceptable. Sunset is currently approximately 8pm, and dawn is approximately 6am. You should thus be planning to take photos from 7-8pm, or 6-7am.

Upload your photos and add comments.

Upload your photos using the Picasa account you created in the first week to a public Picasa album titled "CS178 Assignment 6 - Landscape and Nature". Add comments below each photo explaining, how you composed the photo, what relevant camera settings you used and why, any image processing done to the photograph afterwards, and most importantly, which requirement the photo covers.

Example Solution

We've put up an example solution to this assignment to both let you know what we expect, and hopefully also inspire you to take better photos than the TAs can. You don't have to meet the assignment requirements in the same way as we did - surprise us!

One caveat: In our example solutions we may reuse photos we already had lying around, or borrow photos from other people to illustrate a point. Don't do this - your work for each assignment should be done by you specifically for the course.

If you have questions or comments about the photos we used in the example solution, feel free to add them as comments below the corresponding photograph in Picasa Web, or to email us.


As usual, we will assign grades based on whether you met the requirements of the assignment. For each requirement, you'll be given a check for meeting the requirement, check-minus for not quite meeting the requirement, or check-plus if you do something spectacular that makes your grader's jaw drop.

Due Date

11:59PM, Sunday, May 17, 2009

Assignments are generally due on Sunday at midnight at the end of the week in which they're assigned. This leaves you free to start thinking about the next assignment during your next section. Sometimes lateness is unavoidable. Here's the lateness policy from the course outline:

Since the assignments come in rapid succession, it is important that each be completed on time. Replacing photos after the deadline is not allowed, and will be treated as a violation of the honor code. To allow for unforeseeable circumstances, you will be allowed up to two weekdays of grace for up to two of your assignments. Beyond this, late assignments will be penalized by 10% of the grade for that assignment per weekday that they are late. Exceptions to this late policy will be made only in the case of a necessary (non-pleasure) trip approved in advance by the TA for your section, or severe illness. If you do not submit one of the assignments at all, you will fail the course, even if you are taking it pass/fail. In this case, or if you believe you are in danger of failing, it is your responsibility to come talk to us before the end of the course. Incompletes are given only in exceptional circumstances.


© 2009 Marc Levoy and Andrew Adams