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.

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. Lighting will also play a large role in your photographs this week. You will find that morning and evening lighting brings out rich colors and delicate shadows in your photographic subjects, whereas mid-day lighting is generally harsh and direct. For a more dramatic photograph try positioning yourself so that the sun provides side-lighting, or even back-lighting. Getting the correct exposure is more challenging in these situations, but the results are well worth it!

You might use this assignment as a reason to head up into the hills that run along the peninsula. Skyline Drive is dotted with nature reserves where 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 that you will 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".

As a reminder, we will penalize photographs with insufficient comments. Write at least two short paragraphs (ie two picasa comments) below each of your photos explaining how you arranged the scene, how you took 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

As usual, we've posted an example solution to this assignment to let you know what we expect. For additional inspiration, you may want to peruse the best CS178 photographs (as selected by the TA's and instructor) from 2009 and 2010. However, you do not need to meet the assignment requirements in the same way as these solutions do - in fact, you should challenge yourself to come up with creative, unique compositions. There are plenty of possibilities out there. Surprise us!

Please remember that the photographs that you submit for each assignment must be taken by you specifically for this course. Do not reuse old photographs that you may have laying around, even if they perfectly meet one of the requirements!

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.


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 15th, 2011

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. In such circumstances, be sure to read the lateness policy from the course outline, or contact your TA.

© 2009-2011 Marc Levoy, Andrew Adams, and Jesse Levinson