Landscape photography is defined by nature’s unpredictability and for many of us, we don’t have the luxury of multiple attempts to obtain the conditions we seek. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few things you can do, when circumstances don’t cooperate, to come up with unique photos.
Landscape photography inspires us to go out too far in the morning, too late at night, or during conditions that most people wouldn’t dare to put themselves in. And no matter what you do, you won’t be able to fully predict what circumstances you will get into; Just because your weather app says clouds don’t mean the sun won’t rise at the perfect moment or that there is a 100% chance of fog but it never reaches the configuration you were thinking. This happens all the time and is part of the challenge and excitement that occurs when photographing landscapes.
So when things don’t go as you expected, what can you do? Sometimes I never take out the camera, but more often than not I try to push myself to get something done, and these tips have helped me a lot over the years.
Unless you’re visiting a local place around you, you probably won’t have time to wait for the circumstances you hope for when visiting new places. I spent three days photographing Westrahorn, a very popular photography spot in Iceland that even showed up on filming the world, and the conditions were different every morning. On the morning of the third day, the entire mountain range was obscured by clouds during sunrise, which wasn’t a huge problem for someone with the ability to photograph it multiple times, but what if this was your only morning there?
I decided to replace my wide angle lens with a telephoto lens and focus on the smaller details around me. Although the conditions were not what I came to photograph it, it was still unique. The clouds were casting shadows on the mountainside and let’s not forget the fact that I was standing on a beach made of black sand and piles of golden straw. I realized that the mountains made things very easy and I had a lot of fun trying to find less obvious combinations around me.
I found myself finding a lot of patterns in the sand and I captured a really interesting moment of light. Can you see the rainbow-like colored light roughly in the center of the image?
When I photographed the fall color change in Colorado in 2020, conditions were nearly impossible to capture anything with a great view due to the smoke in the sky. I spent 5 days in a row hoping to get anything clear and the only day the smoke wasn’t bad was completely overcast. And so I found myself looking at the trees, save for the sky, trying to find the little details around me. It was difficult, at times frustrating, but it got me looking in places I would never have looked. This trip taught me a lot about looking for the little details and really changed the way I take photos in a fundamental way.
Think about your edit
Another way to look at scenes differently is to try to visualize how your images are processed. Oftentimes, my edits depend heavily on the conditions I get from the site. This is evident in the work of many photographers who frequent specific geographical areas. For example, if you follow a photographer who lives in the UK, you might notice how often their photos include dull cloudy light, foggy mornings, or rain. A person photographing the desert might edit their photos with more contrast, shades of pink, or focus on layers in the atmosphere.
We’ll use the image above as an easy-to-follow example. Often, Iceland is overcast and rainy. This means that it is rare to get color in the sky, light contrast, or anything with high dynamics. Thus, if you show up knowing how you like to edit scenes under the same conditions, you’ll have more successful photos once you know which scenes can work and which don’t.
You may ask yourself, “How do I know what my edit will be like before I even take a picture?” This knowledge will come at the right time as you progress as a photographer. I realize that many people reading this may be just getting started and not have the ability to expect an edit before taking a picture. This means that you need to take pictures in all conditions and know how you want to edit those pictures. Exploring these possibilities is part of the journey of learning photography and can be very exciting.
You might find yourself oversaturated with images, changing their green hues on the tonal curve, or playing around with colors in the sky. The only way to learn these techniques is simply with time and effort. If you need some ideas, start by trying some of the techniques I talked about in my article on tone curve, or try diving into radial filters and see what you can do with these.
My last tip is not concrete but may be the most important tip in this article. Chasing the light is basically the whole premise of being a landscape photographer, but you’ll find that it never shows up very often. You might fly around the world with your shots in mind and never get the results you’re looking for. This will happen a lot on your trip, and if you are constantly disappointed that you are not getting the results you want, you will completely stop enjoying your photography.
I remember taking trips, getting up very early, and taking long walks in the dark so I don’t end up taking the camera out of my bag. I let it get to me and stifled my enjoyment of the whole reason for being there – my appreciation for the world around me. Shifting my expectations from getting a shot of my business to just being there in the moment. This completely changed my view of landscape photography. It also meant I was more willing to repeat the process of traveling, getting up early, and taking long walks in the dark.
Sometimes the clouds disappear and the mountains come out anyway. Above is a shot taken on the same morning as Westrahorn earlier in this article. Enjoy the ride and wallet shots will come, you just have to be willing to constantly go out and find them without promises of results. Thanks for reading and I hope you found something useful here. If you have any words of advice, share them below!