When you first start out, landscape photography can seem daunting, especially when you see all the beautiful photos other people post online. Here are some ideas from my own experience that may help you achieve more success as a landscape photographer.
Watch out for the light
Landscape photography is all about light and how it falls on the landscape. If you want to take better photos, notice how objects change in appearance at different times of the day and in different climatic conditions. Get out there early in the morning, be there again late in the day, and stay after sunset. Learn about the patterns and movements of the sun. If you practice this, the quality of lighting in your photos, and therefore your photos, will improve dramatically.
Be the merrier
What I mean by this is to be willing to try new things. Don’t be confined to one shooting style or one type of target all the time. Try new things. If you usually shoot at a wide angle, try getting close or vice versa. Try new places. Don’t be afraid to shoot things that, at least at first, seem like they might not garner many likes on social media. Shoot them anyway just for fun. It will help you expand your mindset and discover new ways to approach your photography.
A famous photographer (I don’t remember who) once said, “Always remember to look behind you.” This is great advice, and it fits perfectly with the last point. You may be so focused on what’s in front of you and what you expect to be a good shot you may miss out on something beautiful behind you. I’ve had this experience many times, and it’s often hard for me to remember just scanning the area around me and seeing other unexpected images that might be out there.
Don’t get caught up in the perfect headshot. Be prepared to switch to Plan B when weather conditions are not what you want or expect. Don’t focus on what you were looking for so much that you miss other gems that might be right in front of you. Learn to respond to what nature gives you. If you want sunshine but instead rain, find things that look best in that dim, dim light. Or you might get something better than pure sunshine when the fog rolls in or the rain goes down. And sometimes, you just have to be willing to let go and see what happens. This leads to the next point.
Looking for bad weather
Stormy weather often results in some of the most memorable images. When storms disappear from the mountains or fog descends on the forest, these are the times when the light is magical. Parts of the landscape may enter and disappear or be highlighted by a transient spotlight. This adds the mystery and drama missing when the sky is clear. You may have to wait for that pillar of sunlight to come in from under the storm and never get it, but the times when you are patient are often worth the wait.
Speaking of patience, the image at the head of this article is an example of that. My girlfriend and I stopped at Abiquiu Lake on a trip through northern New Mexico and enjoyed a nice evening at the beaches. At first, after sunset, the sky was dull and uninteresting, but I told her I thought we should just wait a few minutes to see if a beautiful sunset developed. Sure enough, after a few minutes, the sky started to light up brightly and it became one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen in a long time. With the onset of winter, with the sun entering at a low angle (see first tip), the show lasted several minutes. The amazing view in the sky was reflected in the lake’s water, adding to its beauty. Had we set off when the sun first set and nothing much happened, I’d probably watch the sunset in the rearview mirror and kick myself, an experience no landscape photographer would want. But it’s all too easy, especially at the end of the day, when you’re tired and hungry, to put your camera away early. On that particular day, I was thankful that I took the extra time to wait.
Let’s face it: If you’re a modern digital photographer, post-processing is just part of what you’ll need to master to produce quality work. In the digital world, you don’t send the film to the lab for processing, you are the lab. If this is something you don’t like or care about very much, one solution is to find a program that makes it easier or more intuitive for you. This is largely a matter of personal taste and may just require testing on a few different types to see what makes the most sense for you and is easiest to use. It may also be helpful to watch tutorials from the experts. Learn from others who have more experience in the post-processing field. Do whatever you want to do to accept it. It’s part of the middle.
Don’t try too hard
In my younger days, I don’t know how many times I wasted a beautiful morning photo session running around to find the right angle or arrange the items that were in my head, rather than just observing and shooting what was there. This trend has led to a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the sun is low on the horizon and the light is brilliant and one has to move fast and take advantage of it. But I’ve found that when I approach a place or topic with curiosity and openness rather than a mental checklist of what I want, I often come up with more interesting images and have a much better time doing it.
When possible, find out a location beforehand. I don’t know how many times I’ve made the mistake of showing up in a nice spot and then coming off with mediocre shots because I didn’t really know where the best angles were. Your chances of success are greatly increased when you can visit a location in advance and see where the sun will rise or set and where there are some good spots. If it’s an unfamiliar place to you, try setting aside an afternoon to check it out first.
Enjoy being in nature
This seems very obvious. One of the best things you can do to improve your landscape photography is to just enjoy being outside in nature. This may require being outside without the camera within reach. If you don’t enjoy and experience the natural world, you probably won’t get the most powerful work, or at least you won’t be satisfied with its production. Honestly, if you don’t enjoy being in nature, why be a landscape photographer? So, go out and have a picnic or simply sit back and enjoy a special place. This will eventually help improve your landscape photos.
Take these ideas with you the next time you go out to see if you can come up with some more flattering landscape photos.