There’s no denying it: Landscapes are some of the most beautiful images you can take. Unfortunately, they are also super challenging to shoot well. But they don’t have to be! In this post, I will share a handful of landscape photography tips that I’ve picked up over the years.
1) Make Deliberate Time For Scouting
The tried-and-true method of scouting is a common way to locate ideal sites for landscape photography. It’s a name you’ve probably seen or heard before. It is impossible to emphasize the importance of scouting, but this is an area where most photographers fall short.
I used to be the same way, not doing any location scouting. As an alternative, I would travel to a spot in the hopes of catching the sunset, generally after seeing some stunning photos of it online. My pictures came out great, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything… When I don’t have a lot of time at a spot or am going on a walk with limited time for scouting, I still employ this method. However, your images will have a more personal and purposeful vibe if you spend as much time as possible scouting for places.
To put it another way, scouting entails a variety of activities. Visiting a site and envisioning the ultimate shot are essential skills in landscape photography. How you approach a scene determines how well you’ll do in it. You might even go as far as taking a picture of the precise composition you want to utilize later, so you have time to assess how effective it is.
However, the major benefit of scouting is not limited to composition design; it also allows you to make the most of “poor light.” The light may be too harsh for landscape photography during midday, but it’s the best time to scout out new spots.
The main point to remember is this:
NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/8.0
This is my scouted photo, taken in early afternoon.
NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/16.0
The final image, taken the next day at sunset.
A hike in the middle of the day can provide the best opportunities for sunset photography.
While scouting, you really don’t need to bring your camera. All your gear can be left in the car and you can just go for a hike and see where it takes you, moving more swiftly. Remember the spots you wish to go back to and jot them down in your head or on your GPS or with a photo on your smartphone.
In-person scouting is required. Online location scouting isn’t enough; it’s merely preliminary inquiry. It’s impossible to judge a landscape accurately until you’ve seen it for yourself.
Most advanced photographers’ first step should be to examine their approach to landscape shooting. How long does it take you to complete different tasks? The more time you devote to scouting, the better your results will be.
2) Convey Emotions
People always react emotionally when they see one of your images.
Possibly they’ve been to a similar spot before and the photo brings back pleasant memories of that trip. It’s possible they were wowed by your photo’s intriguing composition or general aesthetic appeal. Even if people don’t like the picture, they’ll always have an emotional reaction to it, even if it’s negative or disinterested. This is something you should take advantage of.
The next time you’re out taking pictures of the scenery, see if you can capture the mood or feelings of the place. In the foreground, are there any lovely flowers? Is there a dark cloud in the sky that could spell trouble? What emotions does the scenery elicit in you?
If you have an emotional reaction, strive to capture it in your photograph.
There are a number of methods for accomplishing this. The first thing you need to do is locate the correct kind of light to convey your message. Landscapes look their finest when the sun’s rays blend seamlessly with them. Your scenario will have a better overall impact if you use this technique. It’s in keeping with the natural feel of the surroundings. An intense mountain landscape would look out of place with soft pastel lighting, as would a soft, hazy sky.)
NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 8 seconds, f/16.0
Find light that suits your landscape’s character, like the high-contrast conditions here.
However, once the light is good, you cannot simply stop. Ensure that every decision you make in the field serves your precise purpose for an image by framing your photo in a way that portrays the feelings you’re after.
Exclusion can be an effective strategy if used correctly. Compose around any footprints in the foreground to accentuate the desolation of a sand dune. If you wish to convey the peacefulness of a forest landscape, leave off the busy and distracting elements. This same strategy – removing anything that detracts from your message – may be used to capture the appearance you want even if you want to show off the ugly parts of a scene.
To put it another way, removing things that detract from the message of a landscape might help convey emotions.
It’s a huge deal. Photographs that are excessively disjointed will look disjointed to viewers, but those that are focused on a single feeling will elicit an emotional response.
The two images below should help illustrate what I mean. The first thing you see is a jumbled mess in this situation. The second option is superior since it eliminates everything that disturbs the forest’s serene atmosphere:
This image is distracting, and it has no cohesive message. It’s too sloppy to succeed.
NIKON D7000 + 17-55mm f/2.8 @ 17mm, ISO 100, 0.6 seconds, f/8.0
This photograph, on the other hand, works much better. I adjusted my composition, waited for the sunlight to change slightly, and emphasized different elements in post-production. The result has a much clearer emotional message.
3) Wait For Patterns
Lightning never strikes the same area twice, according to popular belief. That is, of course, completely incorrect. If lightning strikes twice in a row, it’s most likely to be in the same spot. Otherwise, after a storm, we’d have to get rid of our lightning rods because they’d no longer work. Because it’s been struck before, I’m perfectly OK swimming in the neighborhood pool the next time it starts to thunder!
The same is true for other types of energy as well, such as heat and cold. A lot of things that move seem to repeat themselves. Patterns and cycles underpin everything in the universe. When one wave hits the shore, another one is sure to come behind it. When a cloud passes directly above you, a second one forms directly behind it.
Even if you miss a shot the first time, chances are you’ll get another chance. There have been numerous instances where experienced landscape photographers have moved on without checking to see if the same conditions might occur again.
The secret to success is having a lot of patience. When a pattern repeats itself, you won’t always know how long it will take – maybe several minutes, and maybe a few days. Do you have the patience to wait for something that may or may not happen in the future? But if there is a chance you can get an unforgettable photo, it can be worth the effort. You are the final judge.
I observed a bird fly past an iceberg when visiting Iceland’s Jökulsárlón lake a few years back. A slow shutter speed wasn’t an option because I was shooting landscapes, so I wasted the opportunity. A bird came past again fifteen minutes later, and this time I realized it was travelling in circles. When it passed by again, I re-adjusted the exposure and snapped the photo I desired.
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 800, 1/800, f/2.8
The cyclical bird.
Landscape photography is often cyclical in nature. Even though certain things, like birds, waves, the sun, clouds, and rivers, aren’t exactly predictable, they’re all amazingly so.
Never give up hope after missing a once-in-a-lifetime shot. If the pattern repeats, or if you go back to the same area later, you might be able to get a better shot.
4) Try Something New
Almost everyone experiences a creative blockage at some point in their lives. Even if you’re an experienced photographer, you can’t prevent it.
The landscape photography I enjoy is something that I’d like to do for the rest of my life, but I’m also the same way about it as you are. After a long day of hiking, the last thing I want to do is get up early the next morning to capture the sunrise. You may also pass through a gorgeous environment without stopping since you are already late for another appointment. Unless landscape photography is something you enjoy doing, it will become a chore rather than something you look forward to.
It’s possible you’ve never felt this way, or it’s something you do on a regular basis. Whatever the case may be, the following advice is sound:
Trying something new could be the most enjoyable experience of your entire life.
That’s all there is to it. Try new things if you want to keep your enthusiasm for photography alive – or perhaps increase your enjoyment of it.
To go to a new place for the first time is possible. You may even use a different set of lenses than you normally pack on a trip to capture the images. Take shots at a different time of day if that’s all you do. Whatever you do, try something new. You won’t regret it.
Ahead of my journey to Iceland, I designed and built my own drone, which I took with me. Because it was so challenging, I had no idea how difficult it would be. I worked on the drone for three weeks straight leading up to the trip, but I didn’t even manage to get it off the ground until a few days before we left for the field trip.
But in the end, it worked, and this surreal encounter became a defining moment of my Iceland vacation.. It was a lot of fun. Even when I wasn’t flying the drone, I was more creative and relaxed, and the results were evident in the images.
COOLPIX A @ 18.5mm, ISO 320, 1/1000, f/3.5
Jökulsárlón beach, taken from above
You’re not required to carry out this irrational action. For Milky Way photography, rent a supertelephoto lens or experiment with light painting. Learn how to use a new Photoshop feature while you’re at it. It doesn’t matter what the details are. You’ll get yourself out of a creative rut and improve your photographs if you try something new.
5) Form A Vision
Forming a vision is the final tip on my list, and it’s something I’m constantly working on improving.
In contrast to scouting or looking for a site to snap images, this is not the same thing. There’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s all about selecting decisions that are in line with the vision you’ve formed for your photo.
Do you desire a picture of nature’s delicate beauty or a storm’s ferocious power? Do you want to bring attention to a humanitarian or environmental cause?
Here’s the deal: No matter what your goal is, you should always keep it in mind when making field decisions.
Which lens is better, a 14mm or a 35mm? How well-balanced is your group? How bright or dark do you want your final image to be? Which components – like the foreground or the backdrop – will you prioritize in the picture and at what height will you set your tripod?
If you want to achieve your goal, you must make decisions based on more than just aesthetics. Although the questions posed above appear insignificant and haphazard, they are not. As a result of each decision, a tiny tick appears in one big question: Did you achieve your goal with this photograph?
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 200mm, ISO 100, 1/160, f/11.0
Define a goal for your photo. Then, make deliberate and conscious choices to turn it into reality.
Think about capturing the somber, depressing aftermath of a clear-cut. What steps would you take if you were in my shoes? It is up to you to choose between black and white and colour. You must also decide between realism and impressionism, as well as between a wide angle and a regular or telephoto lens, harsh versus muted light, and strong or low contrast.
There are plenty other examples.
All of these considerations come in handy if your goal is to take a shot that tells a narrative and conveys a message. A lot of what you’ll get right as a photographer may come naturally to you if you’re a good one, but it doesn’t hurt to take your time and make every step count. By eliminating all instances of chance and “that’s-just-the-way-it-was,” your photo will have a far stronger narrative and emotional impact. It’s not the end of the world if you choose the wrong picture variable, but it can lessen the impact of your work.
Make a concerted effort to make your ideal snapshot of a situation a reality by focusing on the one that best conveys your message.