At the surface landscape photography seems like a simple practice, but as you dig deeper you to start to uncover layers of nuance and technique. Quite simply, landscape photographers accomplish the same task in many different ways, and it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia. So let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and perhaps spark some creativity.
1 – Stay true to your vision
Pursue what interests you and stay true to your style. Definitely get inspired by the work of others, but don’t get caught up with what everyone else is doing. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and it’s really about how YOU see and interpret the world. As an artist that has worked in many mediums, I think perhaps this is my best piece of advice. Find your own voice and niche, and put all your effort into that.
2 – Quality over Quantity
As a landscape photographer your goal should be to create works of art, which requires a level of thoughtfulness and technical execution. While you want to get good coverage of a location, especially in the ideal light, you want to make sure you get the most important shots right, the ones you have exhaustingly planned. Anything else after that is a bonus.
3 – Uncover cool locations
No doubt sometimes you have to get that landmark shot, as you should, but what other areas of the location, or near the location, also tell the story of the landscape? Try to think outside the box and find lesser known areas and new views. Look for points of interest and dynamic foregrounds. This can help you capture something really special that speaks to the essence of the location.
4 – Let light dictate your angle
As an outdoor photographer your world is dictated by natural light, so it’s important to plan your images around the position of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky. Some locations can only be maximized at certain times of day and under certain lighting conditions, so it’s important to plan your point of view and time the capture of your image appropriately.
5 – Check the weather
You can never be exactly sure what Mother Nature is going to serve up, but you can increase your odds of success by checking forecasts. For example, if you are looking to do daytime long exposures with cloud movement, keep on the lookout for fair days when cumulous clouds are likely to pop up, and be ready with some locations in mind. By that same rationale, if you’re looking to shoot stars in the night sky, you’ll want to plan for a clear night with the desired darkness.
6 – Show up early
Since you can never know the exact conditions at a location until you show up, it’s worth showing up early to give yourself enough time to change plans if the conditions aren’t what you expected, or to give you time to dial-in and grab some different looks. When I go shoot sunrise I like to shoot twilight through the golden hour, and the reverse of that at sunset.
7 – Shoot long focal lengths
Sometimes a wide angle lens is the right tool for the job, but a telephoto can open up a world of possibilities by changing the way you interpret what you see in front of you. It’s a more selective process that forces you to think and become not only more intimate with the landscape but more aware of the interplay of light and shadow in the scene.
8 – Use filters and create motion
Every landscape photographer should have a circular polariser and neutral density filter in their bag. The polariser will cut haze to deepen sky and make colors pop by reducing glare on reflective surfaces. With neutral density filters you can adjust your exposure length to create an array of motion effects with non-static subjects in the scene and create striking images.
9 – Think about depth of field
In general landscapers want to achieve an image that is sharp throughout the frame. This can come with varying degrees of difficulty depending on focal length and the distance between subjects near and far. There are a lot of methods that can be used from focus stacking to utilizing hyperfocal distances to achieve a sharp image throughout the frame, but it really comes down to doing your research and learning what works best for you and your equipment. At the end of the day though there really are no rules, so don’t be afraid to incorporate shallow depth of field in your landscapes shots to achieve an entirely different look.
10 – Diversify horizon lines
I encourage you to not only keep your horizon lines level, but be aware where you are placing them in your images. Diversify where you position them, but let that be guided by the scene. If the sky is the most powerful aspect of the scene, pan up and grab more of it, and if the foreground is the most interesting part of the scene, push that horizon line up and include more foreground.
11 – Incorporate people
This certainly isn’t a new concept, but it can be counterintuitive for a lot of landscape photographers, especially if you are trying to capture a natural scene. Fact is it can be really cool to incorporate people in a scene, not only to establish scale and perspective but also to lead the viewer’s eyes through the composition. Ideally this would be directed and intentional, but next time you are at a popular location and someone gets into your frame look at it as an opportunity to capture something unique. You can also experiment with shutter speed for interesting ghosting effects.
By way of the Southwest I eventually found my home in Boston, where I have been living for the past 7 years. I’ve been an artist my entire life, and have worked in many mediums. I’m a classically trained fine art painter with a BFA in Visual Communications, emphasizing in Illustration, and I’ve spent over a decade creating paintings using unconventional methods and working in the field of digital art and graphic design. Before that, I worked extensively with digital video and a 35mm film camera. Several years ago I was reunited with photography, and the passion quickly grew to an undeniable force. I find it the perfect outlet, and I see it as the culmination of my artistic career. Thanks for taking the time to check out my work, I hope you enjoy it.