Landscapes photography is the single most pursued form of photography for many. It seems simple at first, especially if you’re an introvert. You don’t need to interact with another person or a model, and you don’t need a studio filled with special lighting.
All you need a way to access Mother Nature and there seems to be opportunities everywhere…
But there’s more to landscape photography than driving to the nearest Vista point in a National park and sticking a camera out the window of your car and taking a quick snapshot.
The following are my 5 steps that will help get you started and perhaps move you further ahead especially if you’ve been into it for some time and want to improve the quality of your landscape images. Remember, landscape photography is not as simple as people think. There’s a lot involved if you’re really interested in creating compelling images. These are just a few basics steps the will help you in your journey of self-discovery through the lens.
1. Choose the right time of day or night.
So many people plan their photography around their summer vacations. While the summer is a great time to spend time with your family, it’s not always the best time to pursue your landscape photography aspirations. This is why I find fall, winter, and early spring to be the best times for capturing amazing landscapes.
That said, we like to reserve our summer workshops for astrophotography where the Milky Way is in full view and the warm temperatures are ideal for hanging out in the late evenings.
The big difference between great landscape shots and mediocre ones are always tied to the timing of when the photograph was taken. In my nearly 30 years of photographing landscapes, I seldom ever ventured out in mid-day to take landscape photographs, and if I did, those images were of no consequence for the most part.
The quality of the midday light creates harsh shadows and is a definite mistake for many newcomers. The early bird seriously catches the worm here. The best time to optimize your imagery is in the early mornings and late afternoons. We call these times the magic moments of sweet light, the short time after the sun has already set or just before it rises. These are the moments where most of the magic happens, paired with the obvious late afternoon visible sunset and sunrise as well. Don’t make the mistake of walking away once the sun has set, these can be the most magical moments. The time of year is also very important. Always consider photographing on the edge of storms in fall and winter. These will be your best opportunities for great light as the sun sits lower in the sky.
2. Slow Down
When you get to a location, don’t be so eager to slap your camera on your tripod fully extended and take a shot, even though it may happen to be an iconic location that’s obviously beautiful. Try to look beyond the obvious.
Slow down and make it your own! Once you have fully extended your tripod you have unconsciously made a critical decision and have limited your options already. Before you put your camera on your tripod move it around in multiple locations. Explore high and low positions, horizontal and vertical as well. Then secure it to your tripod. This is a great habit to get into and will improve your compositions greatly.
3. Plan what you’re going to be shooting.
Scouting a location is critical for any landscape shot. Whether you’re out on your own or with a with a qualified guide that knows the region you’re interested in exploring, planning is critical. Know your location intimately! Sometimes photographers can get lucky with a shot, but it’s always good to do your research and be armed with as much information as possible. As I mentioned in step 1, if possible, plan your shoots around changing weather patterns.
Changing weather makes the best photographs. Try to catch storms as they enter your selected area, or as they end. If you’re lucky, you’re going to catch something magical.
4. Practice Makes Perfect.
The best way to improve is to practice. I’m sure you’ve heard about the 10,000 times rule. They say if you do something 10,000 times you automatically get good at it. I’m not sure if I subscribe to this philosophy, but I know one thing, practice, and consistency sure goes a long way. The trick is to get out and use your camera as much as possible. So many people park their cameras on the shelf between outings and don’t use them until a big trip or a workshop. I hear this so many times from clients. Like anything, a camera is like a muscle that needs to react in concert with your hands and eyes. If you don’t use it regularly, it won’t work when the time counts. You don’t want to be fumbling around with menus looking for buttons when the action starts.
This goes as well for different locations. So many people get burned out on certain locations. Thinking they got the shot on the first visit, why return? Many newcomers fail to realize that the time of year and different weather conditions can greatly alter landscapes locations.
The key to being a successful landscape photographer is to revisit locations as frequently as possible throughout the year. Take time to explore all the angles in these places and seek compositions beyond the obvious. The more your familiar with the location, the more unique your images will become and the better chance your own personal style will emerge. You’ll also have a shot at nailing that epic landscape photograph. Consistency always pays off!
5. Learning to Process Your Photos
This is a major problem for so many people learning photography for the first time. They have that great new camera, but now they have the daunting task of organizing and processing their images. Whether you use Lightroom or Photoshop, you must get to know either one or both well.
Post-processing your images needs to be second nature in order to be successful in the world of landscape photography. This even comes down to knowing intuitively how your selected exposure with any particular camera will be affected by post-processing. Editing the photograph doesn’t need to be a complicated process once you have established a workflow that works for you. Don’t get caught up in all the available adjustment options. Select a few and stick with them. Remember, beyond any special effects you choose to apply to your photograph in post, the more work you do behind the lens in the field directly reflects the time spent sitting in front of your computer editing and fixing that photograph.
Jansen Photo Expeditions offers online, in person, and Skype tutoring sessions in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Remember, landscape photography is always a great adventure. It can take you anywhere in the world and expose you to a vast variety of amazing people and places. The key to enjoyment is to spend as much time exploring these beautiful places as you do seeing small parts of them through your camera’s viewfinder. Years from now, the wide-eyed experiences you have in the field and the wonderful landscapes you behold will stay in your mind’s eye much longer than the smaller ones captured on your camera’s sensor.
All The Best,