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25 TIPS FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

Landscape photography is an art all unto itself. There's a whole different world out there that awaits. You're driving down the road and something catches your eye and you have to take a second look. You get oout and take a look and all of a sudden it hits you that you need to grab your gear and set up for a memorable image. Not just any image but one that speaks to you and says you knew there was a reason you stopped and grabbed your gear. To avoid taking a pedestrain image and take one that calls out that you had to stop and take the time to create that wonderful shot follow these top landscape photography tips.

INSPIRATION
1. Have a vision or idea of what you want to come away with. Have a picture in your mind and let the lighting and setting bring out the beauty and other shots.

2. Quality over quantity. Unlike a wildlife shoot where lots of images result in numerous shots, take time to set up and get a few great ones.

3. Keep motivated because great landscape photography is not easy. Ansel Adams once said: “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer, and often the supreme disappointment.”

4. The weather, the right location, the best conditions or mood you want to portray takes work. You may be at a great spot but if everything else isn’t just right use the shoot as a practice session and come back when it is right for the perfect shot.

5. Look at other work for inspiration and ideas. This comes from seeing shots at a camera club, in a magazine, contest winners or online. Also look at the work and think of how it was created to learn new techniques, concepts or approaches.

mono lake sunrise tufas
Mono Lake Sunrise - Let the subject guide you to the right composition

CHOOSING A LOCATION
6. Be prepared and plan ahead. Consider the direction of the sun and phases of the moon. Research spots to go during a scout trip.

7. Look for a location with leading lines, a strong foreground, a background that works with the foreground, and direction of light for implementing shadows.

8. Stop when you’re attracted to a scene.  Ask yourself what caught your eye.  Was it an unusual formation in nature, a field of flowers or wandering stream? Bring it out.

9. On your scout trip note how long it takes to get there. You don’t want to end up being late for your shoot by not allowing enough time to get there and get set up.

10. Scout for the best vantage point. Knowing where you want to set up when it’s time for the shoot will save time as well as the agony of rushing around.

bristlecone pine milky way scouting locations
Souting an area showed this to allow for a perfect composition with how everything was lined up.

 

11. Find multiple locations and angles to shoot at a particular spot. I’ve seen photographers shooting during sunset from the same spot with the same composition with just letting the quality of light be the only difference. Move around, change your direction, change your focal length, and shoot different photos.

12. When shooting seascapes, take a look at the tide tables before your visit. Some places are better shot at high tide, some during low tide. An incoming tide can help with water coming in over and through the rocks on long exposure shots.

13. Scout trips are all day ventures. The light will be bad for several hours but you can find the spots you want to get to at other times of the day for when you return.

rainbow hay shed palouse
By knowing the area, I knew right where to go when a rainbow appeared


 

BEST TIME TO SHOOT
14. I prefer to take my photos at high noon – just kidding. You can’t get the best results without losing a bit of sleep. I try to get to a prime location around an hour before sunrise or sunset. For the Milky Way and star trails, a sunset shoot at the first location allows for some interesting shooting. A photo trip can be very tiring as the days can be very long and sleep will be less than you’re used to at home.

THE SHOOT
15. Before clicking the shutter button, use a checklist.  Where do your eyes immediately go? Where do you want the eyes to go? If you’re trying to direct the viewers’ attention to a certain part of the photo, but the first thing you look at is something else, then the shot needs a different composition. Too often when setting up a shot you see the main subject but never look at everything else in the frame to see how they work together. What drew you to want to take the picture? Whatever it was, do everything possible to accentuate it.

16. Once you decide on the focal point of the image, look to see what else is included in the shot.  Utilize other elements in the foreground, middle ground or background that will make the subject more important. Use them to balance the composition.

17. Watch your horizon lines.  Unless you are purposely being creative, water doesn’t slant downhill and sloppy horizon lines can be distracting to the viewer.  While this can be fixed in post-production, getting it right in the camera is a good habit to practice.

boulder beach sunrise horizon line
Make sure the horizon line of a seascape is lined up properly so the water does not flow off the page at an angle.

 

18. Watch your backgrounds.  Showing too much backdrop or sky can overpower the image by taking the viewers eye away from the main subject.  Let tree branches or other elements block out something that isn’t of interest.  If near water, look for reflections.  Even a boring sky can look wonderful when reflected in water. 

19. Look within the overall scene for the pieces and parts that might also make interesting images.  Not everything has to be the large landscape.

20. Look around the edges of the frame to make sure there are no distracting elements sneaking in that could take the viewers eye from your intent. Also look for hot spots as these can pull the viewers eye away from the subject. Whatever isn’t adding to the photo is taking away from the photo. Photography is more a process of elimination than anything else. My guide is if an element doesn’t add to it being a great shot, then do whatever possible to eliminate it the frame.

21. Don’t rush. Take time to “see” the scene and form your shots. Soaking in the beauty translates into your inhale while the exhale is the taking of the photo.

mount rainier reflection lakes flowers
Don't Rush - This image took about 10 minutes or so to set up the way I wanted everytyhing in the composition to be just right

GEAR AND EQUIPMENT
22. Get a tripod. I see many photographers with expensive gear but with a flimsy or no tripod. It is so important to have a stable tripod and head system. It’s very hard to shoot some of the longer exposures needed for certain landscape photography without the camera being stable. My gear is from Really Right Stuff.

23. Get the best camera and lenses you can afford. Quality lenses are sharper and handle lighting better. My main body is a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 1D Mark II is my second body. All lenses are Canon L series. My go-to lens for most landscape work is a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 but when I need to go wide it’s a Canon 16-35 f/2.8. My passion with landscape photography is in bringing out the intimate details, so I use the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens most of the time. I’ve been called a dentist before because I like to extract details and parts out of the whole scene in front of me.

fishing boat leaving the harbor
All of my lenses are of the L variety allowing for better light distribution for good details throughout.

 

24. At night, I shoot with the Canon 16-35 f/2.8 lens as it’s primarily for the northern lights or Milky Way and I want as much sky as I can get. This lens is also preferred when doing hyperfocal distance shooting with a batch of flowers in the foreground and mountains in the background.

25. Some people are filter junkies. I don’t rely on much more gear other than my camera and lens. I use a circular polarizer for certain scenes to help pop a blue sky, bring out fall colors or to cut down haze and maybe a neutral density to add exposure time to moving water, but not much else. Split neutral density filters can be helpful for balancing out the dynamic range between the foreground and background but this can also be handled with HDR post processing techniques. I also have a Variable ND to allow for slowing down the movement of water.

bass harbor lighthouse split neutral density filter
The proper use of a split neutral density helped provide the proper llight throughout this image.