A few years ago I wrote my original blog post 25 ideas to improve your landscape photography and I felt with my improving skills that I should update that post! I have learned a lot along the way through much trial and error and I wanted to pass along some of the knowledge that I have learned along the way. Often times the best teacher is experience and I try to shoot as much as I can as often as I can. In any given month I can shoot anywhere from 100 to 500 images and I feel fortunate if I get five or six really strong images that are worth sharing, submitting to magazines, etc.
While the road to becoming a full-time professional Landscape photographer (My original goal/ Not quite there yet but you have to keep moving forward!) has been a long one it’s nice to have a platform on this blog to be able to share what I know and help others along the way! Some of these ideas may not be new but they will always be worth repeating.
*If you like the image above and would like to purchase a copy you can view it here on Fine Art America!
1. Go on scouting missions: If your time is limited always have a plan. Use maps, do research on the internet and during your photography down times go and scout your chosen locations. See how the light interacts with your composition at different times of day and weather conditions. It may seem like you are losing valuable shooting time but in the long run one stunning shot is better than 10 mediocre ones.
2. Bad weather is a photographers best friend: Do you want to be the person that sits at home all the time when the weather is terrible or the one who gets a killer shot? Motivate yourself to go out when it’s cold, at night or when storms are brewing. You will be rewarded with some great light especially at the beginning and ending of storms and unique images that no one else has.
3. Put your tripod where other people won’t: Never be afraid to move and shoot where other people are not shooting. if you are bold and plant your tripod in another spot where no on else is or has shot you will surprise yourself with all of the new compositions you can find. Move around, Don’t get stuck shooting the same compositions and subjects that other people do. Set yourself apart from the pack and your images will get better!
4. Always look behind you during sunrise and sunset: While the light can certainly be amazing when pointing your camera towards the sun at sunrise and sunset always look behind you. The color and intensity of the light will be much different in the opposite direction and can be just as amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I have been out shooting and done this and been more attracted to what’s behind me than what’s in front of me!
5. Always strive to make your next shot better than your last: Never get too comfortable with your work. When you go to make an image ask yourself how can I make this one better than the last one I shot? What can I change to make an average shot an exceptional one? Always analyze what you are doing and how you can improve upon what you have already done.
6. Don’t snap. Take time to study your subject: Weather your shooting a landscape or a portrait always evaluate what you are shooting. Be patient and take your time with your chosen subject. While a snapshot does have its place you may miss a much better composition if you take some time to study what you are shooting.
7. Always think foreground to background: Ask yourself what is going to draw the viewer into this image? A good foreground starts the story in your shot and the mid and background serve to enhance it. Compelling foregrounds tell what your image is about and lead the viewer into your image. Everything else in the shot helps the viewer to know “where” they are in the shot. Look through your viewfinder and take the time to make sure all the elements…Fore, mid and background are compelling.
8. Don’t forget about the corners: Along with number 7 above make sure to check the corners of your composition. We can often forget about the corners but here is where we can eliminate anything unnecessary in the frame. It’s an extra step but a critical one to coming home with a keeper. Many times I have shot something only to get home and wished I had checked the corners!
9. Study the work of landscape masters: Buy some books or research online for any of the masters of landscape photography. Study their work and learn why people gravitate to those images. Find out what makes their work so compelling and learn about all of the hard work that goes into a great landscape shot. Stunning works don’t just happen and if you are in a rut take a look at all of the masters that came before you and learn the history of landscape photography.
10. Shoot at the beginning or ending of storms: Watch the weather and try to anticipate when storms will pop up. I personally feel that the light at the beginning and ending of storm systems is just phenomenal and not to be missed. The build up of a storm system and its last gasps as it passes by and dies out can yield some great shots so never miss out on those storms! I have shot some of my own favorite images this way…The atmosphere of storms adds some great mood to a landscape shot.
11. Learn to shoot at night: With the birth of my daughter last year came the challenge of finding time to fit in my photography work. I had never made night images before but shooting at night was a perfect fit for me. While my wife and daughter are sleeping I can get in some shutter time and keep making images. It takes a great deal of practice to produce some decent night work but the hard work will pay off.
12. Perform an ISO sensor test with your camera body: Set your camera up outside, Point it up at a clear, blue sky or something without a ton of distractions and take a series of shots starting at the lowest ISO and moving to the highest on your camera body. Review these images without any edits at 100% to see where your threshold is for the grain becoming objectionable. On my camera it’s at ISO 1000 which at times I will push higher but only if I am shooting the night sky. Doing this will allow you to know in what situations you can and cannot shoot in. Know your gear and it’s limitations.
13. Practice using graduated and neutral density filters: One thing that will improve your landscape work tremendously is to start learning how to use graduated and neutral density filters. While not a cure-all they can help you to balance exposures between the land and the sky which are often very far apart in exposure values. Using them either hand-held or in a filter holder you will not be disappointed as the amount of keeper shots goes up. I was against using them when I first started shooting but quickly learned their usefulness and my filter sets are always in my camera bag.
14. Don’t be afraid to shoot during the middle of the day: This is not something I like to do but sometimes it is the only time I have so I have to make use of it for photography work. If I know I am going to be shooting during the mid day hours I make sure that the skies will be overcast or partially cloudy. Sometimes the mood strikes me and I shoot on clear blue sky days but for the most part I personally need some interest in the sky. Don’t let the mid day hours be a barrier to getting in some shutter time!
15. Talk to people: I can illustrate this one by explaining the barn image at the top of this post. For years I have looked at this property but I always thought that it was on private property. It turns out that I was wrong as I had a very nice conversation with the people who live in the farmhouse on this piece of land. A handshake, an introduction and a conversation got me access to a really stunning view of Lake Champlain and the valley’s around it. I always ask permission when it comes to shooting on private land and you may just meet some interesting people in the process!
16. Learn everything there is to know about your camera gear: Take some time and learn everything there is to know about your gear. The last thing you want is to be fumbling around with your setup out in the middle of nowhere missing some great light or on a paid shoot for a client. Read the manuals, shoot a ton but know your gear inside and out including its limitations.
17. Add motion into your images: I really like those shots that have a combination of static and moving elements in them. Cloud and water movement are two of the most obvious choices for this but you can use you imagination and shoot whatever you like! Panning techniques is another great way to add in some motion and make some interesting images. I love these types of shots because they are a challenge to pull off but adding in motion to a still frame just adds a whole new dynamic to the composition!
18. Self edit and be critical of your work: Both are important skills to learn as not every shot is good nor should they all be shared. Learning these skills will train your eye and allow you to become better at picking out the best compositions. You have to take a step back from your work at times and ask yourself tough questions about its quality. It’s a tough task for sure especially with magazine submissions as oftentimes you can only send in a certain amount of images. There is an emotional attachment to everything we shoot but step away and look at your images from the viewers or buyers perspective. Yes you shoot because you love it but you should also have a critical eye on your own work.
19. Get out of your car and of the beaten path: While you can get perfectly acceptable images this way I think more compelling images can be had away from the car and out in the middle of nowhere. Taking the time to get away from man’s modern conveniences can really add some real emotion to your images as you now have some time to quiet yourself and reflect on what you’re doing photographically. Walk away from what you know and into the unknown!
20. Hike and shoot with a partner: Shooting with a photography friend leads to some interesting images as you both can feed off of each others creativity. Usually we practice our craft alone which for me is about 90% of the time but there are times that I do enjoy hiking and shooting with other photography enthusiasts because you can’t shoot alone all of the time. The other person sees the world differently than you will and often may see a composition you never even noticed!