I have a confession for you today,
I am NOT a landscape photographer.
But when I find myself in situations where beautiful landscapes surround me, I want to be able to take a good shot that will do the scene justice. I want to be able to capture more than a quick snapshot – I want to take a photo I’d be proud to hang on my wall. So here are 8 things I’ve learned in my quest for those wall-worthy photos.
#1: Light is KEY
Light is crucial for any type of photography, but with landscapes I’ve found it matters so much more. In a portrait session it’s easy enough to duck under some trees or behind a wall to find some shade for a shot. But you sure can’t do that with a mountain! You have to wait for great light to appear, and then take the shot. And if you don’t, and have only mediocre light? It’s going to give you a fairly mediocre shot.
Take the photo below, for example. It’s from a road trip of ours, when we stopped at a gorgeous lake in Jasper, Alberta, Canada.
This was taken at midday – notoriously bad lighting conditions. It features direct sun giving hard, overhead light. You can see that the mountains look pretty bland because the light isn’t doing them any favours. If this shot was taken more around golden hour, the sun would have been lower in the sky and we’d have side lighting. That would have added a lot more depth and dimension to the mountains.
Side note: Despite this not being the best light for the mountains, I’m still glad we took the shot anyway! It’s a great memory, even in harsh lighting conditions. Don’t let less-than-ideal light stop you from capturing a memory!
Pro landscape photographers can often be found setting up their shots well before the sun is up, waiting for that perfect golden sunrise, or out late for the sunset. Most of their shooting happens during these times, because the light during the middle of the day often just isn’t as great.
Try to shoot a lot during the golden hours, and you’ll find that great light really helps to make a better landscape shot.
#2: Use the Foreground
This has consistently been my biggest mistake with landscapes. I’ll see something gorgeous, like a mountain range, hold my camera up and shoot. Then I wind up with photo of stuff that’s very far away.
Don’t get me wrong, that can create some good shots. But without elements in the foreground of the image, you’ll really limit the appearance of depth in the photo. Stuff in the foreground helps to draw the viewer in, and give a sense that things are close, medium, and far.
Try to find something interesting to put in your foreground. Perhaps it’s some flowers on the ground, interesting rock formations, trees, or even people. Use those different distances to really add interest to the photo.
#3: Add People
Some of my favourite landscape photos aren’t just of landscapes – they also have a person in them. This is helpful for a few reasons.
First, when there’s a person in your photo, it gives a sense of scale, especially if you’re shooting epic landscapes. That person will help the viewer understand just how majestic the scene was.
It also gives your viewer a way to imagine themselves in that same spot – it’s much easier to see a person standing out on a cliff, and think of how you’d feel on that cliff. Without the person, you might just look at the landscape without imagining yourself there. Not quite as immersive.
Adding people to the shot can also simply add some more interest. A spot of colour, a sense of movement (if the person if moving of course) – people are compositional elements that add something to the frame.
#4: Notice the Details
With landscapes it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the big scene in front of you and miss all the little details. Take some time to look down, up, and all around whenever you find yourself in a beautiful place. Those little details are what are often missed by regular folks, and catching them are what make you a skilled photographer!
#5: Composition, Composition, Composition
In a portrait what draws you in is often the expression. Human beings are attuned to faces, and will automatically look at them first.
So in a landscape, especially one without any people in it, you’re going to have to find other ways to draw in your viewer. And that comes down to composition. You’ll need a very strong one to really get someone’s attention and keep it!
I already mentioned the value of putting things in the foreground – a technique called layering. Other compositional techniques that are useful with landscapes are using leading lines to draw the eye, finding elements to create balance, incorporating negative space and using frames to highlight your subject.
There’s a style of landscape photography that’s pretty standard: beautiful mountain, beautiful light, beautiful foreground…you get the idea. You’ve seen it everywhere, and after a while it gets a little hard to tell one stunning shot from the next.
That’s why it can be worthwhile to take all those landscape rules and turn them on their head in pursuit of something different. Yep, feel free to ignore everything I just told you, as long as you intentionally ignore it! There are great shots to be found at midday, with nothing in the foreground, and no people in sight!
#7: Change Your Perspective
One super effective way to get an eye-catching landscape shot is to change up your perspective. Most people will take a shot standing in the same place, with the camera at eye level. And that results in your photos looking just like everyone else’s.
So change it up. Lie down flat on the ground. Climb up a hill (or a mountain!). Or, if you can swing it, get in a plane or helicopter!
Changing your perspective lets you see the same scene from a different viewpoint, and that’s something that gets attention!
#8: Take Your Time
The reason I’m not a great landscape photographer is that I don’t take enough time to get a great shot. Simple as that. The best landscape shooters often spend a full weekend hiking out to a remote location they spent months searching for, just to get one great shot at dawn. Then they bring that file home, and often put a lot of work into post-processing to make it absolutely perfect. They invest a ton of time and effort into one image, and that’s how they make them great.
I’m not going to be doing that any time soon. But I know that if I put in a bit more effort each time I’m trying to get a great landscape shot, I’ll be rewarded with something better than a quick snapshot. By doing all of the things above – waiting for great light, changing perspective, ensuring I have a strong composition – and taking my time as I do them, I’ll have the best chance of getting a photo that I’d be proud to put on my wall!
I hope you enjoyed these quick tips I’ve learned along the way. The landscape shots that I’ve created aren’t winning any awards, but they are beautiful mementos of some of the great adventures I’ve been on – and that’s exactly what I want. You can take better photos of your travels with just a bit of extra effort, and then have a lifetime to enjoy the results of your work.
Learn More: Landscape Photography eBook
Like I mentioned, landscape photography is not my forte. But our friend Richard from PictureCorrect is a landscape fanatic. He travels the world taking stunning shots, and has written one of the most extensive books on the subject I’ve ever seen. It has information on everything from gear, settings, light, composition, shooting landscapes, shooting cityscapes, and even some trick photography tips as well! So if landscape photography is something you’re interested in learning more about, go check out his book here.