The greatest thing about landscape photography – of many great things – is that no matter how many times a particular landscape has been photographed, there’s always something different to see and document. Whether you visit the same spot at different times of day or different times of year, use a wide-angle lens and then a telephoto lens, or simply change the perspective from which you shoot, there are all sorts of ways for you to offer viewers something new and different, even if the landscape you photograph is a well-known one.
The next time you’re out taking photos of breathtaking landscapes, bear the following tips in mind to get better results.
Mind the Light
Everyone knows that golden hour is where it’s at for landscape photography. The soft, warm light brings any landscape to life with gorgeous colors that add visual interest and long shadows that add dimension. But golden hour doesn’t provide the only conditions under which you can get a compelling shot. Try photographing a landscape under overcast conditions. The cloud cover acts like a giant softbox, giving you perfectly even lighting falling on the landscape.
When taking landscape photos on an overcast day, be sure the landscape has elements that give the scene depth and dimension in spite of a lack of highlights and shadows. That means looking for colors, textures, patterns, and forms that still work under the flat light of a cloudy day. Another option is to shoot during blue hour. Blue hour precedes golden hour in the morning and follows golden hour in the evening. As the name suggests, the light at this time of day is blue, sometimes even purple, for a completely different look than what you get during golden hour.
Blue hour is a perfect time to work on silhouettes – like a mountain peak silhouetted in front of the fading light of the day on the horizon.
The great thing about a reflection is that it’s one of the easiest ways to add visual interest to a shot. Just find a lake or a pond, take a low shooting perspective, and you double your subject! When incorporating a reflection from something like a body of water, there’s a few things to bear in mind:
Take shots from a variety of perspectives to find the best angle of view to capture the reflection on the water’s surface.
Throw the rule of thirds out the window and frame up a symmetrical shot with the subject smack in the middle of the frame.
Try placing the horizon line in the middle of the frame. This helps amplify the symmetry in the shot.
Use a polarizing filter to cut down on any glare from the water’s surface.
But reflections aren’t just limited to water, create a unique landscape photo by using a mirror – like the ones on the side of your car – to photograph a landscape behind you. Adding in that kind of human element gives landscape photos a bit of whimsy and fun.
Try New Gear and Different Camera Settings
Rather than taking the same photos with the same gear all the time, get into a more creative space by capturing landscapes with something different. If you typically shoot with your crop sensor DSLR, try a few photos with your phone. If you usually use a wide-angle lens, see how shooting landscapes with a telephoto lens changes how you work. Similarly, if you like to shoot with your camera on a tripod, see how going without one opens up new avenues for getting photos
You can even use the same gear but change the settings for a bit of a challenge. Try a long exposure of a landscape to see how you can blur the movement of clouds, waves, a river, or the like. See how to do that in the video above by Adam Lewis. You can also challenge yourself to work with different apertures – small apertures for a large depth of field and large apertures to highlight a small part of the landscape set on a blurry background. The point is that trying new things will jumpstart your creativity and challenge you in ways that might just open up whole new worlds of photographing landscapes. The result of that will be unique images and a better understanding of how to use your gear, too!
Tip the Scale
One of the most common problems encountered when photographing landscapes is that they often appear a little flat. Part of the reason for this is because many landscapes are photographed using a wide-angle lens, so distant objects appear small while the foreground and midground appear expansive. To help mitigate this issue, it’s advantageous to add something to the shot that provides a sense of scale. Familiar things like a car or a road help viewers understand the breadth and depth of the scene because there’s something in the shot to give them some context.
Likewise, adding a person to a landscape provides scale, even if the figure is quite small in the frame. The other thing that adding these human elements to a landscape will do is help you tell a more compelling story. Sure, a shot of a gorgeous mountain is fine, but if you add a person to the scene, viewers are more able to put themselves in that person’s shoes. In other words, the image becomes something more than just a pretty photo of a mountain; it becomes something with which the viewer connects, thinks about, and uses to plan their own landscape photography adventure.
There’s plenty of other landscape photography tips and tricks you can use to improve your photos, but these quick and easy ideas will certainly help you get on your way. Remember – when photographing landscapes, it’s as much about how you approach the shot as it is the landscape you’re shooting that results in a great photo. If you rush things, even the most iconic landscapes won’t make for very good images. But if you take your time, mind your settings, look for great light, and find ways to create more unique photos, you’ll have a much better set of pictures to show for it.