Before a presentation we did during a bad-weather day on a photography workshop I co-guided in Northern Norway, I was asked to give my best advice for landscape photographers. I wanted to talk about some slightly different topics rather than repeating standard tips such as ‘straighten the horizon’, ‘use f/11’ and ‘photograph during golden hour’.
These tips won’t make an instant change to your images but they are essential to be aware of if you want to develop your craft and grow as an artist.
#1 F*ck the Technicalities
Wait, what? Isn’t this the exact opposite of what you’ve learned? Yes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to understand the fundamentals but it’s more important to get the shot.
Some times we simply don’t have the time to mount the camera on a tripod, adjust the height, adjust to the ideal settings and use the remote to take a picture. Conditions can change so quickly that within the time you’ve spent setting up, the clouds have covered the peaks again or rain is back.
I often use this image of the most iconic red cabins on the Lofoten Islands as an example. Due to the extreme winds and heavy snow it would have been impossible to capture the image using a tripod, f/11, a remote shutter and ISO100.
Instead, my plan of attack was to turn my back to the cabins, quickly turn around and grab a shot, turn back around, review the image and remove snow from the lens, then turn back around and take another shot. I repeated this until I got all the elements just as I wanted.
There might also be other reasons why you’re not able to do everything technically perfect. Maybe the perspective you’re photographing from doesn’t allow the use of a tripod, maybe there’s no space for one, maybe it’s windy so ISO100 and f/11 will blur the foreground colors. There can be many reasons and with practice, you’ll learn to identify them immediately.
#2 Study Other Photographers
It’s important to take the time to study the work of photographers you admire. When viewing another photographer’s work you should ask yourself a series of analytic questions, such as:
- Why do you like (or dislike) the image
- What is it about the image that works?
- How did the photographer optimize the composition?
- How did they process it?
Asking these questions will make you become more aware when in the field taking images for yourself. You don’t need to do this with every single image you see but try to set aside some time every week where you go through and analyze your favorite images (and least favorite images) of the week.
Note: It’s important that you don’t start comparing your work too much. Study other photographers’ work to learn, not to compare.
#3 Focus on Compositions
The third and final essential tip for landscape photography is one that will make a major improvement to your images: work on the composition.
This can’t be repeated enough: it’s essential to have a good composition if you want to create more than ‘ordinary’ images.
Many beginning photographers make the mistake of thinking that a good image is defined by the weather and scenery; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, a stunning landscape with beautiful light will create an attention-grabbing image but it’s never going to be more than a nice snapshot without a good composition.
Recommended Reading: 5 Compositional Guidelines for Landscape Photography
When I’m talking about working on compositions I don’t mean simply applying ‘the Rule of Thirds’ to all your images. It’s equally important to learn when to break the rules as it is to know when to apply them.
This takes time to master and I often question whether there’s ever such a thing as a perfect composition.
Regardless, working on your composition is going to make a significant improvement to your images over time. Trust me!