Landscape photography is a type of meditation where I find myself completely relaxed and blocking out all daily distractions. In the ideal world that’s what it should be like all the time but let’s be honest, that’s not always the case.
There are many factors involved in capturing a beautiful image and sometimes it can get quite stressful to remember all the equipment, how to use it, how to choose the right settings or how to make an impactful composition. On top of that, there are other unpredictable elements that can cause extra stress during the session.
During the 12+ years I’ve been photographing, I’ve slowly developed a set of habits to make photography a little less stressful and more enjoyable. Especially in situations where the light is great and time is limited.
Having these habits have made it possible to capture images that I otherwise might have missed. It’s helped me to make sure the image quality remains high and that my motivation remains high. And trust me, most of these habits are made after learning the hard way!
These are my top habits that landscape photographers should develop:
#1 Regularly clean your equipment
Argh. Nobody likes cleaning, right?
Probably not. But it’s a habit that you need to make and a habit that’s important for both the camera and image as regularly cleaning it increases the expected lifetime and saves you hours upon hours of tedious work in post-processing.
It’s especially important to take care of your camera equipment if you frequently photograph in harsh conditions or along the coast. Living by the coast of Arctic Norway, I’ve made it a habit to at the very least use a microfiber cloth or pre-moisturized wipe after every session that involves waves and wind.
Failing to clean the camera results in two main issues:
- An abundance of dust spots on the lens and sensor
- Salt, sand or other particles finding its way into the ‘wrong’ places that eventually kill the gear
I’ve learned this the hard way and have had to spend hours removing dust spots from images and, in the worst-case scenario, had to trash images with great potential due to the spots being impossible to remove without harming the file.
In addition to regularly cleaning the camera sensor using a sensor swab or by sending it to your local camera store, I recommend always having a microfiber cloth, pre-moistened cleaning wipes and an air-blower in your backpack. On windy days you’ll need to wipe the lens several times.
By making sure that your equipment is clean when you leave home you’ll have one factor less to worry about when you’re out photographing, plus it will save a lot of time in post production!
#2 Charge your batteries immediately
This might be a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many times I’ve met people that have arrived at the location with empty batteries. Perhaps that sounds familiar? I’ve done it more than a few times myself…!
Forgetting to charge the batteries happens to everyone from time to time. Both complete beginners and experienced professionals forget.
My worst experience happened some summers ago when I headed out on what was supposed to be a great weekend camping in the remote mountains of Western Norway. I arrived the first location after a 7-hour drive and had planned to shoot sunset and close to the road before starting the hike early next morning.
After less than an hour of shooting the battery died and I realized that all my spare batteries were empty too. Since I was supposed to spend the weekend in a tent, I hadn’t brought a charger.
I ended up driving the seven hours back home while swearing for myself most of the time. I didn’t want to spend the weekend in some of Norway’s greatest nature without my camera. Looking back at it today, I should have stayed and enjoyed nature but that’s not how I saw it then.
This could’ve easily been avoided if I had made a habit of charging my batteries immediately after returning from a trip. Today I make sure to charge a battery before importing the photos if I know that it’s low on power. I’ll also double-check the batteries in my backpack before going out on a multi-day trip, especially one where there’s no access to electricity.
It’s also a good idea to purchase a battery charger that can be used in the car. Either it’s through a USB or 12V connection, it can be a good savior!
#3 Monitor weather forecasts
Light is everything in landscape photography. It may come in an abundance of ways but there’s no getting around the fact that light is a fundamental factor that creates a good photo.
I’ll admit that this next habit may depend on where you live and if you’re someone who only uses the camera during holidays or travels but paying attention to weather forecasts and radars will help you get a better understanding of the weather. Even on days you’re not photographing.
I’m far from a meteorologist and mostly scratch my head when looking at detailed weather radars but I’ve learned to understand weather systems and better predict light by keeping an eye on them.
It’s always good to have a basic understanding on how the cloud cover impacts the color in the sky or how heavy rain and openings in the cloud lead to rainbows, sunrays or other photogenic light. Obviously it’s hard to predict the weather accurately but having a basic understanding will give you an idea of what the conditions will be like.
Keeping an eye on the forecast is also beneficial for your short term planning. If you live near a photogenic area you might as well take advantage of the days with good light conditions. We sure know they don’t come every day!
#4 Don’t leave before it’s over
The previous habits have all been something I’ve learned the hard way but this one, for whatever reason, is not. Instead, the day I realized the importance of never leaving before its over remains one of my most memorable photographic experiences.
This particular day I was exploring the coast of Northern Spain and to my disappointment, it was a rather dull sunset. To be honest, I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t get a nice shot from what was one of my favorite beaches in the region but I began packing down my equipment and got ready to walk back to the car.
However, just after I removed my filters and put the camera into my backpack, I noticed a sudden clearing in the sky. I quickly unpacked and mounted the camera back on the tripod as parts of the sky began to glow a deep red.
It might not have turned into the most impressive sunset I’ve ever witnessed but I got a shot I was excited about. Years later, that evening reminds me to never give up before it’s over.
Even though it doesn’t look promising there might still be a moment with exceptional light. Waiting it out, combined with learning to read the weather, can in many cases lead to capturing an image you otherwise would’ve missed. It doesn’t always work out this way but part of the fun with landscape photography is the chase, right?
#5 Reset the camera settings after shooting
Have you ever been out photographing in great conditions and captured what you think might be your best images so far, just to return home and realize that they’re all shot at ISO2000? Perhaps they’re all out of focus since you forgot to switch back to autofocus?
Unfortunately this happens more often than we’d want to admit but by making it a habit to change the settings back to a certain standard either immediately after shooting or before leaving home, it can be avoided.
My ‘standard’ setting is as follows:
- Aperture = f/11
- Shutter speed = irrelevant
- Autofocus on
The reason I don’t touch the shutter speed is that it’s the first setting I adjust when being in the field. Whenever I’ve mounted the camera on a tripod I tend to keep the lowest possible ISO and, in most cases, an aperture of f/11. I then adjust my shutter speed based on the values these settings give me.
Recommended Reading: Introduction to the Fundamentals in Landscape Photography
Despite using manual focus for most my landscape photography, I switch back to autofocus in case I’m shooting handheld or another scenario where I won’t be focusing manually. I find it easier to switch to manual focus when needed instead of the other way around. It’s happened more than once that I think I’m shooting with autofocus just to realize that I’m not.
#6 Pay attention to the image preview
The sixth habit every landscape photographer should develop is to look at the image preview each time the composition is altered. There are several reasons why you want to keep an eye on the image preview but the most important are to make sure the image is razor-sharp and that the exposure is correct.
This habit is extra important when photographing in quickly changing light as you’ll need to adapt your settings accordingly. What is a well-exposed image when the sun is out might be too dark when the clouds roll in or vice versa.
It’s also going to make sure that your images remain sharp and that you haven’t accidentally moved the focus or in another way caused the image to be out of focus or blurry. You can never check the image preview too often. Personally, I do it every time I make an adjustment to the camera or settings, and even more often if I’m staying in the same position for a long time.
You’ll find that this is a good combination with habit #6. If you forget to reset your camera settings you will notice when taking a closer look at the image preview.
#7 Set aside time to be without the camera
It’s easy to get caught up in ‘the social media game’ and feeling pressured to constantly create new images. The downside to this is that you’ll come to a point where you’re no longer doing landscape photography for the love of the outdoors but instead, it’s a necessity to keep your followers engaged.
Creativity is fading quickly when photography becomes a chore instead of a passion. The reasons we do photography might be different from person to person but I like to believe that those who are passionate about landscape photography also have a deeper appreciation for nature itself. Don’t forget this.
I find that regularly going into nature without my camera has a positive effect on my motivation and inspiration, and it makes me more aware of the details surrounding us.
So, if you’re low on motivation and feel uninspired to create, leave your camera at home and go for a hike. Take time to soak in the surroundings. Find a rock to sit on and enjoy the view. Enjoy the silence and enjoy being disconnected. It helps.
Landscape photography should be a fun endeavour that distracts you from daily stress. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, many photographers view the process as a sort of meditation. However, if you haven’t made a few important habits it’s less likely to give you the calming benefits that meditation should. Instead it becomes a different type of stress and in the worst case scenario it takes away the joy og photography.
By making these habits you’ll not only benefit from the experience itself but you’ll also see your that your photography is getting better. The freedom of photographing without distractions lets you focus on the creative aspects that help you capture more impactful images.
So, let’s recap one final time. Make a habit to regularly clean your camera gear, charge your batteries when coming home from a photography trip, keep an eye on the weather forecast, don’t leave before it’s over, reset the camera settings each time, look at the image preview and spend time outdoors without a camera.
All that is left now is for you to go out and explore.