There are a million different tips to improve your photography. Do a quick Google search (or browse on our site) and you’ll find guides and courses for specific techniques and guidelines. Both in-field and post-processing.
However, to truly elevate your photography and create powerful and meaningful images, it’s important to photograph with intention. This means being deliberate and purposeful in your approach, from choosing your subject to composing your shot, lighting, equipment, and post-processing.
I sincerely believe that photographing with intention is one of the most important topics when it comes to improving your photography. Yet, it’s rarely discussed. Perhaps because it doesn’t fit into a step-by-step tutorial or can be taught overnight?
In this article, we’ll explore the key elements of photographing with intention and how you can use them to create stunning and impactful images.
Choose Your Subject
Choosing your subject is one of the first steps with intentional photography. Rather than taking random snapshots of the scenery, take the time to carefully consider the landscape in front of you.
Ask yourself this: What makes this landscape special?
Is it the grandeur of the mountains, the serenity of the desert, or the ruggedness of the ocean? What emotions does this landscape evoke? How can you best capture the essence of this place and convey that feeling through your image?
For example, if you’re photographing a mountain range, think about the lines and shapes of the peaks, the patterns of light and shadow, and how you can create a balanced composition to emphasize these features. The clue is to find what speaks to you.
By intentionally choosing your subject and considering these elements, you can create more impactful and meaningful landscape photos.
What Are You Photographing?
It’s easy to get carried away when photographing but an important question to ask is “What am I photographing”? Sometimes you’ll find that it’s not as obvious as you first thought. If you’re not able to answer this question, then how is the viewer supposed to know?
Sometimes the answer might be quite literal; I’m photographing a mountain peak.
Other times the answer is more complex; I’m photographing a mountain in Arctic Norway that has a fascinating sand beach in the foreground. Or perhaps it’s the other way around; I’m photographing a fascinating sand beach with a snow-covered mountain in the background.
Your job as the photographer is to tell the story you see. In order to do so, it needs to be obvious what the subject of your photograph is. Once you’ve identified this, you’ll need to come up with the composition that best tells your story.
Carefully Create the Composition
Once you’ve chosen your subject, it’s important to think about composition. Composition refers to the way elements are arranged within the frame of your photo.
A good composition draws the viewer’s eye into the image and conveys a sense of balance, harmony, and visual interest. When creating the composition, it’s important to consider the placement of the elements within the frame, the use of lines and shapes, the balance of light, and the overall mood and atmosphere of the scene.
To avoid these distractions, it’s essential to carefully analyze the frame before taking the shot. Consider the edges of the frame and whether there are any elements that are pulling the viewer’s attention away from the main subject. Sometimes, it can be as simple as moving a few steps to the left or right to eliminate a distracting element from the frame. Other times, you may need to adjust your camera angle or focal length to exclude unwanted elements from the frame.
Techniques such as the Rule of Thirds can be useful but I urge you not to follow these strictly. These compositional guidelines can work as handcuffs and limit our creativity for seeing the bigger picture.
Your most important part when creating the composition is to find and use elements that naturally guide the viewer through the image. Including and excluding elements from the frame is a big part of this.
Analyze the Scene, Analyze the Frame
Analyzing the scene and frame is a crucial part of photographing landscapes with intention. This means being aware of everything that’s included in the shot and intentionally composing your image to create a strong visual impact.
Dealing with cluttered or distracting elements in the frame is one of the biggest challenges in landscape photography. Trees, buildings, people, or other objects can detract from the main subject and make the image feel cluttered and busy.
Too much information can be overwhelming and detract from the main subject. By focusing on the key elements of the landscape, you can create a cleaner and more impactful image.
Another important aspect of analyzing the frame is considering the foreground, middle ground, and background. This means thinking about how each layer of the image contributes to the overall composition. Perhaps the image works better when totally excluding the foreground?
Use Light to Your Advantage
The way a subject is lit can dramatically affect the mood and tone of the image. Light and weather are out of our control but it’s something photographers can use to their advantage.
Many landscape photographers prefer photographing during the golden hour. This period of time which occurs just after sunrise and just before sunset provides a warm, soft light that often works well in photos.
However, as TJ Thorne says in his eBook by the same name; there’s no such thing as bad light.
Again, it’s about being intentional with how you use it. How does the light affect the scene you’re photographing? Perhaps the light is too harsh for the wide scene but perfect for a smaller detail?
Camera Equipment and Settings
While having expensive equipment isn’t necessary to create powerful and meaningful images, it’s important to understand how to use the equipment you have to its fullest potential.
Not only do you need to understand the fundamental camera settings and how they affect the final image, but you also need to know how the different equipment impacts it.
For example, why would you use an ultra-wide-angle lens over a telephoto, or vice versa? This is a decision that needs to be made based on what you connect with in the landscape. Remember what we’ve talked about so far? Now that you know what you’re photographing, you need to select the right equipment for it.
Recommended Reading: Essential Equipment for Landscape Photography
The camera settings are also equally important when it comes to capturing the scene that speaks to you. This means understanding shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
- Shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera’s shutter remains open when taking a photo. A faster shutter speed will freeze motion, while a slower shutter speed can create a sense of motion blur.
- Aperture refers to the opening in the lens that allows light to enter the camera. A wider aperture (lower f-stop number) will create a shallow depth of field, where the subject is in focus but the background is blurred. A narrower aperture (higher f-stop number) will create a larger depth of field, where both the subject and the background are in focus.
- ISO refers to the camera’s sensitivity to light. A higher ISO can be useful in low-light situations, but it can also create more noise in the image.
Conclusion: What Does It Mean to Photograph with Intention?
Photographing with intention is about more than simply taking pictures of what catches your eye. It’s about approaching each shot with purpose and considering the subject, the frame, and the composition to create a meaningful image that tells a story and evokes emotions.
By taking the time to think about what you want to capture and why, and being intentional about every element of the image, you can elevate your landscape photography from snapshots to masterpieces. Remember, it’s not just about the technical aspects, but about the creativity, emotion, and intention behind each shot.
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