Let’s be honest: there are a lot of mediocre and repeating tips out there on how you can improve your landscape photography. Straighten the horizon, buy a new camera, invest in equipment… Sure, these things might have an impact on your images but they won’t make you a better photographer.
There’s something much more important that you need to know. Forget about those go-to tips for a second and learn what the single best landscape photography tip is.
Break the rules!
Wait; don’t leave quite yet. Hear me out.
Advice such as straighten the horizon, use manual modes or use of filters are helpful and will benefit the technical part of your photography but they have absolutely no impact on your creative expression.
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve broken the ‘rules’ in most of my personal favorite images taken in the last years. By doing this, I’m able to focus on how to best capture a scene despite the possible hurdles in front of me.
Let’s take the image below as an example.
It’s not a ‘technically perfect’ image and looking at the metadata I know that it might lack some sharpness in a certain area or have slightly more noise than preferred. However, that was the compromise I had to make in order to capture the scene and convey my vision.
The settings I used was an aperture of f/6.3, ISO320 and 1/30th second shutter speed.
Those who regularly read articles here on CaptureLandscapes or other landscape photography websites might be aware that these settings aren’t perfect.
Couldn’t I instead have used an aperture of f/11 and ISO64/ISO100?
No. Not at that moment.
Lowering the ISO and using a narrower aperture would require a slower shutter speed. That wouldn’t have been a problem if I had my tripod there but I didn’t. 1/30th of a second is the slowest I’m comfortable shooting handheld with that specific setup.
Recommended Reading: Leaving the Tripod Behind? Read These Tips for Handheld Photography
You’ll often find yourself in a situation where you need to act fast. Good light doesn’t last forever; sometimes it’s gone in a matter of seconds. You need to be ready and able to quickly capture the moment, even if that means not getting a technically perfect image.
Following the rules = missing opportunities
I wish I knew this when I started learning photography.
When you first get hooked on photography and take on the task of learning your camera and everything involved, it’s easy to get too fixated on doing everything correctly.
Personally, I was so focused on doing everything technically correct that I forgot that capturing the moment is what matters the most. The horizon needed to be straight, the ISO couldn’t be higher than 100, the aperture had to be f/11 and the image needed to follow the Rule of Thirds.
What happens when ticking off all these boxes becomes the main focus? Exactly. You miss the perfect moment.
I’m sure some of this sounds familiar to you as well.
The main focus should be capturing the image you’re envisioning. Sometimes that doesn’t allow enough time to set up perfectly. Ask yourself this: do you want a technically perfect image that doesn’t have the best light, or do you want an image with great conditions that isn’t technically perfect?
What should you do?
Don’t get me wrong. If the situation allows it, you definitely want to spend the time perfecting the composition, focus and using the settings that will result in the highest quality file.
What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be too focused on getting everything perfect.
The Rule of Thirds is a helpful compositional guideline but it’s not the only way to do things. Capture the image you want even if that means breaking the Rule of Thirds, Golden Ratio, Rule of Odds or whatever other compositional guidelines you’ve learned about.
This requires practice. Neglecting everything you’ve learned can be confusing. But it’s a matter of knowing when to forget.
I’ve found that the best practice for this is to choose days or sessions where you restrict yourself to only one lens and leave the tripod behind. This gives you practice in how to react fast and correctly whenever you find yourself in a similar situation at another stage.
Here are a couple more examples that show breaking the rules is necessary. None of these images would’ve been created had I slowed down to set up my tripod, adjust the perspective, set up the ideal settings and take a few test shots to make sure it’s razor-sharp.
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