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.
So let’s step aside from these common tips and look at the single best landscape photography tip you need to know.
Break The Rules!
Yes. Tips such as straighten the horizon, use manual modes, explore the use of filters etc. are helpful and will help improve the technicalities of your images but they have absolutely no impact on your creative expression.
I’ve broken the ‘rules’ for a good portion of my personal favorite images taken over the last years. It’s when doing this that I’m able to enable my creative vision and 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. Looking at the metadata I know that the image might lack some sharpness in a certain area or have slightly more noise than what’s ideal. But that was the compromise I had to make in order to capture the scene and convey my vision.
Notice that I used an aperture of f/6.3, ISO320 and 1/30th second shutter speed. If you’ve read other articles on CaptureLandscapes or other websites about landscape photography you might be aware that these aren’t the settings often recommended.
Couldn’t I instead have used an aperture of f/11 and ISO64/ISO100? No. With those settings my shutter speed would have needed to be much slower, meaning it would have been impossible for me to capture it without using a tripod, something I didn’t have handy at the moment.
You’ll often find yourself in this kind of situation. Good light doesn’t last forever; sometimes it’s gone in a matter of seconds. That’s why you need to be ready and able to quickly capture the moment when it’s present, even if that means not getting a technically perfect image.
Following the Rules = Missing Opportunities
I wish I’d known this when I started learning photography. Back when I got ‘hooked’ and spent all my spare time reading about the various concepts of photography, I was so focused on doing everything correctly without ever realizing 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.
This happened to me over and over. Until I realized that while it’s important to tick the boxes, the main focus should be capturing the image you’re envisioning. Sometimes that doesn’t allow the time to set up perfectly.
What Should You Do?
Now 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.