Tips to Produce Your Best Landscape Photography
In order to produce your best landscape photography, there are several things that need to come together. If you’re serious about landscape photography, it’s worth thinking about the following points or tips in a little more depth. They can help you to quickly improve and give you consistent results.
In This Tutorial We Cover
- Matching the subject matter to the light for successful landscape photography.
- The effect of weather on the light and how best to predict it.
- How the angle of the sun affects the light.
- Finding the best landscape photography compositions.
- Why planning is the most important aspect of landscape photography.
Tip 1: Find the Best Light for the Subject
To shoot the best landscape photography, the quality of light plays an important role. Not every subject you shoot will suit the same light. It’s your role as the photographer to match the subject to the lighting conditions.
Look at the following landscape photo as an example.
Here the weather conditions were dull and overcast with a hazy atmosphere. The severe haze caused the light to become soft and diffused even though it was the middle of the day. There was also very little wind which allowed the surface of the loch to become calm, reflecting the island. The soft light has opened the shadows, whilst the haze has reduced the impact of the distant mountains in the frame.
These conditions were perfect for shooting this scene. Had the light been strong or direct, there would have been heavy shadows. If there had been a stronger breeze it could have rippled the surface of the loch, destroying the reflection.
To produce your best landscape photography, you need to select and photograph subjects that work with the light and conditions. If you shoot subjects in the wrong light it will reduce the quality of your photography.
Tip 2: How the Weather Affects Light
One of the most significant factors in determining the light quality is the weather. In the previous example, there was cloud and haze which caused the light to soften and diffuse and helped remove strong shadows. Had the sky been clear blue, it’s possible the shadows would become much stronger. If there had been heavy rain, the light would have changed again.
It’s important to understand two points about the weather if you want to produce your best landscape photography:
- How the light’s modified by the prevailing weather conditions. This comes with practice and taking notice of the conditions and light each time your photographing.
- Learn to read the weather and understand how it will change whilst you’re at a location.
Use Weather Apps
Something that can help you with forecasting the weather is your phone. Whilst websites are useful in researching possible weather conditions in different locations your phone will help you out on location. This is important when deciding if it’s worth waiting it out or moving to a new location.
Here in the UK, I use two apps on my phone to watch the weather conditions. The first is “YR Weather” which also has a good website. I’ve found their forecasts to be more accurate than many and can help you to visualise cloud levels. The other app is MeteoEarth which is helpful for visualising rain, wind and cloud. By using these two apps together on my phone it’s possible to gain an understanding of how the weather is changing and what the likely conditions will be over the next few hours or even days.
As well as using apps on your phone to forecast the weather, it can help to learn how to read the sky and clouds. By reading the clouds you’re often able to understand how the weather will change in the next few hours. If you want to learn more about this, try the book “Reading the Clouds: How You Can Forecast the Weather”.
Tip 3: How the Angle of the Sun Affects Light
The next important consideration to help you produce your best landscape photography is understanding how the light will change. Whilst the weather plays a role in this, the angle of the sun is another critical component. When the sun is high overhead, the light tends to be hard and bright (assuming there isn’t any cloud cover). If you lower the angle of the sun, the light passes through more atmosphere which will soften it. This also causes the light temperature to change and with it the colour.
Although it’s a generalisation, the best time for landscape photography tends to be when the sun is at a low angle. This causes the shadows in the landscape to lengthen and soften. The light also becomes warmer which makes it more orange and appear more colourful.
After the sun has set, the light can turn very blue in what we often call the Blue Hour. When this happens there aren’t any real shadows and the reflected light is soft. This is a wonderful time to capture landscapes although it can be technically demanding with long shutter speeds.
But it isn’t enough to just understand how the time of day affects the angle of the sun and the quality of light. The time of year also affects the direction of the sun. It’s quite possible the location and composition you want to shoot just doesn’t work in some months. The way to check this without being on location is to use a tool like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or TPE as it’s often called. TPE allows you to check the direction of the sun for a given location at different times of day and year. You should make this one of your go to planning tools for landscape photography.
Tip 4: Finding the Best Landscape Compositions
Finding compositions that work can be very difficult when you’re first starting out in photography. But if you want to produce the best landscape photography it’s an essential skill to master. Many people try to reduce composition to rules, but the danger is that you can follow rules too rigidly. What the rules of composition really are is a set of prompts to help you consider the possible compositions. The different compositions are just arranging the objects in a scene within the cameras frame. You job is to decide which is best before you take the shot. And just because a photograph doesn’t follow any of the rules, or indeed breaks them, doesn’t make it a bad photo. The single most important thing is, does the image work.
So how then do you find good compositions?
Training your Compositional Eye
I strongly believe the best way to improve your composition is by training yourself to recognise good composition. Find examples of photography where the composition works and study how the photographer arranged the elements in the frame. Think hard about why they did this and what is it that makes the photograph work. It may be that the photograph follows the existing rules of composition, but it may be something else. After months of doing this, you will find you begin to recognise good compositions in both the landscape and other photographs. After years of doing this, it will become second nature to you, and you won’t think about the rules of composition at all. You will only think about arranging the elements of the landscape within the frame, so they look good.
Use your Phone for Compositions
The second tip is not to use your camera before you find a composition. Years ago, good landscape photographers would carry an empty mount with them as an aid to framing. Today we can do the same thing but with our mobile phones. I use a viewfinder app which turns my phone into a compositional aid. Using this app, I can point my phone at a subject, setting the format and focal length to help me judge their effect on the composition. I can also move around easily with my phone to explore different angles. This helps me to explore more possible compositions as well as try out ones that I wouldn’t have considered if I were just using the camera.
Tip 5: The Importance of Planning in Landscape Photography
The final tip for producing your best landscape photography is to do more planning. This is something that most beginning and average photographers overlook. But if you want to produce consistently good landscape photography, planning is essential. Without good planning, you dramatically reduce your chances of shooting your best landscape photography. You might get lucky and take a great shot, but chances are you won’t.
Let me give you an example with the following image.
I shot this photo in the Highlands of Scotland at dawn. The location is about one hours drive north of Ullapool where I was staying at the time. It’s then around a 30-minute walk from the car park to get to the location and find a composition to shoot. The time of year was April, so the sunrise was around 6:00 am. Putting together this information meant that we needed to set off from Ullapool at 04:30 in the morning to shoot this scene. Any later and we would risk missing the best light.
Taking the example a step further, being out of the house at 04:30 required getting up at 04:00 and eating a quick breakfast. Eating something before setting off was essential as there wasn’t anywhere to get food in this location. To minimise the time taken before leaving the house, I prepared breakfast the night before as well as preparing and packing all my equipment. I also researched the weather the night before (I didn’t want to get up at 4:00 am if it was going to rain) as well as the angle of the sun using the Photographers Ephemeris.
This should give you an idea of the planning that goes into a landscape photography shoot. Now compare this with your average photographer who sets off for a location not considering the weather or position of the sun. They may or may not arrive in time for the sunrise because they didn’t consider the logistics of getting to the location. When they arrive on location, they aren’t sure where they are going to, they could find a good composition, or they might not. Will they capture a good shot? Possibly but then it’s down to luck and events on the day.
I hope reading this, you can see why I say planning is essential if you want to shoot your best landscape photography with consistency.
In this tutorial, I’ve presented five tips to help you produce your best landscape photography. But the tips come with an important caveat. You mustn’t consider these tips to be independent of each other. The tips are all closely related and don’t really work in isolation. If you distil everything down into a single piece of advice it would be this.
To shoot your best landscape photography, get to the right locations at the right time of day and in the best light. To maximise the chances of this happening plan each shoot carefully in advance. This isn’t easy to do and takes regular practice. But if you put in the effort you will see your landscape photography improve.