5 Tips to Shoot Your Best Landscape Photography

by Jan 12, 2022Photography Tutorials

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5 Tips to Shoot Your Best Landscape Photography

In this tutorial, I want to share 5 tips for better landscape photography. Whilst there are a lot of “tips for landscape photography” tutorials, most are too simplistic and often focus on the wrong things. It doesn’t matter what lens or camera you are using. If you don’t address the points in this article, your landscape photography is likely to disappoint.

To produce your best landscape photography, there are two critical things that need to come together. These are:

  • Light
  • Composition

 The tips in this tutorial will help you find great light and compose better landscape photos.

Landscape Photography Tip 1: Find the Best Light

To shoot your best landscape photography, the quality of light is critical. Whilst many landscape photographers like to shoot in the hours around dawn and sunset, this isn’t always the best time. What’s often overlooked is that not every subject suits the same light. Your task as the photographer is to match the subject and your photo editing to the lighting conditions.

Look at the following landscape photo as an example.

Loch Assynt, Scotland, match the conditions to the subject

Here the weather was dull and overcast, with a hazy atmosphere. It’s this severe haze that caused the light to soften and diffuse, even though it was the middle of the day. There’s also very little wind, allowing the surface of the lake to reflect the island. The soft light has opened the shadows, whilst the haze has softened the distant mountains in the frame.

These conditions are perfect for shooting this landscape photo. Had the light been strong or direct, the shadows would be deep and ugly. Also, any breeze would have disrupted the surface of the lake, destroying the reflection.

To produce your best landscape photography, select subjects that work with the light and conditions. When you photograph a landscape in the wrong light it’s going to produce a poor photograph. The photograph won’t work because the subject is good. You need a good subject in the right light.

Landscape Photography Tip 2: Understand the Role of Weather

Now that you understand the quality of light is critical to your landscape photography, how can you maximise your chance of success?

One significant factor determining the light quality is the weather. In the previous example, the cloud and haze it the atmosphere soften and diffused the light, removing strong shadows. Had the sky been clear blue, the shadows would stronger. Clouds are another factor that can produce significant changes in light as illustrated by this landscape photo.

Whilst there is direct light on the foreground, the heavy clouds of the approaching storm have created a blue tint to the light. They also produce a more dramatic feel rather than this being a pretty scene.

To produce your best landscape photography, it’s important to understand two points relating to weather:

  1. How light is modified by the prevailing weather conditions. This comes with practice and taking notice of the conditions and light when you’re photographing.
  2. Learn to read the weather and understand how it’s likely to change whilst you’re on location.

Bonus Tip – Use a Weather App

Something that can help with forecasting the weather is your phone. Whilst websites are useful to research possible weather conditions, your phone is great whilst you’re on location. This is critical information to help you decide if it’s worth waiting or moving to a new location.

Only an hour before I shot this image it has been raining hard. At the time it was hard to believe there would be a break in the weather, and I was almost tempted to pack up and call it a day. It was only by using the weather app on my phone that I could see a break in the rain coming, using the radar data.

Use Weather Apps

I now use three 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 is good for general forecast.

The next is Dark Sky, which is great for short range planning, especially to predict rain. It includes radar data for the next hour so you can see if the current downpour is likely to clear. I’ve found this invaluable in making decisions to sit out a storm. A clearing storm can produce amazing light for landscape photography.

The third app is Clear Outside which is helpful for general forecasts but especially for predicting what the cloud cover might be. It has an invaluable feature for predicting the probability of fog/mist and the level of visibility.

By combining these three apps, I can get a real feel for the likely conditions before heading out to a location. There’s no point getting out of bed at 5:00am to drive an hour and then sit in the rain. Plan your trips to coincide with the probability of good conditions.

Of course, you shouldn’t just rely on technology but also learn how to read the weather. 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” (affiliate link).

Landscape Photography Tip 3: How the Angle of the Sun Affects Light

Whilst weather plays an important role in the quality of light, the angle of the sun is another important component.

When the sun is high overhead, the light tends to be hard and bright (assuming there isn’t any cloud cover). As the angle of the sun lowers, its light passes through more atmosphere to reach the earth, softening it. This also changes the colour temperature of the light.

Golden Hour

Generally, 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, making it more orange and pinker. This is often called the Golden Hour and can be a magical time for landscape photography.

Blue Hour

After the sun has set, the light can turn blue in what we 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.

Planning for the Sun

Another factor determining the quality of light is the time of year, which also affects the direction of the sun. Use tools like The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) when planning a trip to a new location. You can use TPE you to check the direction of the sun at different times of day and year. Because there is a such a change in the sun’s direction throughout the year, you often find some landscape locations only work at certain times of the year. Knowing this in advance helps you avoid pointless trips.

Landscape Photography Tip 4: Finding Compositions

Finding compositions that work can be difficult but it’s essential if you want to produce your best landscape photography. To help, photographer often try to reduce the art of composition to rules. The danger here is that you can follow rules too rigidly and then they somehow don’t work.

Treat the rules of composition as a set of prompts to help you consider the possible compositions.

Your job when photographing the landscape is to decide how best to arrange the elements of the landscape before you take the shot. This includes what to leave out of the frame, which is just as important as what to include. When you include too many elements that compete for attention, the power of the image becomes reduced.

Remember, just because a photograph doesn’t follow a set of rules doesn’t make it a bad photo. The single most important question is, does the image work.

So how then do you find good compositions if you can’t rely on rules?

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 practicing this, you will begin to recognise good photography compositions in the landscape. After years of doing this, it will become second nature to you, and you won’t think about the rules of composition. Instead, you think about arranging the elements of the landscape within the frame to look good.

Use your Phone as an Aid to Composition

Instead of using your camera to find a composition, try using your phone.

In the past, good landscape photographers carried an empty film mount with them as an aid to framing scenes. Today we can do the same thing 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 the composition. It’s much easier to move around my phone to explore compositions than a camera.

Landscape Photography Tip 5: The Importance of Planning

My final landscape photography tip is to do more planning.

This is something that most beginning and average photographers overlook or ignore. Whilst it can be fun to head out without a plan, landscape photography then becomes more a game of luck than skill. You might get lucky and take a great shot, but chances are you won’t.

If you want to produce consistently good landscape photography, planning is essential.

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 parking to find this spot. It was April at the time, so the sunrise was around 6:00am. Putting together this information as a plan meant leaving Ullapool at 04:30 in the morning to shoot this scene. Any later would risk missing the best light. To achieve all this without rushing, I had to set the alarm for 3:30am. If I had set it for 4:00am I would probably have missed the light and wasted a morning.

Now think about the planning you usually do for a landscape photography trip. Do you plan based on the weather? Have you taken the position of sun into account? Have you considered what time you will need to leave to reach the location? Where will you park? And importantly, did you get any great shots?

It’s this level of planning and thought that sets the professional landscape photographer apart from the hobbyist. It’s also why the professional usually gets a good shot. If you want to know more about this, see my book “Landscape Photography: Shoot Like a Pro”. You might find it an eye opener.

Summary

In this tutorial we’ve looked at 5 tips to help you shoot your best landscape photography. But these tips come with an important caveat, they are interdependent. These tips don’t work in isolation. It’s only by combining them that you will shoot great landscape photography.

Remember, get to the right location, at the right time of day, and in the right weather to produce the best light. Do this and you will maximise your chances of being able to find a good composition that works well. And after you’ve taken a good shot, you need to ask yourself what can I learn from this.

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