When it comes to landscape photography, there’s one thing that you discover quickly: often, a photo opportunity that looks amazing in person just doesn’t translate effectively into an image.
Learning to compose decent landscape images takes a lot of time and effort, not to mention a lot of trial and error. Often, making mistakes can be the best way to learn about what works – and what doesn’t.
A Crooked Horizon
A crooked horizon is an extremely common mistake. Before you release the shutter, take a few seconds to ensure that your horizon is straight. On most cameras, you can have a grid overlay on your viewfinder making it easy to avoid this classic mistake.
Shooting at the Wrong Time of Day
It’s easy to overlook, but the right lighting can make a huge impact in your work. Early morning is a great time for landscape photography – as is early evening. Sunsets and sunrises can be spectacular – and golden hour; the minutes just after sunrise and before sunset are arguably some of the best times for landscapes. Bright, midday sun can be difficult to work with – due to the harsh shadows and flat light that that’s found during this time of day.
Not Having a Clear Focal Point
When working with spectacular landscapes, it can be tempting to try to fit everything into the frame. But it’s important to remember to include a focal point – a main point of interest in your compositions. Whether your focal point is an obvious element, like a tree in the distance, or subtle – like the disappearing point at the horizon, having a focal point will give structure to your images, and help you to create visually pleasing photos.
Forgetting the Foreground
Including some foreground interest can to help to grab your viewer’s attention, and draw the eye through the photo. Be on the lookout for interesting objects – like trees or boulders that could help to enhance the foreground in your images. Or get low to the ground and angle your camera towards the horizon to include some of the low-lying ground in your compositions.
Flat, boring compositions is something we’re all guilty of. Even experienced photographers produce the occasional uninspired image – although it’s unlikely that they’ll publish the results on Flickr or 500px! While creating masterful compositions is easier said than done, with some practice – and using well-known compositional rules to enhance your compositions, you’ll be able to create photos that are powerful and unique.
Instead of standing at the usual vantage points and capturing photos that look the same as everyone else’s, look around for a unique spot to capture your photo. Don’t be afraid to get low to the ground – or stand on something to improve your shot. Look for unique elements to include in your shots to make them different – a flock of birds, for example – or a boat on the horizon. Try to eliminate elements that are distracting, and capture those that help you to recreate your vision.
Using the Wrong Lens
Wide-angle lenses are the go-to lens of choice for landscape photographers. These lenses render more distance between the foreground and background elements, and are a great way to increase the sense of depth and distance in an image; perfect for capturing sweeping landscapes.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you must forgo ever using any other lens. In some cases, a telephoto lens can be handy. For magnifying a single object, for example, or if you’re trying to create images where the elements are more compressed, and want the distant objects to appear to be closer in size to ones in the foreground.
Fearing the Weather
If you’re planning, say, a portrait session, then it’s important to pay attention to the weather. Most people won’t want to be out in the rain! But when it comes to landscape photography, oftentimes weather that’s considered to be bad, can result in some spectacular images. The lighting just before, or after a storm can be dramatic and beautiful – ideal for landscape photography. And don’t rule out fog and mist – these conditions are perfect for capturing deep and mysterious images.
Not Using a Tripod
When shooting landscapes, you will most likely be working with slow shutter speeds, which can cause camera shake and blurred images – so bring a tripod if you can to help stabilize your camera for long exposures. A tripod also comes in handy if you’re using a telephoto lens, since this type of lens is more sensitive to camera shake than a wide-angle. In a pinch, any stable flat surface will also work.
Waiting Until Later
The number one rule in photography should be: don’t wait. If you see a great photo opportunity, don’t plan to come back later to capture it. Weather is constantly changing, and the lighting won’t be the same later. The entire composition of your photo will be very different if you wait, so if you see an amazing shot – take it. Often you’ll only get one shot!
Being Afraid to Fail
Finally, don’t be afraid to mess up. Not every image will be a prize-winner, but that’s ok! Mistakes are the only way to improve. In fact, if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not trying hard enough! So get out there, try your best, and make plenty of mistakes in the process.