6 tips to help you create beautiful landscape photos

Words/Photographs: Tony Eveling

You can’t always predict the weather, and environments can change colour and atmosphere in minutes…

It means that we photographers have to be ready and equipped for everything nature throws at us.

The following 6 landscape photography tips, will help you plan ahead and deal with fast changing situations.

If you want to create those beautiful landscape photos, then read on…!

1. Understanding light

understanding light and shadow and how they are inextricably linked to composition is really important.

A composition is an arrangement of light and shadow in the frame. 

For every natural light situation there will be a specific arrangement of that light in the frame. When you get that right, you have an engaging photograph. The colour of the light is less important.

What a lot of  people say is that the best light for the whole of landscape photography is early in the morning or late afternoon.

But this statement is more wrong than it is right.

The best light for rich warm colours and long, diffused shadows is in the Golden Hours at dawn and dusk, that bit is true.

But where does that leave room for bad weather photography, or cloudy weather, or severe weather photography? What about graphic bright light and shadows?

Bad weather or bright midday sun can result in some really cool landscapes.

You personally may prefer the warm colours of dawn or dusk light, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take beautiful landscape photos in between those times.

If you are a beginner photographer, you should be trying everything and not just seeking out dawn and dusk ‘Golden Hour’ compositions.

But why? I happen to prefer Golden Hour photos…

Why? Well, this is what I think,

  • the golden hours only last for a small percentage of the day so you are depriving yourself of photography opportunities throughout the day.
  • The skills you practice outside the Golden Hours will be the same that you need for the dawn and dusk shots. Therefore you will hone your skills faster by photographing in a variety of light conditions throughout the day.
  • You may discover new ways to approach landscape photography. You will also take a variety of photos that will surprise you in their originality.
  • Taking photos in different lighting conditions will also flex your post processing skills. I, for example like to convert middle of the day photos into black & white landscape photos. That’s just something I like to do.

As a landscape photographer you just have to engage in your surroundings. You need to understand the quality of light and accept the light that nature has given you.

Then you’ll be able to create a composition where everything blends together perfectly.

Beautiful landscape photos are not restricted to dawn and dusk. There is beauty everywhere at all times of day.

So you have to choose the best composition for the light. If you do  that then your landscape photograph will look good, and have visual impact regardless of the time of day that it was taken.

At dawn and dusk that will probably mean a different composition than at the same location at midday.

It’s the composition that you need to change to create a visually appealing photograph, not the time of day.

For me, my speciality – if I have one – is composition.  I love the challenge of taking a visually appealing photograph of anything at any time of day. I love creating unique and original compositions for that particular scene, accepting the light that nature has given me.

Swanage Bay at dawn
Swanage Bay at dawn

2. Location

For me, there are 2 main aspects to location when it comes to landscape photography.

Which one of these that I apply to my photography will depend on my circumstances at the time, my mood and what I am trying to achieve.

  • The first involves planning your location, knowing where you want to photograph. You will also understand the weather for that area, you will have a composition, or some compositions in mind. You will know how to get there, how long the journey will be. Basically, planning ahead, with a set of specific compositions in mind before you set off.

This takes time, which you may not have if you can’t dedicate your life to photography.

  • The second involves just going out with your camera with no pre planning. Explore an area and allow compositions to pop out at you. Be spontaneous!

With the second aspect, try to resist taking a photo until you have that ‘moment of inspiration’, that means that you are not forcing yourself to take photos.  Try taking photos only when you instinctively say to yourself…

I bet that will make a good photograph

For that second, more spontaneous option, you can go outside now and try it, or you can be walking the dog, or you can wait until you are on top of that mountain on the trip of a lifetime.

Does location matter in the second aspect?  Not in terms of planning ahead, but you have to want to be there, and you have to engage with the environment.  If you don’t feel inspired, then you won’t get the most out of your photography.

Misty forest in the morning. Gloucestershire, UK
Misty forest in the morning. Gloucestershire, UK

3. Patience and timing

Don’t stress too much if compositions are not jumping out at you when you are out taking photos.

If you don’t get that photo today, you will get it tomorrow.

Photography is a catalog of missed opportunities. That is a good thing because you learn from those missed opportunities. Don’t be too angry, irritated or frustrated when the weather ‘misbehaves’. If something doesn’t happen that you wanted to happen, just chalk it up to experience.

Misty morning at dawn.  Wallachia Province, romania
Misty morning at dawn. Wallachia Province, romania

Just be confident that over the course of a few weeks, months or over a year, that beautiful landscape photos will be an inevitability. Review your images regularly over the course of a year, and you will surprise yourself how competent you are.

If you do have pre-planned a location, get there as early as possible and wait – getting there a bit to early will help to  get ready, prepare and  de-stress.

If the sky is duller than you expected, and you’re not getting that deep red that you wanted, don’t worry, the art of being creative is to create a composition that suits the environment at the time.

Always think positively.  Just because the sky is gray it doesn’t meant that there isn’t a good composition that would capture that scene in some visually impressive and compelling way. 

Explore alternative compositions, be flexible.

When the weather doesn’t behave itself, just dip into your armoury of composition skills and choices, and adjust your expectations from your photoshoot.

4. Be lazy. Be unique.

There is nothing wrong with copying somebody else’s composition, and if you are not doing it, then you should.

Many of those stunning and beautiful landscape photos actually use the same composition. They are just taken at different locations. Actually many are taken by different photographers at the same location. Make sure you are one of those photographers.

Croatian coastline at dawn
Croatian coastline at dawn

The more you do this, the more you will learn.

However, at the same time – and as you learn the craft – try to be as original as you can. By original I mean use you gut instincts and use intuition.  Don’t forget to try different angles.  Grab those cliches’s, feel the satisfaction of getting them in the bag, then relax, and go off and create something unique to you.

If you are going to the top of a mountain, and it’s taken a lot of preparation to get there, then you will be in a place that relatively few people get to, even though over time many photographs of the area may have been published.

However, don’t be shy to take ‘cliched’ photos or compositions. Why? Well,cliches are called ‘cliches’ for a reason, and that reason is that everyone else wants to take them.

Everyone else takes them because we all love to look at them.

Just don’t forget to be unique too. Do the wandering around thing to see if compositions present themselves to you. They should do if you are tuned into your environment.

There are plenty of beautiful landscape photos to go around. As a photographer you are allowed to copy. You need to copy others so that in the future you can be more original.

Croatian dawn sky and silhouetted mountainside
Croatian dawn sky and silhouetted mountainside

5. Carry a tripod

Even in this day and age of high ISO’s camera tripods are still needed.

It’s surprising how dark a forest can be, even at midday, and although you can increase the ISO, you do still introduce noise, especially if you are using a DSLR at the budget end.

Also, if you want to capture motion in your shots then you will need slow shutter speeds, and that will require a tripod.

As for camera tripods, well, I can only speak for myself, and I use Manfrotto tripods, and I use a tripod from their 190 range, and a tripod from their 055 range, and they have given excellent use for about 15 years now.

Both models have a wide range of versions, depending on budget. My advice is that all are suitable, but always buy the best that you can afford.

What about a travel tripod?  Well, in the past I’ve taken my Manfrotto 190Pro with me on my bike when I went cycle touring across Africa which was fine, but would have been a bit cumbersome in a backpack.

Those bendy and flexible Gorilla tripods are really handy too, and I carry one around with me whenever I go out.

So, tripods for cameras are important, even today. There’s no escaping that you need a sturdy tripod. That little extra expense and attention to detail will be a great investment for your photography.

Motion blur, as well as perfectly sharp images often rely on the trusty old tripod.

To get the widest variety of those delicious, wonderful, and beautiful landscape photos, a full compliment of basic equipment is a good thing.

Dorset beach at dusk, UK
Dorset beach at dusk, UK

6. Depth of field

Don’t forget your depth of field.

Put simply  depth of field is the amount of foreground, midground and background that is in focus around the original object that you focused on.

Depth of field is controlled by the photographer via the aperture and it’s ‘strength’ is affected by the focal length of your lens.

Wide depth of field: Smaller aperture sizes increase the amount of near and far that’s in focus and on those wide angle sweeping vistas this is what you will probably want.

Shallow depth of field: Increase the size of the aperture to reduce the amount that’s in focus. Wide apertures is how you get an in focus foreground, and an out of focus background.

Any more detail than that and I would need to write a complete post just on depth of field.  So I’ll stop there for now, but just remember to keep an eye on your aperture size when taking photographs of landscapes.

If in doubt, take the shot.  It’s better to make mistakes that you can learn from than not take the photo.

Daisies in a field
Daisies in a field

Conclusion

Well, that’s my little list of things that I wanted to write about today.  Along the way I realised that I wanted to say more, but that will have to wait until another day.

Captivating, head turning and beautiful landscape photos are not exclusive to a few photographers who have a secret formula that nobody knows. Everyone has the ability to take them. Including you!

Please tell me what you think about the above list, do you agree or disagree.  What other aspects of landscape photography should a beginner be thinking about when learning the craft?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments…

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