Landscape photography is one of the most challenging forms of visual expression. Not only do you need the technical know-how to use a wide range of cameras, lenses, and filters to capture a scene, you also need to be comfortable working with the unpredictability mother nature.
If you’re a fledgling landscape photographer, you’re going to love this episode! Aaron sits down with professional wilderness landscape photographer Joshua Cripps to share his top ten tips to help us improve our landscape photos.
Be sure to follow Josh on Instagram and learn more about him and his work on his website.
Have you been waiting for something to help develop your interest in photography? Whether you want to make it a hobby or career, look no further than our exhaustive PRO tutorial Photography 101! From cameras and gear, to lighting and exposure, we cover everything the beginning photographer needs to start capturing extraordinary photos.
Josh’s 10 Tips
Before we get into the details, here are Josh’s 10 tips to remember when you’re out photographing majestic mountains, endless forests, and tranquil lakes:
Set realistic expectations.
Use foreground, midground, and background to tell the complete story.
Bad weather is the best weather.
Get closer with telephoto lenses.
Try shooting in portrait orientation.
Let the emotion of a landscape guide your technical decisions.
Travel off the beaten path to find new and interesting locations.
Create a balanced exposure with graduated ND filters.
Time your shots to capture water in motion.
Fill the frame with what you like.
Tip #1: Toss Out Your Expectations
Landscape photography is unique because it forces us to work alongside the whims of nature. Weather, and with it our lighting, can change in an instant. If you go into a shoot expecting something too specific, your expectations can quickly lead to disappointment.
Instead of going in with hard defined expectations, go in with a spirit of exploration. Be flexible. Get excited to capture whatever nature gives you, and you’ll come back with better, more confident photographs!
Tip #2: Foreground, Midground, Background
When you’re shooting with a wide angle lens, include foreground, midground, and background elements to tell a complete story.
The foreground should add contrast (this can come from color, texture, or tone), and be the hook the that pulls the viewer into the photo. Without a strong foreground, a viewer might feel detached or separated from the landscape. Adding a strategically-placed foreground element will help them feel like they can hike right up into the mountains. (Bonus tip: try to aim for a foreground that takes up most of the bottom third of the frame.)
Keep the following hierarchy in mind; the foreground should pull the viewer in, the midground should add additional detail and information, and the background should be the overall story you’re trying to tell.
Tip #3: Ohhh the Weather Outside is Weather
Clear blue skies are great for ball games and family picnics, but not if you want interesting and dramatic lighting in your photos. For dynamic landscape photos that tell a story, pack a rain poncho and some rubber boots and venture out into the heart of lousy weather.
And when looking at the weather, keep an eye out for the unusual! Shooting in unstable conditions is the best way to find a shot that’s totally unique. For example, heading out after a thunderstorm often leads to some of the most interesting clouds, lighting, and color (and the occasional rainbow). Just be safe doing it!
If you want to be a great landscape photographer, remember that the best weather is bad weather.
Tip #4: Try Telephoto
Wide angle lenses are great for describing an entire landscape. But if you want to tell a more intimate story, throw on a 70-200mm lens and go telephoto.
Maybe it’s the light is scraping across a mountaintop, or an epic moonrise over the trees. Using a telephoto lens can help you get up close and and share those beautiful, singular moments in nature.
Tip #5: Turn it Sideways
Shooting in landscape orientation just feels right. Heck, it’s called landscape orientation for a reason right? But try turning your camera sideways for a week (or more!) and give portrait orientation a try.
Ultra-wide vistas can be great, but a lot of the time we end up including elements that aren’t necessary. Random trees, branches, and rocks can sometimes take away from the story we want to tell. Portrait mode can tighten up our frame, forcing us to see the the scene from a new and refreshing perspective.
Ultimately, you’ll want to use both orientations depending on the situation, but learn how to use a portrait view when you want to simplify a shot.
Tip #6: An Ocean of Emotion…
Nature is moody and tumultuous and it has a knack for driving our emotions. When you’re out shooting in the elements, keep yourself open to how a scene feels, and use your knowledge of photography to capture it that way.
For example, if you want to capture a calming scene of ocean waves, you might shoot with a slower shutter speed to make the the water creamy and smooth. If you want more energy and tension, speed the shutter speed up to catch more of the detail.
Landscape photography isn’t just about what nature happens to be doing, it’s about how it makes us feel.
Tip #7: Location, Location, Location
In the age of Instagram, landscape photography is more popular than ever. Some locations have become hot-spots where photographers have to get in line to get there shot. If you stick to beaten path, it can feel like you’re stuck competing with other photographers to get the best shot of the same scene.
Worry less about competing, and more about discovering and telling your own story. If you get to a popular spot, try walking a half-mile in any direction. Try and find new and interesting perspectives. Landscape photography is as much about exploration as it’s ever been, so don’t be afraid to walk through the bushes to find something new!
Tip #8: Avoid that ‘Snapshot’ Look
For those of us just learning landscape photography, it can be hard to avoid that ‘snapshot’ look. Oftentimes our photos don’t capture the environment quite like ours eyes may have. Why is that?
Shooting outdoors often involves balancing extremes in lighting. We find ourselves battling between the planet’s brightest light source in the sun and sky, and the dark shadows beneath trees and mountains. Capturing this amount of dynamic range with just your camera usually isn’t possible, so you’ll want some tools to help it out.
Graduated neutral density filters are designed to darken the sky while letting you expose properly for the ground. This will help you balance out the exposure, creating a more photographic aesthetic.
For more inspiration on how to approach lighting and exposing landscape photos, look to the work of landscape artists and painters. Renowned painters like Albert Bierstadt used dynamic lighting to great effect when trying to capture the beauty and grandeur of a location.
Tip #9: … and the Motion of the Ocean
Many landscape photographers make their living on capturing the motion and mood of water. If you want to get those creamy smooth streaks, it’s as much about the timing of when you take the picture as it is about what settings you shoot at.
Let’s say you want to capture some waves washing up on a beach and you want that soft, smooth feel. Set your shutter speed between a half a second to two seconds. Then wait for a wave to wash ashore, pause, and then just as it starts to recede, press the shutter button. The effect will be even more pronounced if you capture the water washing around an object like a rock, branch, or the pillings of a pier.
Tip #10: Fill the Frame With What You Like
Maybe the most general tip, but certainly one of the most important; fill the frame with what you like, nothing more and nothing less. Be intentional with every element in a scene. If there is a distraction, no matter how small, get it out of there.
As a photographer, you should use every tool at your disposal to get the exact photograph you want. Change lenses, camera orientation, depth of field, shutter speed, and perspective until the frame tells only the story that you want it to tell.
Wilderness Landscape Photographer & Educator
I’m a normal guy who thought he’d spend his adult life as an engineer. But then I fell in love with travel and photography, and I’ve been making it my career ever since.