7 Essential Tips for the Landscape Photographer

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One of the genres of photography in which nearly everyone participates to some degree, landscape photography is one of the most classic and traditional categories of our medium. It is representative for so many reasons, whether being used for conservation purposes, documentary, backgrounds, events, or as a symbol—landscapes, as mundane or as grand as they might be, are the settings in which we exist. So how do we photograph these spaces? Or, more pointedly, how do we successfully photograph the land? It’s a rich topic, but on a practical level, here are some essential tips for landscape photography.

1. Planning

Not necessarily unique to landscape photography, but one of the most beneficial things you can do when photographing in the wilds is to have a plan. This can be as little as doing a cursory search on your phone and loading GPS directions, or as much as studying topographical maps and planning a multi-day off-the-grid exploration. Either way, your photography will be better off with some semblance of a plan in place; it will free your mind not to have to worry so much about where you’re going and how you’re getting there, and instead have the mental capacity to think more about what you’re seeing along the way. There are many other stages of planning in all arenas of photography, but think of this stage as a concerted organizational effort and time spent brainstorming about what you want to do with your photographs.

2. Spontaneity

I love a good contradiction, and right here is a good time to bring up an important one: be spontaneous. Even while you have a plan in place, maybe also plan for a bit of time to stray from said plan. Some of the best photographs come from unplanned circumstances, and it’s always a good idea to give yourself a little bit of leeway for the unexpected to take place. For example, know that you’re going to a certain national park for a day, and know you need to be on your way out just after sundown, but let yourself wander and explore for the whole day while you’re there. Plan to be spontaneous.

3. Prepare

Along with forming an overall plan, I’ll propose to add a secondary preparation stage, which will mostly deal with gear. Take the information you’ve gathered from the planning stages and then prepare for what’s to come. If you know you’ll be hiking several miles with some intense climbs, then prepare to lighten your camera bag a bit. If you’ll be working in a dense forest, then maybe you’ll want to pack the wide-angle lens to take in as much of the scene as possible. Are you working in extremely bright light? Then bring a neutral density filter to help cut down some light and gain greater control over your exposures. The examples can go on and on, but the key point is to anticipate what’s to come, and be prepared for it.

4. Prepare (for the Unexpected)

While it’s good and all to have the key lens for a certain scene, don’t narrow your options down so much that you’ll be unable to function if a spontaneous situation arises. As mentioned above, it’s good to be able to stray from the said plan. If you’re working in a wide-open desert and want to be shooting ultra-wide to give a sense of vastness, but then sunset comes around and you notice some nice traces of light on just the tops of the sand dunes… you’ll wish you had that longer lens to isolate this special scene. This could be as simple as zooming to 105mm on your 24-105mm, or could mean you travel with both a 24mm and an 85mm lens in your bag. Either way, focus on your plan but be able to adapt to changing and evolving circumstances.

5. Be Practical

Landscape shooting can be divided into roughly two schools: the hiking/backpacking method and the car/tourist version. Both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, and both can be used in conjunction with each other, but they also have their own practical requirements. Gear-related, the difference between the two is obviously the number of things you can bring on your adventure. If you have a truck, why not throw in the tripod, lens lineup, spare body, maybe even the laptop, and more. If you’re hiking, you’d better get your body and two-lens kit squared away in an easy-to-carry bag. Besides gear, the two shooting methodologies also affect access (one of the most important facets of photography); think of the different type of scenery you can access by foot, by car, by bicycle, by snowshoes, by boat, and so on. Each method of transit, and subsequent amount of access it gives you, changes how you should prepare for your shoot.

6. Power and Memory

Worthy of being singled out, one of the most important things to remember is to bring along enough power and memory. Power, in the form of batteries for your camera and nourishment for yourself, and memory, in the form of memory cards or film for your camera and knowledge for yourself, are critical to any kind of landscape photography outing. Double-check that you have more than enough battery power and memory cards/film to cover what you expect to use, and also make sure to pack some food and do your research to keep yourself safe.

7. Be Informed

Beyond the above, if you’re looking for some more specific information and advice about gear for landscape shooting or ideas of how to improve your shots, check out some of the following articles:

While most of the topics in this article can be applied to any and all genres of photography, I think some of them lend themselves better to the demands of landscape work. A lot of them can be distilled even further to just slowing your pace, working carefully, and thinking your way through and around obstacles. Landscape photography has its own set of unique challenges, but they’re nothing that can’t be resolved with some added attention and patience. Do you have any other tips for landscape shooting? Any mantras or rules of the road? Let us know, in the Comments section, below.

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