1. Fanatically Chase the Best Light
What is good light you say? There is really no such thing as bad light, but it’s hard to create images with impact during the middle of the day when the sun is high. Midday the sun is harsh and it washes out colors and texture with heavy dark shadows.
The best time to get out and shoot everyday is when the sun is low in the sky because it creates more interesting side lighting that gives the subject more depth and scale. The light is much warmer creating softer highlights with better texture detail. This low warm light is also near sunrise and sunset and those are obvious times to add amazing colors to a landscape.
2. Don’t be Lazy
Getting good light in a landscape shot is the same difference between shooting a model with and without makeup. You have to work to get to these locations early in the morning and late in evening. At sunrise, that means hiking out in the dark to get on location to catch sunrise. That means flash lights, an extra layer of clothing and a stiff brew of coffee to keep you awake through the wee hours of the morning.
Patience is also key. You might be hiking during the day and find the best view looking down Yosemite Valley but it’s midday and the light sucks. To get this shot you need the fortitude to sit there half the day for the sun to get low and possibly put up a nice sunset for you. The light may not do what you want, so are you willing to stay another day to try again? If you do, your shot won’t be just another Tunnel View.
3. Know Your Landscapes
There is this odd grass is greener somewhere else mindset all of us fall into. We believe we have to travel somewhere to get a great landscape shot. The truth is, you know your area like the back of your hand and if you don’t, get in your car and explore. A vast majority of my best images were all taken within 75 miles of my home. Keep in mind that the whole world doesn’t get to look at your countryside daily. So when it’s boring and repetitive for you, it’s always new and exciting for your admirers.
4. Don’t be a Chicken
Have you ever gotten to an awesome landscape and failed to get the shot because you didn’t cross a creek or you didn’t want to lay down in the mud to get an awesome new perspective. Often times changing our point of view can completely change a composition. I’m not suggesting you do anything dangerous, only you try pushing yourself beyond your typical comfort zone to really work for that shot. When I shoot moving water, inevitably, you will find me standing in the middle of the creek so I pack waders with me to stay dry.
5. Use Different Focal Lengths
For most people, when they think of a landscape, they think of big expanses shot using a wide-angle lense. Try something different by shooting with longer focal lengths. This allows you to really focus in on specific details. You can see past all the distractions and you get to give the best part of the scene the whole stage.
Wide-angle tends to make distant objects like mountain peaks feel distant and small. Telephotos will bring that peak in close and will compress all the objects together making them feel bigger and giving them a much greater impact.
You can still get great impact shooting wide. Many incorrectly believe that wide angle lenses are good for “getting it all in”. The opposite is true. Since you can get more in the shot, it allows you to get much closer to the subject filling the frame with more of what you want having fewer distractions.
If you struggle with creating dull and insignificant images, the recurring theme through all of these tips is simply to do something new that you’re aren’t doing now. Growing your craft is not a 5-step checklist, it’s a process that takes time. Get out of your computer chair and experiment, keep making mistakes, and don’t forget to have fun! For me each new image is the thrill of the hunt. I love to seek the unknown and share it with the world. Images created by overcoming the biggest hurdles with the most blood, sweat and tears always move people the most.