What to Do When Landscape Photography Goes Wrong

What does it take to create an amazing landscape photograph? So many photographers, me included, have been guilty of creating beautiful content that portrays only the successes of landscape photography. In today's free landscape tutorial, I'm going to share some of the failures. 

Landscape photography can be difficult, to say the least. First, you have to find a location or subject that is worthy of being photographed. Second, you need to find a composition that showcases the natural beauty while also framing an artistic story that works photographically. Next, you have to capture that location when an interesting lighting event is happening. Fourth, you have to hope that elements outside your control don't ruin your photograph. These could be tourists, a change in the weather, a rogue wave destroying your gear, or just a less than spectacular sunset or sunrise. It's only when all of these conditions come together perfectly, or at times miraculously, that you will feel proud or even just content with the resulting photograph. 

As part of our ongoing video educational series, I wanted to film a short landscape tutorial on how I planned to photograph a dilapidated old pier in Yabucoa, a neighboring beach town just south of Palmas Del Mar in Puerto Rico. My plan was pretty straightforward: scout the location the day before at sunset and attempt the final photograph early in the morning during sunrise. What I didn't expect was how difficult this seemingly simple location would be to capture. 

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The Camera

For this photoshoot, I wanted to capture as much resolution as possible. For landscape work, the Fujifilm GFX 100 medium format camera is an obvious choice. This camera is a beast with 102 megapixels, a large 33m x 44mm BSI-CMOS sensor, and insane 16-bit color depth for accurate color rendition and editing potential. This was my second time using the Fujifilm GFX 100 for a video tutorial (my first was for this fashion photoshoot), and it might be my favorite Fujifilm camera body I've used yet. Unlike some cameras in the Fujifilm line, I love how the GFX series has two rotation knobs that fully let you dial in your shutter speed and aperture (or ISO) without having to rotate any other dials. I know many people like the old school manual dials of the X series, but for me, the GFX feels and performs much more similarly to the DSLR cameras I used in the past. Because this camera is beefier than other smaller cameras, extra care needs to go into stabilizing it on a sturdy tripod, especially for longer exposure work. 

The FujiFilm GFX 100 with the 32-64mm and 23mm lenses

The Lenses

For this particular shoot, I brought along two different lenses: the Fujifilm GF 32-64mm f/4 zoom lens and the GF 23mm f/4 wide angle lens. The zoom lens was probably my favorite lens, because it gives you a wide variety of focal lengths, which is helpful when trying to get that perfect composition (which replicates 25-51mm on a full frame camera). The 23mm lens might be the obvious choice for landscape work, because it can capture such a large field of view, but because of the waves and the creeping tide, this lens required me to get much closer to my subject than I felt comfortable with, and therefore, I used it a bit less than the zoom lens. Regardless, these two lenses gave me a lot of flexibility in my framing, and because they are both built like tanks, they felt great out in the field. 

The Backpack

When it comes to landscape photography, more times than not, the perfect scene is not going to be easily accessible. This means you often will have a good hike before any photos are even taken. Sometimes, this is several hundred yards away from your car; other times, it can be hours and miles away. The LowPro Pr Trekker BP 550 backpack is one of the best designed backpacks I've ever used for these extended hikes. I've been using this backpack around the rainforests of Puerto Rico, but as I mentioned in the video, this bag was a bit of overkill for this simple beach shoot. That being said, I do love the ability to mount two tripods directly to the outside of the bag (or a lightstand if you are a portrait photographer), and the lumbar support helps distribute the weight evenly over your body, which is super important when hiking with 10-30 extra pounds on your back. 

Lowepro Pro Trekker BP 550 AW II Backpack

Other Useful Accessories

There are a few other pieces of gear I always travel with when shooting landscapes. First, I always like to have a variable neutral density filter so that I can slow my shutter speed down. By drastically slowing your shutter speed, you can easily blur water, clouds, and even people, which will give a much more dramatic feel to your images. My favorite filter at the moment is the PolarPro 82mm 2-5 Stop Variable Neutral Density Filter

I also always travel with some sort of LED light for hikes and also to potentially use for light-painting a scene. I recently reviewed the Falcon Eyes RGB Pocketlite and absolutely love this powerful little light. Because it can create any color imaginable, it's super versatile, and as I showed in the video, you can set it to red light, which helps illuminate your scene without disrupting your eyesight at night. If you are a videographer, having a few of these lights is also great for those times you need a keylight at night or just want to pop a little bit of light into your scene. To soften the light, I highly recommend a Savage Softbox Umbrella, because they break down super quickly and take up very little space. 

Sun Locator Pro

One of the most difficult things about planning a landscape photoshoot is anticipating where the sun will rise and fall. For years, there have been a few great apps for iPhone users, but Android users were often left with few options. Recently, GeneWarrior released an awesome app for photographers, called Sun Locator. As demonstrated in the video, this program lets you see how the sun will affect your image in a variety of different interfaces, and it also displays a bunch of useful information, like moon phases and sunrise and sunset timetables, and it even has a topography option that renders the shadows around your scene. If you want to accurately anticipate where the sun will be in your scene, definitely give this app a try. 

The Final Images

As you can see in the video, I wasn't able to capture the dramatic backlit clouds I wanted in the morning, and at night, the red lights that illuminated the beach pretty much ruined any astrophotography shot. Some people have commented on the video that they think the night image could be salvaged by simply removing the red color on the pilings in Lightroom, but I was never able to edit a compelling image. If you want to try your own hand at that image, I've included two free FujiFilm GFX 100 raw Files for you to download. 

Same location shot at sunrise, sunset, and at night

If I compare the three images above, my favorite is by far the middle image taken during sunset. There were a lot of great frames taken during this session, and although I don't think any of these images are my strongest landscape work, I am pretty happy with the overall final image. It's pretty rewarding to work your way through several attempts and ultimately wind up with a final image of a location that hasn't been photographed much at all. 

Below are my two favorite images for the sunset session. In the first image, the sun was just beginning to set, and the composition was very straight and symmetrical. As the sunlight faded, I changed my composition a little to show more of the sky and introduced the Falcon Eyes Pocketlite off to the side for a little fill.  Both shots are pretty interesting for different reasons, but I think my favorite is still the brighter sunset shot. 

Download Two Raw Files From This Shoot

As I said above, I want to see what you would do with the astrophotography shot and the awful red color casts. I've included one nighttime raw file from this shoot as well as one of my favorite photos taken during sunset. If you want to create your own edit of these photos or just want to play around with an insane 102-megapixel file, enter your email in the form below to access the files completely for free. If you come up with an edit you really like, feel free to share the image in the comments below. 

Watch More Free Photography Tutorials

I want to thank all of our sponsors for helping us making free content like this. If you enjoyed this extended video and want to learn more about photography and post production, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube Channel and check out of full Free Tutorial Playlist on YouTube. Our hope is that through these sponsored tutorial videos, we can share a ton of educational and inspiring content with you while also using some of the latest photography tools and accessories along the way. If you have any questions about this photoshoot, feel free to leave a comment below, and I'll do my best to answer it. 

Also, if you want to learn how some of the best photographers create their specific look in a variety of photography genres, check out the videos in the Fstoppers Store or click on "Tutorials" at the top of this page

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5 Comments

Mark Ferencz's picture

For those short of 15k+ and an inability to spend all day on a shoot, you can get 95% of the way with a modern ff dslr.mirrorless, a bit higher iso, and a few minutes. Perfection is found in composition in my mind.

Patrick Hall's picture

Or a camera from a 2010. The gear doesn’t make or break the technique but you will prob still need to wait for good light.

That's all fine and good but brand of shirt and pants were you wearing? ;-)

Patrick Hall's picture

Probably from H&M or express.

I preferred the night shots where the pillars looked strobed.