If you haven't made any bad choices, then that just means you haven't been shooting long enough.
For any photographer, there's a variable learning curve that gives room for many mistakes, and these mistakes lead to a lot of regrets. Photos of moments that you can never re-shoot, locations and environmental conditions that will never coincide again. Here are some of the most common bad choices that lead to the biggest regrets for a landscape photographer.
1. Not Shooting in Raw
Landscape photography has quite a number of never-ending debates, most commonly about post-processing, using artificial intelligence for post-processing, sky replacements, blending, and composites. Despite that, most experienced landscape photographers would agree that shooting in raw format to bring out the best of your shot is necessary and generally acceptable in the craft. For many reasons, even the most experienced landscape photographers at one point find themselves laughing or crying over the fact that they overlooked that their camera was only shooting in JPEG. While it’s without a doubt that getting the shot right upon capture is possible and definitely the best practice, it is also an absolute reality that the raw file would be more flexible in refining the image no matter how beautiful it already is straight out of the camera.These instances often happen for various reasons. Most commonly, it happens either because someone else used or tinkered with the camera without the owner knowing that it was set to JPEG only, or the photographer borrowed the camera and forgot to check the settings, or maybe the camera is new, the settings reset for whatever reason, or the owner might have tried a feature that required the system to switch to recording just JPEGs. For whatever reason, this can happen to you, and triple-checking before a shoot will definitely not hurt.
2. Last-Minute Packing
For any photographer, packing in a hurry can often lead to leaving some small items behind. Usually, a photographer wouldn’t forget to bring the camera or certain lenses but instead, we often forget to bring the small but essential items in our bags. Most commonly, these can be memory cards, batteries, or tripod plates, and leaving them behind is basically as bad as leaving all your gear at home. Sometimes we forget to bring chargers, card readers, or other semi-essential accessories whose importance depends on whether your batteries are charged or your cards have space to begin with. Nevertheless, having a checklist or simply being thorough can spare you from the missed shots and regrets.
3. Calling the Day Too Early
This applies to any photographer who shoots outdoors and makes use of ambient light or any other environmental factor that affects the shot. Personally, as a landscape photographer, this often happens to me when I choose to abort any plans of shooting because the weather hasn't been impressive throughout the day, or when I decide to pack up too early when there are still changes in lighting conditions happening. In shooting landscapes, this mostly happens to me when I (arrogantly) think that nothing else significant would be happening after sunrise or sunset as if I can really predict anything, and on the trip back, I see some nice clouds or bursts of color in the sky that would surely be over by the time I got back to the location.
4. Packing (Too) Light
Downsizing your gear for a certain shoot or trip is a common temptation, especially when you’re used to (and tired of) carrying heavy loads on your bags. At first, as you build your lineup of lenses and cameras, you think expansively of every possibility and aim to get every piece of gear that would solve every shooting challenge and cater to your every need. It may be a set of zoom lenses, a set of primes, tripods, filters, batteries, a bunch of memory cards, lighting equipment, you name it. For an experienced photographer who has been shooting for a few years, we often aim to build a huge collection of equipment. There's actually nothing wrong with that since with all these shooting experiences come also the ability to discern what would be useful for the kind of shot that you are planning to do, especially if you have researched the location to which you’re going. It is, however, inadvisable to downsize your gear by a lot if you’re going to a location that you are barely familiar with. If you’re returning to a location you’ve shot before and are well aware of the things you’ll be shooting, then there's no problem predicting which lenses you will need. But for new locations, make sure to at least cover as much focal range as possible. You’ll never know what you could be shooting from a distance, so don’t leave your telephoto behind. At the same time, you’ll never know what wonders an ultra-wide can give you, so don’t leave that behind either. As for the standard zoom lens, you probably know better. Never leave that behind. If you’re unfamiliar, better bring everything you might need instead of missing out on what could be a great shot.
5. Settling for Cheap Gear
Photography, no matter what genre you focus on, is generally quite expensive, especially if you are doing it as a hobby and don’t earn anything from taking photos. While practicality in making purchases is very much advisable, there are some pieces of gear you should never ever compromise on in terms of quality. Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that you should automatically buy the most expensive cameras, lenses, and accessories out there, but settling for the cheap, mediocre ones will surely bite you in the long run.
The easiest tip for this would simply be to never compromise on anything that could affect image quality. Cameras and lenses vary depending on your use and image requirements. Of course, most lenses do well on most cameras, except for a few terrible ones. For other pieces of equipment, there are a multitude of cheap alternatives that could inevitably lead to years of regret, especially if you end up taking a spectacular shot that ends up being flawed directly because of that cheap piece of gear, or worse, if a support gear fails on you and you end up with damaged or destroyed cameras or lenses. Personally, one gear compromise that I’ve been regretting for the longest time was settling for cheap resin ND filters. Resin ND filters from years ago generally had a bit of color cast, but the cheaper variants had much worse color cast that was generally not reparable in post. At the height of the time that I was learning landscape photography where I took some of the photos I’m most sentimental with, those filters really ended up ruining what could have been much better photos. It’s never wise to splurge on the most expensive piece of gear, but in the same way, it will never be a good decision to settle for the cheapest. Choose your gear wisely. Sometimes, cheaper purchases lead to more purchases and generally more losses.
What regrets haunt you to this day, and how have they changed you as a photographer?