5 Bad Choices That Landscape Photographers Often Regret

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.

A great day with good light that could have been captured better.
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.

An image I shot with cheap filters with terrible color cast.

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?

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20 Comments

Raul Dederichs's picture

how comes 'leaving the lens cap on' didn't make the list?

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Because that should be easily corrected if you just check your viewfinder.

Raul Dederichs's picture

... sorry - I forgot to add the 'sarcasm' tag ...

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Oh. Lol

Steve White's picture

Sorry, #4 is just wrong. Walking out into the landscape with every lens, or every focal length, means that you have no idea what you want to accomplish. You end spending more time changing lens and guessing what lens you need rather than taking photographs.

I frequently go with ONE lens -- if it's birds that day, I take my 400. Why take a 50 to shoot birds? If I'm doing tiny landscapes, it's my 70-200 zoom. If I'm doing seascapes, my 24-105 does 90% of what I need. Yes, I'll take a second lens, particularly with landscapes, but that's it. No heavy bag, no extra gear.

Know what you want to shoot that day. If you're wrong, guess what -- tomorrow's another day. Change your gear out and try again. Limiting your gear helps you focus on what you CAN do that day, and it's amazing how many good images you end up with in doing so.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Thanks for saying what I needed to say. ;)

Raul Dederichs's picture

totally agree, more often than packing too light I had made the miss-take to pack too much, not only does the weight bring you down, I find I am also less focused than when I limit myself to the gear I need for the job

John Pouw's picture

Totally agree, early on I spent way to long on location second guessing my lens choice over and over, rushing to try everything. Sometimes 1-2 lenses is perfect, makes you focus (no pun intended) and move your feet.

Jerome Brill's picture

First step is actually going out to shoot. Even if you don't want to and don't have a plan. You might come across something that you'll want to come back to later. Second is purposely only go out with one lens. Be creative. Last is to actually work out a plan for a specific shot. The only real bad choice it not going out and shooting. It's a numbers game.

William Faucher's picture

I cannot agree with this more. I very reluctantly sold my Sigma 150-600mm Sport lens in favour of the Nikon 300mm PF (literally a fraction of the size and weight). I was sure that I wasn't going to be able to get the shots I had been getting with the Sigma.

Lo and behold I was wrong. Due to the tiny nature of the PF lens, I found myself going out way more because it had such a small footprint, and ended up getting more, and better, wildlife shots than I ever could with the 600mm.

Michael Dougherty's picture

If you are flying internationally, some airlines have begun limiting carry-ons to a maximum 15 pounds. It is really difficult to carry a full compliment of lenses with this limitation. This is where mirrorless bodies help.

Daniel L Miller's picture

Yikes. I haven't flown for work since COVID but if I had to adhere to that limit I wouldn't be able to work. Of course the the airlines say "we'd be happy to check that for you." And my answer has been, "I'd rather not turn one of your baggage handlers into a photographer."

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I might not have enough experience with the airlines that you fly with but most of the ones Ive taken are just afraid of the liabilities of checking my gear in and they just let me bring the heavy rolling case as carry-on

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Thats a great hack!

Greg Scott's picture

I think you may have missed some (more?) important ones: I'll express them in positive rather than negative terminology: 1. Be there. You can't get the shots unless you are there. Up in the morning, out in unusual weather, Up at sunset, etc. Be there. Right time, right place, right light, right weather. 2. Have your camera. Scouting? Great. But bring your camera. 3. Look behind you. Often what you don't see behind you has a subject with it's own virtues. A great example is sunsets. Look east at sunset. 3. Bring a tripod, consider small apertures for greater DOF. Night shots especially need steady camera. 4. Plan your locations in advance as well as possible. Consider google maps or other methods that give you a feel for the location.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

All these are great additions. Thanks!

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

To cut down I went with a 1224 2.8, 24240 and 200-600, 1.4x/2x and one camera and a 15" laptop that fit in a easy carry bag with all needed party favs stashed in for a car trip. Yes I have also many 2.8's and primes in the safe. But things like my SS/F/#/ISO chart keep copies in several places for when bracketing. But stories/comments here make me go to my checklist and review (gets longer every read). Oh! the clear trash bags and ziploc bags, want to change a lens or protect from elements, keep in back pocket of photog jacket. For that long night/ day hike fruit cake for energy and water bag not coffee (dehydrator). Here is one, being military since birth (a brat) get a dog tag blank and have all medical and contact info engraved (keep updated) keep one around neck and in each boot accidents do happen and are unplanned even on the way to or from!!! And a list of all lenses and cameras serial numbers (may take two) and a current Photo of your bag and gear in your wallet (that's on a cord to your belt). A mirror and eye drops, once got something in my eye (at night) - after a bit pulled a long grey hair out!

TJ Weisenberger II's picture

I left my memory cards in my laptop, had a great landscape photo 10 miles from the car in Joshua Tree desert. I got a bad quality phone picture to remind me. I alway double check now and keep a crappy SD card in my bag just in case. Found out I lost my spare battery while at a waterfall. Fortunately I liked the one photo I took before the battery died. Ran about 2 miles to the rental car but it wasn't there either. Then walked back to pick up my friend I left at the falls.

Douglas Goodhill's picture

What does that mean?

John Pouw's picture

Took me a moment too but I think he is referring to the tip to make sure you don't pack in a rush :)