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5 Lessons I Wish I Knew as a New Landscape Photographer

There are lessons that you only learn from constant practice and making mistakes. These are some lessons that can widen your scope and fuel your learning as a landscape photographer. 

Landscape photography, much like other genres of photography, requires a lot of practice, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of leg work. As the famous quote suggests, there are a lot of frustrations amid the rewards of the craft. While there are countless tutorial videos, articles, and books online, there are lessons to be learned beyond how to shoot and edit. The following tips are ones that I have personally learned through the years and often, the hard way. 

1. If the Light Is Still Changing, Just Keep Shooting

A common frustration in landscape photography is being welcomed by unappealing weather. There are many times that you might go through the long process of getting to a location only to be disappointed by dull and gray skies. If you believe in luck, some people would call themselves chronically unlucky with the weather, and if they still shoot by now, they have probably either gotten used to a lot of disappointment or have gotten extra creative in making the most of what they get. 

It was a 15-minute trek to this vantage point. Colors in the skies were quite faint, and we thought that the remainder of the sunset would be uneventful. We walked back with the sun barely on the horizon, and the skies turned warm along the way. The volcano wasn't visible anymore. 

Many times, you might get the urge to call it a day, pack up, and go home even if there are still a few minutes (or hours) before it begins to get dark. While there is no assurance that it will happen as often as we would like, give it a chance. Sometimes, nature gives you a curveball at the very last minute with better skies and appealing cloud formations. Otherwise, you might see it on the trip back and regret not staying a few extra minutes. 

2. A Dull-Looking Day Is Never a Waste of Time

In relation to the first tip, there's a lot of benefit in avoiding the mindset that shooting less-than-spectacular weather is just a waste of time. The reality is not every day that you go out shooting will have spectacular lighting, and this can very well happen even when you set out to shoot your dream destinations. While there are many weather apps and tools that can help you avoid such days, it is inevitable to experience such disappointing conditions.

This was a heavily cloudy day in San Francisco, and I've only been there twice, greeted by cloudy weather on both visits. It wasn't right to skip seeing the landmarks, nonetheless. 

If you avoid seeing it as a waste of time and instead start seeing it as a challenge, you’re able to explore different approaches to shooting and hone your creativity in the process. This helps you develop the skill of making the most out of any location and any lighting condition wherever you go. Landscape photography is about identifying and adapting to changes in the environment to achieve a pleasant visual design. 

3. Don’t Rush and Chase After Spectacular Locations

Admittedly, a lot of us got into landscape photography because of how inspired we got when we saw beautiful landscape images of the world’s most iconic places, and this somehow shaped our dreams as landscape photographers to see those locations and shoot them for ourselves. However, there is that tendency to rush into doing it, and if you’re someone who has limitations in traveling, whether physically or financially, it would be best to prepare well for what could be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shoot. 

This is perhaps my most regrettable image. I traveled to shoot the Grand Canyon with no experience shooting the night sky. No amount of editing could save this image, obviously. 

Perhaps the most practical way to learn landscape photography is to find a nearby location that you can visit often to practice and be exposed to various weather and lighting conditions. They don’t have to be the most iconic locations, but if you live right outside of a world wonder, then there’s nothing stopping you. These experiences prepare you for the more crucial shoots of your landscape photography journey, where you might just have a single day or less at a particular location and all you’ll be able to do is take whatever you are given. There will always be good days and bad days in landscape photography, but it is best to be shooting either way. 

Shooting simple locations can be quite rewarding

4. There Are Some Pieces of Gear That You Should Never Compromise On

Landscape photography is never about the gear you have. That is true and will always be true. However, there are just some pieces of gear that are non-negotiable, and settling for cheap, mediocre variants might set you up for failure and regret. 

In particular, these are accessories that can compromise image quality. Most important among these are cheap, mediocre filters and flimsy, unstable tripods. While there are pieces of equipment where you can settle for cheaper alternatives, by experience, most photographers would say that they regret getting terrible filters and tripods early in their landscape photography journey because the implications of terrible quality in these are often irreversible and eventually mean wasted time, money, and effort. 

Shot with the worst set of filters I've ever owned. 

While not all cheap filters mean terrible color and/or clarity, most experienced landscape photographers would tell you to avoid them altogether. An extreme color cast can give you unwanted colors in your photos that are either impossible or very hard to correct in post-processing. Some filters are just not made for extreme weather and tend to get smudged with moisture very easily, giving you irreversibly soft images. 

Tripods are the same. A lot (not all) of cheap tripods only serve to hold the camera for timed self-portraits and family photos. For landscape photography, light tripods are easy to carry during long walks and hikes, but going too light would also mean less resistance to camera shake. Many instances in landscape photography require withstanding strong winds or strong water currents. Needless to say that doing long exposure with shaky tripods guarantee blurred landscape images. 

5. Landscape Photography Can Be Done With Any Camera

In contrast to the previous point, it is also important to know that the wonderful genre of landscape photography can be done with any camera. Countless photographers prove this with even smartphones. Though there are cameras that are better designed for landscape photography that make them either more efficient in shooting, give higher resolution, or wider dynamic range, it is still possible to do and more importantly, learn landscape photography with even the simplest camera.

Landscape can also be done with any lens. Yes, there are different lens kit recipes that you would learn of online based on who you listen to, but if you’re just starting, it can be done with any camera and lens. Better or more suited landscape photography gear makes you more flexible and efficient in the long run, but not having it doesn’t stop you from shooting. In the same principle as the earlier tips, being able to learn to work through these limitations might even help you be a more creative photographer altogether. 

Landscape photography deals with a lot of disappointment, challenges, and setbacks. There are so many ways to learn the craft, but nothing beats substantial experience. These challenges make the triumphs all the more rewarding, but it doesn’t mean that all of them are unavoidable. 

Do you have any tips to add? Feel free to share them in the comments.

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4 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

I've certainly committed #3. I got to a location that I clearly wasn't ready for and didn't know the area well enough to be there ALONE in the dark. The result: thinking more about being spooked and less about the mechanics of the shot. I plan to return to that spot. But, next time, I'll take advantage of local guides and better planning.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I probably wouldnt get to the shooting part in that situation. Yeah, local guides enable us to explore locations safely.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

We all have to start sometime! Everything pointed out here are good. First you need is an eye for things, Like knowing we see clarity at 50-55mm (39 to 35.87 deg) - the old days where film directors put out both hands in front with thumbs together and that it is our peripheral that is almost 180 degrees unfocused 10mm putting hands to your sides with thumbs up while looking straight bringing forward until you see them blurry but seen. Know the difference between 35mm full frame and APS-C, First Canon APS-C (1.6 crop) you put on a 10mm lens but it will be 16mm vision or 96.22 Deg and Full Frame is 121.35 deg. Basically in FF if a lens says 16 degrees it has that FOV 96 deg but APS-C 69.74 deg and so forth. Both will work but you will find you will want more of what your vision sees and yes you will learn panoramas.
But also the wider you go things get further away so you have to learn wide is not about getting it all in frame but finding a subject close with a wide background, but for astro you want more sky BUT still with a second subject close.
The hard part is if you can not walk closer you need a lens to bring something closer but still look like a landscape, yes it is possible with telephoto lens of 70-200mm or even 200-600mm it is where you see the moon rising over a mountain between peaks but a 55mm you are still far and the moon is small or a setting sun over a bridge is small. But a 600mm will bring the peaks closer but the moon will half fill the frame all sharp!!
The last and I think the most important is Software, it is like a video game but with no real ending. Just six years ago PS or Lr cost $800 ea. and every version update also. HDR images were just starting, to enhance an image where the camera sensor could not capture in one image and cost around $80 to $100, for this reason PS/Lr went by the month/year. Today there is AI for someone who needs an image fast for someone BUT "YOU DO NOT" LEARN "MUCH"! It takes years of playing or over and over with the many styles you come up with. The playing never stops.
With the virus and indoors I went back to images of 2005 with a point and shoot and 2010 with my Canon T2i (stopped being made in just two years but still works today). But using today's software those image's look like I took them today with a very expensive camera and lens.
Remember no matter the hype of a lens sharpness/clarity is most with SW and colors are made best with SW and pixel amount is not really that important because no one looks with a magnifying glass, I print in poster size metal with a 12MP Sony A7S and astro photos look so unreal up on the wall with a light shining on and everyone wants one but just a hobbyist for just capture and relaxation it is more fun that way!
You also need a pull from within to skip dinner at sunset. Or to stop on the way to work/home when colors are there and you just start dreaming. That pull will awaken you in the middle of the night at 3am to capture a MW at 5am without alarms. Without the pull no camera will capture the feelings needed to see a capture that will only be a time in the past!

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Such valuable insight as always, Edwin! :)