Do you find yourself arriving at a landscape photography location, getting the tripod set up, the camera out of the camera bag, and then walking away disappointed with your images? Something not quite right? I have some tips for finding your shot, whether it is a new location or one of your old favorites!
Approaching a landscape photography scene or location deliberately can help you walk away with much stronger images. It is easy to get caught up being outside with the camera and jump right to capturing images.
Even today, I must remind myself to slow down when I reach a location I want to photograph. Too often, I find myself excited, putting the camera bag down and immediately getting my gear ready to start taking pictures. While I may walk away with some good images, I find I can walk away with better photos if I slow down a little.
Here are some strategies to help slow down and approach a scene with a purpose.
When you reach a spot you are going to photograph, find a safe place to put the camera bag and set it down. Then, just absorb the scene. I’ve been known just to stand there, slowly taking in the light and sounds of the environment for several minutes, before moving around the scene and thinking about possible compositions.
You don’t even have to start thinking about composition during this step. Just stop and let your senses absorb the area around you. This pause can help transition your mind into being ready to really look at the scene and start figuring out the next pieces.
After this pause, start to observe the scene.
Is the light falling in an interesting way? Highlighting a particular feature? Or maybe it is a harsh light that will push you towards a small scene. Even favorite locations you’ve photographed several times before can look different at different times of day and with varying cloud cover.
Are there prominent features at the location, waterfalls, streams, rock fields, boulders, etc.? As you think through this, start thinking about which elements you want to highlight and which you want to minimize. How do you want to position the pieces within the scene?
At this step, I like to think about the story of the scene. What does this scene say to me? How do I compose the elements above to tell this story through an image?
This is where I move around the scene more (my camera gear is still in the camera bag), taking everything I have observed above and looking for interesting angles and foreground elements.
Be sure to move from side to side and think about photographing from a lower or higher camera position. By changing angles and thinking about camera height, you can dramatically affect what is featured in the composition.
Shooting from one side or the other might let you hide or minimize distracting elements and emphasize others. Similar with changing the camera height.
I sometimes use my phone for a quick 2D viewfinder as I narrow the composition options down. The phone fits in my pocket and doesn’t get in my way while working through this process.
Now, it is time to get the camera and tripod out!
By taking time to observe and work the scene and think about it, you likely have several possible compositions in mind to start photographing. Or maybe you noticed some smaller scenes to photograph that you might have missed otherwise!
Works for New and Familiar Locations
This strategy is helpful for landscape photography locations that are new or familiar to me. At new places, it helps me slow down and not get overwhelmed by all the new visuals. At familiar locations, it helps me be more observant and look for things about the scene that are different this outing due to environmental conditions.
I think these strategies will help you on your next outing. Do you have any favorite tips for exploring new or familiar scenes in your landscape photography?