How to Take Your Landscape Photography to the Next Level

Even if you are a landscape photographer who has mastered the art of taking and editing photos, knows how to plan and compose a shot, and creates good images on a constant basis, you might reach a point at which you feel stuck with your photography. In this article, I share one way of breaking through this barrier to take your photography to the next level.

When I started to take landscape photos more than 10 years ago, I planned many photo tours around popular views and locations. It was fun for a few years. I learned a lot, honed my technique, and occasionally even came up with a photo that stood out. But there's more to landscape photography than recreating the same images over and over again.

I draw a lot of inspiration from learning and discovering new things. In the beginning, it came from learning photography and editing techniques. Then, I focused on improving my compositions and experimenting with new angles. Meeting other photographers and seeing how they work also helped.

I took this photo a few years ago on the rugged Pacific coast of Colombia. I intentionally visited this area because I could find no photos from there online — perfect conditions to explore and get creative.

But over the last years, it has become harder and harder for me to progress with my photography. What helped me to stay motivated was investing time in finding new locations and taking photos in places where it's possible to express my own creative vision.

Taking Your Photography to the Next Level

There are different ways to take your photography to the next level, and finding the right one largely depends on the level you're currently at. In the lead of this article, I address landscape photographers with some experience who have mastered the basics. For those, a way to improve is to become better at scouting, and below, I show you how to get more out of known and unknown photo spots that way.

Scout for New Perspectives

Let's start with popular photo locations. Before a visit, try to find photos of them on the various photo-sharing platforms. That's nothing new, and I'm sure it's something many of you do to plan your photo trips. But instead of recreating those photos later, do the opposite. Once you've seen the typical compositions from a viewpoint, make it your mission to find new perspectives. Taking the obvious compositions out of the equation forces you to get creative.

It can be a challenging exercise, and in some places, you might fail to come up with something original. Sometimes, you'll have to admit that the popular ones are also the best compositions. But arriving at this conclusion after first exploring other available angles is still beneficial because you train your photographic eye in the process.

Let me give you an example: the photo below shows the Vikos Gorge in Greece, photographed from the Beloi viewpoint. If you google this viewpoint, you'll find many similar images. What they have in common: they've been taken from the same narrow viewing platform and lack foreground.

This is the obvious photo to capture from the Beloi Viewpoint: no foreground, just layers of mountains and light.

I went there with an hour to spare before sunset. It allowed me to explore and find a more interesting view not far from the main viewpoint. Here, I could include the characteristic layered rocks in the foreground, which you see everywhere around the Vikos Gorge. The middle of the image is comprised of vivid greenery, which provides the perfect color contrast to the magenta hues in the sky. All those elements were missing from the other photo.

The photo I took at Sarakiniko on Milos is another example. I invested a lot of time avoiding the typical compositions. Funny enough, this rock formation is located close to the entrance of the beach. But only after sunset was this composition was revealed to me. Before that, I had spent close to two hours studying the different rock formations along the beach for a possible photo.

This brings me to the most important aspect of scouting popular photo locations: plan doe enough time and, if possible, visit at different times of the day to experience those places in different light.

Scout for New Locations

As I wrote above, you'll not always be able to come up with something new if you only visit known photo locations. Eventually, you might want to get a bit more adventurous and start to scout for unknown photo spots. From one of my previous articles, you know I like to do this via a run, but that's not always possible. Sometimes, there's not enough time, especially when a multi-day hike is required to reach an area of interest.

This photo shows a view you'll likely not find in any other image online. I discovered this area during a scouting hike.

For me, those unknown and more remote places are a huge source of inspiration, and I dedicated my second day in the Vikos Gorge area to one of those. In the feature video, I show how I plan my hike into the unknown, and I give five tips for making such a scouting a success:
  • First, you should do proper planning for such a scouting hike. I use a mix of Google Maps, Google Earth, OpenTopoMap, and outdooractive. The result of such planning is GPS coordinates for viewpoints I want to visit and a map for the hike, including elevation gains.

  • During the hike, remain open to exploring views along the way. Document those with your cell phone. Once you reach the destination, you can compare it to the vistas you have passed and pick the one best suited for photography, then head there for sunset or sunrise.

  • Those scouting photos alone are not enough. Use apps like PhotoPills and its augmented reality view to check the path of the sun. It gives you an idea of how the light will develop at a potential photo spot. Avoid picking a view to photograph for which there's no chance for proper light.

  • As the hike takes you more and more into the wilderness and the trails start to vanish, ask yourself when it's time to stop or even turn back. You have to be aware of your capabilities and path-finding skills. Don't overestimate yourself, and always think about walking those trails in the dark if you stay at a location for sunset.

  • Finally, it's always good to have a backup plan. If your scouting hike doesn't uncover the views you are looking for, it's good to have something else to photograph as the day draws to an end.

For my hike in the Vikos Gorge, I didn't require a backup plan. I found a beautiful view along the way. An hour before sunset, the light was perfect to photograph it.

I did another hike into the unknown a few years ago in Colombia. It brought me to this scene of a cluster of palm trees surrounded by thick clouds high up in the mountains of Santa Marta.

The great thing about such photos is that they'll be your own. You're not distracted by other images you might have seen of a place online while you compose your shots. You'll be able to express your own creative vision, and that's a great way of getting better with your photography.

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