The Misconception Keeping You From Being a Better Landscape Photographer

The Misconception Keeping You From Being a Better Landscape Photographer

What beliefs that you have about the kind of photography you like end up becoming a hindrance? What self-imposed limitations keep you from shooting more and learning further?

For anyone taking up a new craft or hobby, there are always some assumptions that we make based on expectations we have about it. Some of them prove to be accurate and some are harmless mistakes, but there are a few that can actually become hindrances for progress and further learning. For landscape photographers, there are some crucial misconceptions that have to be addressed so that they don’t keep you from becoming the best landscape photographer you can be, and the most crucial one is also probably the most obvious of them all.

The Root Cause

One approach that I personally disagree with in how some instructors teach photography, regardless of genre, is that the process somehow begins with imposing limitations and boundaries that do not always apply. Many photographers are taught that photography is somehow strictly limited to what the camera takes at the moment of capture and that any form of editing or alteration is somehow already beyond the creative process of photography. While any photographer is free to set their own boundaries and ethics on the art that they create, it is imprudent that many people dictate what a photographer can and can’t do to create art. This, in fact, is the exact opposite of what art is. These boundaries that beginners are often made to believe in put a limit on their creativity, imagination, and even freedom as artists, which is why getting rid of those shackles is an important step of going beyond basic photography.

The Biggest Misconception About Learning Landscape Photography

Most photographers who begin their journey into landscape photography are either exposed to and inspired by works of notable landscape photographers or have the chance to try shooting landscapes while visiting a grand iconic location or landmark. One huge source of inspiration is seeing the places you’ve only read about in books or magazines interpreted by a supremely talented landscape photographer. On the other hand, being able to see and visit such places can definitely inspire you to seek more and learn to photograph them yourself.

Unnamed hills that I found driving one day.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being inspired by the great iconic landscapes of the world and hoping to see and photograph them yourself one day. However, a good number of people tend to assume that to be able to learn landscape photography, to be able to simply become a landscape photographer, you always have to travel far just to shoot. It’s a seemingly harmless assumption at first, but if one continues to hold on to that mindset, they will meet a lot of hindrance and frustration in their journey.

Distance Does Not Equate to Effort

It is (or at least it should be) an obvious point that your capacity to travel far to shoot does not dictate and should not limit how you progress as a landscape photographer. The easiest argument against this is: “what if you live right by a national park or something similar?” Yes, living close to a good landscape photography spot will be an advantageous position for anyone, but it should not be a rigid requirement. On the contrary, it is possible that someone who does not live close to any iconic natural landmark might even have an edge in terms of scouting new locations and finding unique ways to photograph landscapes.

Personally, I would say that learning landscape photography for me at first seemed challenging because of how relatively "stuck" I am in the city that I live in. I started learning landscape photography when I was still in school, and aside from the fact that it consumed almost all of my time every day, getting out of the city was always a logistical nightmare. However, this challenge led me to seek out more nearby yet undiscovered locations and definitely taught me to find ways to photograph seemingly ordinary places.

The Most Important Thing You Need Starting Out

One question I always ask fellow landscape photographers is: “what place did you consider your playground and how did it help you progress as a landscape photographer?” Personally, I found that shooting landscapes within the city where I was stuck in was a good way to learn how to deal with environmental challenges. However, I also tried my best to look for places that I can visit easily within an hour from where I live so that I could go there for a few hours on rare days off to shoot and find new ways to photograph the place each time.

I recently found and fell in love with a new place that I can now call a playground that is less than an hour away from my home. Masungi Georeserve is a 4,000-hectare land that a foundation has been working hard to protect for the past couple of decades. 

Another counterproductive mindset about landscape photography is the thinking that you should only photograph a place once. Many experienced landscape photographers would agree that no matter how many times you come back to a certain location or vantage point to shoot, the landscape, the environmental condition, and the light are always different from every other instance you have been there. In fact, shooting a place multiple times prepares you for a wide range of environmental conditions and challenges that you might encounter in other places, and these experiences will definitely help you find unique ways to photograph landscapes anywhere.

Another important point to consider is that most landscape photographers, or most artists for that matter, always evolve in terms of personal style and artistic taste. Any photographer that you ask at this moment would probably say that their style and preference in photography is now very different from how they were five or ten years ago. Having a place that you know like the back of your hand as a playground will be the perfect spot to try new approaches with less probability of failing or wasting the shot.

See the World but Don’t Forget What’s Right in Front of You

Masungi Georeserve sits on the watershed that protects metropolitan Manila and nearby provinces from catastrophic flooding. Naming this place my landscape playground also means bringing as many landscape photographers as I can to the place not just to encourage them to shoot but support the cause.

As landscape photographers, it is safe to say that we are all driven by our fascination and curiosity towards the world and nature. This comes hand-in-hand with the thrill we get from photographing these places and creating something unique and visually stimulating out of what could be a regular-looking place. It is a natural and definitely good sign that we always yearn to go far and wide to see the most iconic and most majestic landscapes all over the world. However, for anyone with limitations, may it be financially or simply with the ability to travel far, that should never keep you from packing your gear and shooting. What makes you a landscape photographer is the artistry you put in your photos, the passion you have for photographing the outdoors, and your curiosity in standing witness to the universe. The distance you travel has absolutely no bearing on that.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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Well, nothing new in this article, but a great reminder of what counts: To see the beauty that surrounds us, wherever we are, and capture it in our own way.

Those unnamed hills are really fantastic.


As I read this article, I couldn't help to see that there are many similarities between landscape photography and wildlife photography, inasmuch as these misconceptions are concerned. So I will reply based on wildlife photography, because that is what I know. But I think that what I have to say fits with what you speak about in your article concerning landscape photography.

I guess the things you discuss in your article really come down to one major decision - do you settle for what you have available nearby, and learn to make the very best of them, and learn and grow in the process, or do you shoot for the ultimate opportunities that are found in far away iconic places?

Personally, I enjoy shooting my local wildlife, even though the opportunities are not very good, and the palette of species is somewhat limited. So I do a lot of the things that you recommend in your article - visit local "playgrounds" often, in a variety of different seasons and conditions. This does allow me to keep my skills and my artistic vision in working order.

Many wildlife photographer friends of mine have good paying jobs and lots of extra money. They can afford to travel whenever they want. So they make several trips a year to places with awesome, iconic wildlife opportunities. They come back from their trips with really special images, spectacular in every way. These guys don't shoot much around their home area, because they simply aren't inspired with the wildlife that lives in their region. So at least 90% of the photography they do each year is done on big trips to awesome destinations.

As I said, I do a lot of local wildlife photography. By local, I mean within a two hours' drive of my home. But I also do a lot of "big trips" for wildlife photography. These trips are not at all extravagant, because I have very little money. So I drive everywhere in my little old Toyota Corolla with 300,000 miles on it, because it gets over 30MPG. I stay in very cheap motels or sleep in my car or in a tent when I am en route to my destination. And when I get to the destination, I sleep in a room at someone's house that I found on Craigslist. And I eat food that isn't as good as what I really want to eat. But I am where there are great wildlife photo opportunities, and that is what counts!

So I am one who does it both ways - I photograph a lot around my home region, with many "playgrounds" that I visit frequently. But I also spend about 10 weeks a year on big photography trips far away from home. I must say that I like the photos from the big trips a lot more than those I take around home. Even though I spend so much time getting familiar with the conditions and subjects at my local playgrounds, the photos still aren't as striking or compelling or beautiful or dramatic as those I take on the big destination trips.

So, the local playground photography that I do is fulfilling because I love to get out into nature and get to know a place intimately over the course of years and years. But the results are more appealing to me when I go to some far away iconic place for a week or three.