The Only Rule You Need for Landscape Photography

Seven years ago, I have stopped using photography rules, which massively improved my photography. But there is one rule that makes the difference between an average shot and a masterpiece. And it is something different than you might think.

In my latest vlog on YouTube, I got some fantastic photographs. But it didn’t look after that in the beginning. And I have to say: that day of photography shows quite well which rule you should never break in landscape photography.
I dreamed to photograph an epic mountain scene with a dramatic sky, after more than a month of clear sky in our area. But I ignored the weather. The only two problems I had on that day were that I had no idea if the spot I had picked out would offer an epic shot and there was still blue sky on that day, of course. And due to the lack of rain, there was a big amount of haze in the air. There was a 10 percent chance to get nice April rain over the valley, though, which could lead to a dramatic mood in the sky. But was this enough to go for it?

Only One Way to Find Out

When I was a little boy, my grandmother gave me an absolutely simple but effective tip, which has helped me a lot of times in my life: whenever I was unsure if something would work, I just should give it a try. And this was what I did on that day: I packed my backpack and started an enjoyable hike through a gorgeous piece of landscape in the Austrian Alps. There was clear sunshine, the birds were tweeting, and the views out to the mountains were just breathtaking.

Meanwhile, spring had also arrived here in the mountains. The snow was melting in the valleys, but there were still some patches of soft April snow here and there higher up in the mountains. This was what made walking more and more painful, and each step led to the thought of giving up, going home, and enjoying a big drink instead. But I had to go up even higher, as the trees blocked the view down through the valley.

The Power of Persistence

Ultimately, tired and nearly dying of thirst, I arrived at my planned spot. The number of trees was less, but it was still not possible to look down to the valley. The light was harsh and the snow so bright that it was difficult to recognize anything on the display of my phone or camera. Although there were mountains and trees, there were no traces of mood, which I appreciate so much as a landscape photographer. The entire landscape looked dull and empty of emotions, but there was something magical up there. I just sat down, drank a cup of tea, and enjoyed the surroundings.

The April rain I was hoping for appeared more in the south. But the valley I wanted to shoot to was in the west. This led to a fantastic game between light and shadow on the distant mountains in the South, which were quite far away. I grabbed my Sony a7R IV with my Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM lens and the 2x teleconverter to get up to 400mm. I framed up an interesting composition, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, as suddenly, a paraglider flew straight into my composition. I waited for the right timing and just pressed the shutter release button.

The One That Rules It All

As the afternoon drew to the end, I decided to go down again to get a better view of one of the mountains when the sun would set an hour later. I took another trail, and there it was: an enchanting scene with a big mountain, a group of trees, a hut, and a fence, leading nicely into the frame. I was so happy about all the haze in the air, which got illuminated from behind and transformed the harsh sunlight into a big, glowing, golden area in the sky. It looked so pleasing, and it was balancing the big mountain on the left side of my composition. Some clouds above the mountain cone held the viewer inside the frame.

I didn’t think about the rule of thirds, the golden spiral, the rule of space, and all those things. But I considered all the visual properties like balance, visual weight, contrast, tonality, flow, and so on to get control over the mood I wanted my image to convey. When we break it down, there was only one rule I had to stick to on that day, which led to photographs I am quite happy about: never giving up.

And this is the only rule in photography that counts. I am often in situations where I have to overcome my weaker self. If you don’t give up, I promise you: you will be rewarded in the end.

To enjoy the whole adventure with a lot of photography tips, watch the above-mentioned video.

Christian Irmler's picture

Christian Irmler is a passioned landscape photographer from Austria who comes from a line of artists.
He engages already his whole life with the compositions of the paintings of his family. In 1990 he began with photography and started to implement all his knowledge from painting into his photography.

Log in or register to post comments

For the love of God, a whole life story to say "never give up" as the one rule in photography? I actually wanted to know what was important to consider and you say "never give up"?? Great, let me tell my landlord that if he wants his rent money he should never give up. The sentence before that was actually useful.
I understand needing to fill the page with words but make them actually be useful.

Hi Alan, thank you for your honest opinion, but it was really not all about filling the page. This is indeed the only rule that counts for landscape photography in my experience. But it had not worked just to write this one sentence. You need the story in front to understand the "why". And I hope, it will help the one or other in difficult situations to stay persistent when it gets difficult out in the field. Because it is much easier to give up, when it gets difficult than staying there.
From the compositional side, I don't consider rules. I use balance, flow, contrast, tonality, color, and things like that. But not as rule. Just to get control over the emotions I want to avoke at the viewers. There will come an article and a video about that in the future. I hope you will like it then.
Nice greetings,

Creating content is hard. Creating thoughtful content without stock answers or click-bait is harder. In my experience Christian consistently provides thoughtful content. I suggest getting to know how he approaches things, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Hi Keith, thanks a lot for your kind words and feedback, I appreciate! Indeed, I'm really interested in producing useful content for photographers on each level of photography. Here on Fstoppers, but also in my YouTube videos.
Thank you and nice greetings from the mountains,