The Two Most Important Traits of a Landscape Photographer

This article is about two traits you need as a landscape photographer if you want to take photos that stand out. And I'm not talking about a good eye for composition, love for the outdoors, or an adequate fitness level to reach the photo locations you want to photograph. Those are also important. But there are two key characteristics you need as a foundation.

Let's look at a photo I took during autumn last year. It's one of my favorite woodland photos, as it shows a unique tree surrounded by soft mist and perfect fall colors. The icing on the cake is the light that shines through the fog in the distance. Experiencing this fleeting moment that lasted no more than two minutes was one of my photographic highlights of the last year.

The question now is: what two traits allowed me to take this photo? The story begins in 2018 when I saw the first photo of this tree, captured by another photographer. This photographer lives in the area where I grew up, which gave me a first idea of where this tree might be located. So, from then on, whenever I visited my parents, I also went into the woods searching for it. In addition, I continued looking for clues about where it might be whenever I saw more photos of it. I'm usually not a person who asks for locations. It's much more fun to discover them on my own.

And in the fall of 2019, the time had finally come. I was exploring a beautiful, gnarly beech forest, and suddenly, there it was, the tree that looks like an Ent surrounded by fog, what a beauty. But the leaves had already fallen, and despite the beautiful subject, I couldn't take an outstanding photo. Don't get me wrong: I liked the result I got. The gloomy atmosphere of the morning fit the subject nicely, resulting in a moody photo.

But having now seen this tree, I knew I could do better. There were more angles to explore, and I certainly wanted to see it in different seasons and weather to identify which colors and light would fit it best. Over the next two years, I returned again and again. But, I never got the conditions I was looking for, so most of the time, I didn't even photograph this tree and instead focused on other subjects.

In winter 2020, I again gave it a try. Some thick snowfall had created a scene out of a fairy tale, and I think I got a good result. But as I was standing in the freezing cold a couple of hours in the morning and then again in the evening, desperately hoping for the sun to break through the clouds, I already knew that this still wasn't what I wanted.

As spring rolled around, I did a few more forays into this forest, but I wasn't lucky with fog. So those trips were mainly dedicated to further exploration and less to photography. Then, in autumn of 2021, just a few days after I had quit my job as a software engineer to start full-time traveling and photography, I visited the Ent one more time.

The fall colors were perfect, with just the right amount of orange leaves still on the tree. There was also fog again. Now the only ingredient missing was directional light. I went to the tree, positioned myself, fine-tuned my composition, and waited. After 90 minutes, it suddenly got brighter as clouds and fog began to thin. Then, for less than two minutes, the sun lit up the forest. It was as if somebody had placed a huge softbox in front of the sun, which gave the light an ethereal quality. I finally captured the photo that I had been trying to take for two years - the one I show at the beginning of this article.

Persistence and Patience

Now, what are the two traits that helped me get the shot? The first trait is persistence. It must have been between 15 and 20 times that I returned to this forest since I first discovered it. Returning to a photo location and being persistent until you get the envisioned result is essential if you want to capture a special photo. The same is true for the second trait, which is patience. Without it, I would not have stood there in the rain for 90 minutes, waiting for the light that might never have made it through the clouds. I had already waited for it in vain during many previous visits.

But patience goes further. Often, I have to be patient for years until I can capture a photo. During my first trip to New Zealand, I went to Tongariro National Park. My plan was to photograph the lower Tama Lake with Mount Ruapehu in the background. But during the days we had in the area, the weather was so bad that I couldn't even see the mountains around me. As we continued our travels, I planned to return one day, then with more time and flexibility, to be able to plan my visit based on the weather forecast. With New Zealand being on the other side of the world, it was certainly not a place I would be able to return to very soon. So, I patiently waited and saved the money required for a return trip. Several years later, during my travels around the world in 2016, I could finally visit Tongariro National Park a second time. And on this occasion, I got the conditions I was hoping to find.

Now, I'm aware that the example with the photo from New Zealand might be a bit extreme. In addition to patience and time, there were also high expenses involved. I'm glad I got a second chance, but I also know that I might not always be able to return to a photo location. But, for me, it's also ok not to get the shot from time to time. The successes feel much sweeter then.

At the end of the feature video about patience, I show some more images where I had to wait a long time until I could capture them. If you also have such photos in your portfolio, feel free to share them with a little story in the comments below.

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5 Comments
Kevin Harding's picture

Nah. The fortitude to get yourself out of bed at obscene times is clearly the most important trait.

Milan Svítek's picture

Normal people on a Sunday: uuuggghhhh... 7am? Why did I wake up so early?!

Nature photographers on a Sunday: SHIT SHIT SHIT IT'S ALREADY 4AM! I SLEPT IN!

.... Actually me yesterday.

Michael Breitung's picture

For me it was 2:30 a few days ago + hike up a Mountain ;-)

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

That and with every day just on a drive to spots of scenes in your mind, Example The nature of the sun rising in the south in December and center in March to the North in June and every full moon rising most center and in October/March the full moon and sun rise and set opposite each other. With this in mind sunrise/sets are not only in different spots on the horizon but also behind many foreground subjects from different viewing points. You are always looking at a good subject but getting a plan for a morning/evening place to set up and wait as well as being a weather person for just the right clouds too. As one drives and spots your mind wonder's off the subject of the drive and on the future capture. You keep a calendar with info on dates as a bucket list for sometimes years. Like a crime solver with maps on a wall and dates to try. In your mind you see the capture before done when looking at each point on any map. The mind is not cluttered but full of dreams. An obsession yes but controlled. It draws you, pulls at you as the time/day gets near, you plan meals around it, you get up at odd hours or hike sometimes miles and spend days on site cold or hot. The 2019 eclipse Jan. 20th 10 to 20 degrees for 5 hours in the middle of a hayfield again 2022 May 15 70 degrees outside my front door with fast moving clouds BUT a blessed 5 hour opening after a day of heavy rain. Never completed or fulfilled for there is always another to figure. You have boxes of poster size prints and frames you rotate through every week that only you see for it is like the old Slide Show where non photographers eyes glass over after 15 min. You hone your skills each time like a sniper hitting that right spot that few ever know about unless told. WHY is the question and the pull at the soul to be at the right place and time for the shot not even can be duplicated in PS. Ah! and the many programs to process in and the number of old gaming computers in a shed. On and ON like a train going west or east the mind never stops but always full of joy on the forward look!!

John Perhach's picture

I agree with these two traits being in the top 5 of what it takes. Creative vision of what you want before even setting out is a huge one and by that I don’t mean just seeking to replicate a photo seen on the gram. While in the field you need to be thinking about everything involved, start to finish, post processing and all.

The ability to do your own research & planning are also huge if you ask me and is something a lot of folks seem to miss from what I have experienced with meeting people off Instagram. It appears that most peoples idea of planning is to just take endless workshops & tours or to just be given the locations or even worse demanding you take them with you next time while they add nothing to the equation besides showing up to collect their content while putting in no effort with the planning parts, they just want to reap the rewards.

The next biggest important thing is the developing a knowledge of weather and other conditions. While you can’t fully predict the weather, you can certainly learn how to get yourself to places with higher chances of getting the conditions you are looking for by studying weather patterns over regions over time which is exactly how a lot of the biggest names in landscape photography do it.

Figuring everything I said above out on your own all adds to the thrill & personal experience of it what landscape photography is about! It is about having a real connection with your surroundings which in my opinion can’t really be achieved with out those top 5 things. Another thing I figured out years ago is its hard to be deeply immersed & present with a subject if you spend most of the time on your phone filming for reels, tiktoks and or silly Instagram story’s every step of the way.