Improving Your Landscape Photography Isn't About Your Camera

Most people reading this article, going to workshops, and watching YouTube content want to improve their landscape photography. It is the question I get asked the most, and there are many answers and solutions to this. But without doubt, the most important part, but often the hardest, is actually being in the right place at the right time.  

The image below is one of my favorites, but it wasn't that difficult to take. It didn't rely on my knowing any special camera techniques or understanding difficult editing in Lightroom. The one thing it did require was being there and waiting for the right light.  

"A Land That Time Forgot," Stokness Iceland

So, anybody with a camera and tripod could have taken this shot given some basic understanding of exposure. It didn't have a particularly difficult-to-find composition with a strong foreground, as that wasn't needed. Being there when the mist cleared and sun set was the key element in this photograph. I spent eight hours in this location to ensure I got a image I was happy with.

So, why do I think this is the most difficult part of photography? It comes down to human nature and patience. It is often too easy to come up with a reason not to go out. Maybe the light doesn't look great at the moment, maybe you aren't in an inspiring location, or maybe you don't like getting up early.   

Take this image that I took on the fifth morning in a run where I got up at 4 a.m. each day (I talk more about that here). It was actually in a very small woodland three miles from my house that I had driven past and ignored many times. On the fifth morning, I almost gave in and didn't go, but patience paid off, and I eventually got the conditions and location I had hoped for. But it was only hard work and perseverance that made this happen — not a specific camera or tutorial. 

Spring Oak and Bluebells, Cheshire UK

However, buying a new Nikon Z7, Fuji X-T2, Sony a7R III or (wait, is there a new Canon camera too?) will not make a change in your ability to take better photos. It may inspire you to go out, but that fades away. To truly improve your photography, you need to bite the bullet and get out in different conditions as much as possible. Practice patience and perseverance, and I am sure you will find that you photography improves dramatically. Staying inside and watching YouTube or going out to visit a camera store may feel like a positive step and be instantly rewarding, but ultimately will only reduce your chances of getting out. Actually, maybe watch a couple of YouTube videos.

So, in this video, I talk about how getting out at sunrise may have been difficult, but it resulted in something special, and it wasn't just a great photo.  

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16 Comments

user-156929's picture

So... An article and video about why you should get out rather than read articles or watch videos. ;-)

Nigel Danson's picture

Well out - I should have written a shorter article ;-)

David Pavlich's picture

My wife and I were just talking about this subject. We were in Toronto for an ATP tennis tournament a few weeks ago and the day before the tournament started, we spent a little time in Toronto's Distillery District. There is a gallery there featuring a very well known Canadian photographer. His work is stunning!

As we were leaving, I said, "now all I need is a long lost uncle to leave me a small fortune so that I can travel all over North America and shoot the terrific wildlife."

Further, we were discussing vacations with a friend and she said it's a great opportunity to shoot stuff. Well, not when your better half isn't interested in photography to the point that I am. It would be selfish of me to wander hither and yon shooting stuff while she tags along. Many is the time we've been at small events and I end up alone while the folks that I'm with wander off while I'm shooting something.

So she suggested that I actually look into a solo vacation. I looked into workshops and the like and found the cost waiting for that long lost uncle I mentioned in the first paragraph.

So after all of this, I still agree that you've got to be in the right place at the right time in order for the shot to be exceptional. But travel does cost money and some of us can't afford to be wandering from home too often. Not complaining. We live a very comfortable life. But traveling the continent isn't part of that.

Now, where'd I put that lottery ticket? :-)

Nigel Danson's picture

Hi David. Whilst I understand your point I do think it misses the point entirely. You don’t have to travel to get good shots. Wherever you life there will be something to shoot. It is a case of getting out and finding it. If I never travelled again and could only walk then I would like to think I would get out and find something to inspire me and shoot. Yes places like Iceland are amazing but they aren’t necessary.

I'm inclined to agree, but not everyone lives in a place where there is actually something to shoot in a, say 50km radius and even if there is, how many times are you willing to shoot the same thing in different weather or light? Also, most people have a daytime job, family etc. There is only so much time left at the start or the end of the day.

user-202867's picture

Got up at 04.00 the other day to drive to the coast so I could photograph the sunrise (yes, sunrise at the beach has been done to death, but it was something I hadn’t done before). Planning not being my strong point, I arrived to find there was no sunrise. However, the wind was gusting and the waves looked suitably dramatic and I got a few shots I was pleased with, so it wasn’t exactly time wasted. The thing is, as I drove to the coast and encountered grey skies, I was tempted to turn back. But most of the time, my best landscape shots are the ones I took after I decided to look over the next hill or to take that little track I’ve never been down before.

David Pavlich's picture

Does this ring a bell! I lived just north of New Orleans for about 25 years and wanted to get a great shot of St. Louis Cathedral. It's right in the French Quarter at Jackson Square and is a major tourist mecca and getting a shot without said tourists in the frame is not easy.

So, I watched the weather forecast and planned a trip when it was going to be a clear Sunrise. I arrived about 15 minutes before the Sun got above the horizon and set up my tripod and waited. I managed to get 7 shots in succession at different shutter speeds and did an HDR shot.....no tourists!!

The HDR shot was not at all tone mapped. It was done through Photomatix Pro 5 on the natural side of the program and came out nicely.

Michael Jin's picture

"Improving You Photography Isn't About Your Camera.

Fixed the title for you.

Michael Jin's picture

*Except when it is.

user-156929's picture

** Or maybe you need a new lens. ;-)

Michael Jin's picture

You ALWAYS need a new lens...

Tim Keagy's picture

Hi Nigel. I'm a self taught photographer, new to this site and will be displaying my work soon. I wanted to get a feel for this site first. Thanks for this article. I have a D750. Love this camera, and can't seeing spending another thousands of dollars for another camera that will give me the same results. It does take patience for the right photo. It also takes passion and dedication. I have been to the same location over and over at different times of the days to get the right photo. And it is seasonal also. The light of the morning is different with each season. I have one photo I took of the sun setting in the back country of our local mountains. I hiked back there many times before the sun and the haze of incoming ocean fog was just right. I would wait for hours for that right time. I would take photos and practice comp on lightroom on these photos knowing it was not the right one. But, when it happened, I was stoked. I knew I got the vision. I watch you tube for the education of how to use a camera when I first started. It was the constant practice out in the field that has gave me success. Articles like this one from a photographer is much more helpful to me.

Jeff Burian's picture

Excellent article with some really good examples to illustrate your point, Nigel. I constantly struggle with this very thing. Due to so many other pulls on my time, it is very difficult for me to find sufficient time to really get to know a subject, and to see it in a "different light". I find that I am almost always rewarded when I do. Thanks for the reminder to "get out and shoot!".

I'm inclined to agree for the most part, you can get great shots with just about any camera these days, however I would say that having both good and appropriate gear for the shoot will vastly improve the photo.

how all so true! Photography has always been the light, the quality of that, and the shadows produced by that light. When camera owners realise that they will soon become a photographer with any camera they have.
Great article; I will share with a few (million) non-believers

George Popescu's picture

I always tell people that 90% of landscape photography is showing up, then the rest is finding a good location for your camera to see.