For those who are just starting out in photography, landscapes may seem like an intimidating field to tackle.
In today’s article, you’ll discover the most common landscape photography mistakes. And how you can go about fixing them.
11. Photographing at the Wrong Time of Day
The idea that you can just show up at any time of the day and get the best photo is an illusion. Those who want to be successful in photography know that their day is going to revolve around photography.
So what are the best times of day you can photograph at? Every location is different of course, but the common times of day are as follows.
- The golden hour – This is the hour before sunset, or after sunrise. Those amazing colours you get in the sky as the sun reaches the horizon often make for amazing landscape photos. If you photograph with the sun behind you, then this golden hour light can bathe a scene in a very nice warm light. With the sun at a lower angle, you will get sidelight onto mountains. These will add more drama and interest due to the shadows they cast.
- The blue hour – The blue hour is a period of time after sunset and before sunrise, where the sky goes a deep blue. The length of time this light is present for varies. If you’re on the equator, the blue hour can be short. The farther you are from the equator, the longer it will last. Photographs during blue hour are typically for cityscape scenes. Some nature landscapes will also work well in this light.
- Other times – The above two are the most common times to photograph, but are they the only times? Of course not! There are amazing landscape photos of the Milkyway, which of course will be taken in the middle of the night. It’s best not to photograph in the hard light of midday. A day with candy cotton white clouds, or dramatic thunderstorm clouds are both great for landscape images.
10. Photographing at the Wrong Time of Year
There is nothing worse than getting to a location at the wrong time of year. There are landscapes that come alive with the seasons. Think of the transformative effect of all those autumn leaves could have on a place.
Are there other seasonal shifts that you should be aware of? Of course, and below are a list of these that you should keep in mind.
Use the internet to research these seasonal shifts. If possible, look for the date a previous photo was taken so you can aim to get the same conditions.
- Milky Way – In the northern hemisphere Milky Way season runs from around March until September. This is a nighttime photo. It shifts from an early morning photo to a late evening photo as the season progresses. You need to know where the Milky Way will be in the sky, as this will also shift. Check out the Photo Pills app for help here.
- The sun angle – There is a reason Stonehenge’s pillars line up the way they do. That’s because they record the angle of the sun as the year progresses. The sun’s angle can have a dramatic effect on your photo. Knowing when to visit a location when the sun angle is most interesting is important.
- The seasons – You might be in a temperate location with four seasons, or in the tropics where there is a dry and a monsoon season. The local changes these seasons can bring to landscape photography could make or break your photo.
- Agriculture – Related to the change of seasons is the way agriculture can transform. Things like rice paddies look great with the many reflection pools they have in spring. The golden yellows of the fully groan paddies in autumn ahead of harvest are also beautiful. Knowing when the harvest will be is important.
9. Not Bringing a Tripod
If you’re taking landscape photography seriously you’ll always have a tripod with you. Not a lightweight shaky tripod either, one that will stay still.
Having a tripod is important for many reasons.
- Long exposure – Using long exposure for landscape photography can add much more drama.
- Bracketing – Many landscape photos benefit from a post-processing technique called digital blending. You’ll need a series of bracketed photos of different exposure values.
- Sharper images – Using a tripod will get rid of any chance of camera shake. If you’re using a sturdy tripod that is.
8. Not Including a Main Subject
One of the most important things you can do is include a main subject in your photo. A main subject will ground your landscape photo and give it a narrative.
The following are examples of good main subjects in a landscape photo.
- A lone tree – A classic in landscape photography. This can provide interest as it changes through the seasons.
- A lighthouse – A favourite for coastal photographers. It’s a great way of adding narrative to what are usually minimalist coastal scenes.
- A person – A fisherman, or someone silhouetted against the horizon can add to the story. It also gives your landscape a sense of scale.
7. Getting the Horizon Line Wrong
With these lenses, it’s even easier to get the horizon line wrong. There are several methods available to you that can fix this problem though.
- Electronic level – Use the built-in electronic level sensor, with a digital display on your viewfinder.
- Bubble level – A lot of tripods come with a bubble level, which can be used to make sure your camera is level.
- Post-processing – If you happen to have a good photo that you got the horizon crooked on then there is still hope. You can straighten the horizon using almost any post-processing software. But you will lose some detail on the edge of the image to do this.
6. Not Checking Local Conditions on the Day
You can plan everything ahead of time, but one thing that’s more difficult to plan is the weather on the day. You’ll need some luck when it comes to this. If you have several days available to visit a location you could then plan to visit when the weather is at its best.
This can be used to decide whether visiting a place is a good idea on any given day. Another local condition that you will need to think about if you’re a coastal photographer is the tide. You can plan this ahead of time by checking a local tide timetable.
5. Using Angles as Every Other Photographer
There is often a great angle or viewpoint that every photographer visits. There’s no reason you shouldn’t also take photos from this position. But it won’t get you the most creative results.
It may not take much to get something different from other photographers, so try out these ideas.
- Creative technique – Adding something different to your scene by using infrared filters, or a lensball!
- Vertical orientation – Many landscape photos are taken horizontally. Try changing it up by using a vertical orientation. See how you can frame that differently to the normal photo.
- Exploring nearby – Take a walk away from the tried and trusted angle. You can find your own point of view, and get an equally striking photo of a famous location.
4. Not Returning to a Previous Location
When a location is on the other side of the world, the logistics of returning are not favourable. That’s not the case when it comes to your own area though, where you can and should revisit.
Your photography will evolve with time. You’ll pick up different equipment, learn new ways to process images.
When you return to a previous location, you’ll also know the go-to spots already. You can re-use those, or go and find somewhere new knowing you have a backup location you could photograph from.
Photographing from the same location is also a great yardstick to measure your improvement as a photographer from year to year.
3. Thinking You Can Take That Photo Later
There are many things you can plan ahead for in photography. That spontaneous moment is what gives your photography the special sauce that will elevate it though.
When something catches your eye there is a reason for that, and you need to be in that moment to capture it. Stop the car you’re driving and take the time to unpack your camera while you’re hiking. Set the tripod up to get the best photo.
So what are these transient moments that you need to take advantage of?
- People or animals – These will almost certainly not be in the same place on a revisit. If their presence makes the photo, make sure you take that photo.
- The weather – Eventually the weather will repeat, but you’ll be waiting for a long time for this to happen. If you see morning mist, rays of light coming through dramatic clouds, or a rainbow it’s time to stop and get the camera out.
2. Not Learning the Post-Processing Techniques
The idea that you can get the best photos straight out of the camera is false. You should aim to get the best result you can before needing to use further post-processing. But all photos will benefit from editing them.
In landscape photography, there are a few steps that you should follow to get the best results.
- Digital blending – A lot of landscape photo will be taken towards the sun. This can result in either a blown-out sky or a foreground that’s too dark. Correct this by bracketing your photos. Then blend them together using luminosity masks. This will result in one image correctly exposed across the frame.
- Enhancements – Adding or removing contrast, saturation and vibrancy will affect the mood of your photo.
- Sharpness – You can achieve greater sharpness using sharpening programs like NIK sharpener pro. Sharper photos will stand out much more.
- Noise – Post-processing can actually add noise to your photo, especially programs that sharpen. Use noise reduction programs like noise ninja or NIK Define to selectively remove this noise.
1. Not Using the Correct Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
Learning to use the correct camera settings on your camera is a very important step.
Many cameras have the default landscape mode. As a new photographer, this might seem the logical setting to use when it comes to landscape photography. But you’re handing over control of the photograph to your camera.
You want to be in control of your camera, not the other way around.
- Aperture – In most cases you’ll want sharp focus across your frame for a landscape photo. Your landscape photo will be taken at f/8 or f/11, generally. Depending on your lens. you will have a different aperture sweet spot for best sharpness. Find out what that is and then use this as your setting.
- Shutter speed – Shutter speed is less important for landscape photos. Until you’re photographing moving traffic or running water. Then you will want to use a slow shutter speed. To achieve this you’ll need to photograph in the blue hour or later, or for the daytime you’ll need an ND filter.
Common Questions All New Landscape Photographers Ask
How can I improve my landscape photography?
The best way to improve your landscape photography is to bring the right equipment. This means a tripod, wide-angle lens and a good quality camera body.
You also need to have thoroughly done your research on the location. Look at seasonal conditions and weather for the day you photograph as well.
What should I look for in landscape photography?
Including a main subject in your frame, something that gives the photo narrative, will improve your image.
How do you photograph a dramatic landscape?
The best way to photograph dramatic landscapes is to visit dramatic locations. Look for areas with a volcanic past or even one that is currently volcanic.
The most dramatic landscapes are formed where the earth is most active. Another option might be the coastline, where coastal erosion can create interesting features.
How can I improve my nature photography?
Nature photography is a slightly different field to landscape. But there is a lot of crossover. To get the best nature photography you need to know the season, the weather, and the possible movement of livestock or wild animals.
Once you have all this knowledge, you’ll be able to visit the location at the best time. Be patient but at the same time prepare for that spontaneous moment of capture.
While you’re improving photography skills, you’ll almost certainly slip up somewhere with a photo. Even when you’re more experienced, mistakes still happen.
Have you ever gone to a location and realised you’re not properly prepared for the photo? What did you learn from the situation?
We’d love to hear and learn from the landscape photography mistakes you made. Feel free to share your experiences, and the photos you have taken in the comments section.