Updated: Oct 27, 2019
How many times have you shown your pictures to someone and said, ”You should have seen that sunset in person to understand how magic it was!”? We can make many excuses as to why the photo doesn’t look the same, complaining about our equipment, settings or post-production, but let’s face reality, maybe there was something wrong with our landscape photo!
Before you open Photoshop, and even before you press the shutter button, you need to plan the kind of image you want to create. Planning plays a key role in landscape photography. Here are some things that are useful to think about if you want to capture the perfect light and transmit some feelings with your images.
Tip 1: Check the weather forecast
Landscape photography is one of the most difficult genres, or at least among the most unpredictable, as you don’t have any control over the weather at the scene.
What kind of atmosphere do you want to create with your image? The weather can completely transform a landscape, so think carefully about what mood you want to evoke. If you want to create a bright, cheerful image you might already know that a blue sky with fluffy white clouds would be better than a flat blue sky, or even worse a grey one.
So, before you drive for two hours and you arrive to see is a dull landscape, use the only weapon at your disposal: the weather forecast.
Tip 2: Choose the right time of the day and year
The perfect weather condition alone is useless without proper light. In landscape photography, the light is given by the position of the sun in the sky in relation to your subject. Fortunately, this is something more predictable than the weather. Calculate where the sun will be at particular times of day, and it will be easier for you to foresee how the scene will be illuminated. Again, think about the atmosphere you want to create. Light and peaceful? Dark and moody? Are there any particular landmarks you want to highlight? The answer to these questions will inform where you want your light to be, and consequently what time of day to shoot.
Bear in mind that the sun’s position doesn’t change only during the day, but also throughout the year. As a result, in one year there are many different lighting conditions for the same place. It would be a shame not to use them to your advantage. You can use many websites and apps for this; the ones that I use the most is PhotoPills & TPE.
Tip 3: Be inspired by other photographers
When you plan your holiday, after booking the tickets and the hotel, you may buy a travel guide with detailed information about the location. Like where to go and what to eat, to make sure you won’t miss anything. Or you might just ask some friends who have been there before. In both cases, you’re relying on someone who went there before you, and who therefore knows what’s worthwhile to visit, or what’s a good typical (local) dish to try.
Even if you can’t do exactly the same thing with photography, you can get pretty close, thanks to the multitude of photography websites and social networks full of pictures from all over the world. The ones I personally use most of the time are; Google Images, 500px, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest. Obviously, the list doesn’t end here.
Feel free to use whatever sites you want, as long as you do it. It doesn’t matter if the picture isn’t the best quality, after all, you don’t want to copy it, but you’re just looking for some inspiration.
Tip 4: Enjoy the place and get familiar with it
When arriving somewhere, especially if it’s for the first time, it’s really tempting to take your camera and shoot whatever you see! This isn’t wrong in itself, but remember you’ll probably take dozens of nice pictures and lose the opportunity to take that single outstanding one. Because when the moment comes you’ll be tired of taking other pictures, or even worse, the battery is dead. (By the way, do you have a spare battery, don’t you?).
It’s better to be patient and spend more time exploring your location and the surrounding area. This way you are more likely to discover some interesting spots, hopefully different from the classic ones. You can use your smartphone for your normal tourist pictures, so don’t worry about anything but composition. This way, you can enjoy the place where you are, instead of spending all the time behind your camera. After all, landscape photography should be the happy ending of a good day outside, not the only reason for being there.
Tip 5: Use both golden and blue hours wisely
I’m sure you already know what the golden hour is: the time of the day around dawn and dusk when the sun gives its best warm light and long soft shadows. Hence the adjective golden. Many photographers, including me for a while, consider it as solely the right moment for obtaining good photos. This is wrong, because there is another one, called blue hour, which occurs just before the golden hour at sunrise, and just after sunset.
As you can imagine from the name, its particularity is in the blue colour of the sky, not warm anymore and not totally dark like in the middle of the night. It is very effective for urban landscapes, because it emphasises artificial lights that wouldn’t be as visible during the golden hour. Furthermore, since the sky is not totally dark, you’ll have a better contrast with the warmer colours of the city, which will add drama to your picture.
Tip 6: Take location related issues into account
So, you’ve planned your shoot by choosing the right day, with good weather and explored the place properly. Is that all?
Almost… There’s still something to be considered and it depends on the place. For example, in the case that you want to photograph a coastline, you will need to consider tides. It can be useful for composition purposes, but most importantly it’s for your personal safety. Tides in the ocean are really rapid and wide, and in some cases, it could be difficult (if not impossible) to escape from the waves if you decided to shoot from the rocks along the shore, with a rocky wall behind you.
In the case of very famous landmarks, a common issue is that it will be full of other photographers and tourists that want the same shot as you. This can obviously create problems for your composition, or you won’t have enough space for your tripod. So, try to be in that place before it gets too busy. This not only reduces the risk of finding other photographers who have decided to photograph from your same spot, it also permits you to slow down and avoid making mistakes.
When I started taking pictures several years ago, I didn’t have anything in my mind other than to take pictures of what I liked. But looking at other photographer’s work I realised that I was missing something. In my opinion, proper planning is the most important thing that I could have learned.
Obviously learning new techniques is useful, but it’s the most obvious. Planning is often underestimated, but it can really help you to go somewhere already having a picture in mind. If this isn’t the case, remember again: landscape photography is just the happy ending, you can still enjoy the place!
Do you have any other tips for planning your landscape photography shoots? I’d love if you shared them in the comments below as well as your images.