As each new year approaches, people usually start thinking about what they can do better or improve in the new year. As a professional landscape photographer, I thought it would be fun to give some tips to people starting out with landscape photography.
Tip #1: Don’t be scared!
Don’t touch the full automatic mode anymore. If you really want to learn photography in general, it’s important to stop using the full automatic mode on the camera. While it may feel very “comfortable” for a lot of new photographers, the mode doesn’t really help you getting better and it can prevent you from improving certain shots.
Don’t be scared to move away from this mode. Use Aperture priority mode and work from there. It’s not that hard. I’ve seen people “stuck” on Auto mode for years because they’re too scared to try a different mode. Then I teach them to use the Aperture mode for 10 mins and they say: “Oh wow, I didn’t know it was that easy.” There’s really not that much to it!
Tip #2: Start shooting RAW format
I cannot emphasise this enough. It’s another ‘don’t be scared’ thing. Just put your camera on RAW+JPEG if you’re not really familiar with the RAW format. You will thank yourself when you learn basic photo editing that you can still use the RAW files of your old shots and have a go at them to make them look better.
RAW is extremely important for a landscape photographer because we often shoot sunsets/sunrises where there is a lot of contrast between dark and light. With RAW, you can also change your white balance without quality loss. Finally, the files have a lot more data in it for editing.
Tip #3: Learn (basic) post-processing
Processing is important in landscape photography, even if it’s just slightly tuning the image. Nowadays, if you haven’t done so, install Lightroom! Lightroom is not that hard! Basic post-processing can make your images better in the sense that you can easily balance them out with color and contrast changes. Like I mentioned in point #2, shooting RAW is a must. When you look at landscape sections of popular social media channels, I can assure you that 99% of the shots are processed in some way.
Tip #4: Stop caring so much about settings
People often ask me “EXIF please!”, even with shots I consider very ordinary. I can understand that EXIF info would be interesting with certain kinds of photography, like astrophotography. But in general, when shooting landscapes settings are not that important if you’re working from a tripod. A lot of different settings could have been used and you should never think: “I should always use these settings when making shots like this.”
Tip #5: Start the year properly with a good sturdy tripod if you don’t have one (yet)
A good tripod is one of the most important tools of a landscape photographer. Start the year properly with a good sturdy tripod. Even with the best camera your shots will be useless if they aren’t sharp.
Tip #6: Spend less time inside and go outside more
This may be obvious but I still want to address it. I see people asking questions on social media all the time. They are usually questions that they could easily discover if they just go out and play with their camera. Don’t be scared to try things out. Of course it’s great to learn stuff online, but you learn the most when you’re just in the field using your camera.
Tip #7: Stop caring about success of other photographers
Don’t worry about how other photographers are doing — spend that time and energy improving yourself. This is not only for the new photographers out there. Actually, it’s mainly for us proud landscape photographers. We always feel competition around us. A lot of times I see people ‘complaining’ on social media about the success of others or just “hating” on other people’s photos.
Guess what? It doesn’t make you a better photographer.
It just makes you look like a jerk. So stop caring about other photographers and focus on improving yourself. Look with a critical eye to your own photographs or ask some friends/family what they think of certain shots you’ve made.
Tip #8: Stop caring too much about gear
Especially when starting out as a landscape photographer, it’s all about composition, knowing how light behaves, knowing the weather etc. You can basically make good shots with your smartphone nowadays. I often see people with very standard landscape shots wanting to buy a better camera and they think that their shots will suddenly turn out much better. On social media they will probably look very similar. It’s all about knowing your camera and trying to get the best out of it.
(But if you do decide you need an upgrade, it’s often better to look at a new lens instead of a new body.)
Tip #9: Realize that taking an amazing shot can sometimes mean extreme dedication
Some amazing landscape shots you may see on social media take a great amount of time and dedication to make. A lot of people think that photography is just snapping the camera and the job is done. A dedicated landscape photographer can have a certain place or scene in mind and return there for days, weeks and sometimes years to get that perfect shot. It doesn’t just fall out of the sky (although if you’re lucky, it sometimes does). Also, the same location looks different across all different seasons.
Tip #10: Always try to find something extra in your photo
For me this happens automatically but for most people it doesn’t. When you see something extremely beautiful or extreme, it still doesn’t make it a good photograph. Think of a double rainbow, for example. When you see one you don’t have much time to act. Don’t just shoot the double rainbow. Find something that can make the shot complete.
It doesn’t have to be extremely difficult. Some lines in the grass, some animals, some interesting houses. Anything that you can make an interesting composition with in combination with the rainbow. Always find something extra. Don’t be overwhelmed by anything.
Another example is a lightning storm. When a lightning storm hits my country (The Netherlands), I see all kinds of cool lightning strike photos on social media. But they’re just snapshots of the lightning strikes. When a storm like that hits you, try to find some interesting foreground object like a statue, house silhouette, etc. Basically anything interesting (but be safe).