3 Tips to Take Better Landscape Photos Regardless of the Weather

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Photographers are a special type of people that usually pay a lot of attention to detail. They’re also known to be patient and perseverant. However, in my opinion, landscape photographers are a unique breed. I’m sure that only a hand full of people are willing to hike 10 miles with 25 pounds of photography gear on their back, just because they hope to seize the perfect moment.

Golden Hour in Pyramid Mountain  Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada

Generally, in photography, practice leads to improvement. However, practicing landscape photography is a bit trickier since you don’t have control over the light setup, the weather, or the subject. Sometimes, you might plan a trip for three months; you research the best spots, and you bring all your equipment. Then, when it’s show time, you walk outside to face a cloudy, rainy day, if not a snowy mess. All that can be very frustrating. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to deal with that. In this article, I will share three simple tips to help improve your images and take better landscape photos, regardless of the weather.

1. Using clouds to avoid harsh light

Let’s start by talking about one of the most important topics in photography, light. Usually, landscape photographers revolve their schedule around the Golden Hour, meaning the early morning or late afternoon. Photographers choose those portions of the day to take full advantage of the magical, warm, rich, natural light available. Yet sometimes, you cannot reach the planned location by car, making a strenuous hike of 10 miles the only available option to get to the desired place. Hiking is great, and if you love landscape photography you probably love the close contact with nature, but sometimes this passion doesn’t translate into mountain exploration at 3:30 a.m. Occasionally, you will find yourself starting your day hike around 6:00 a.m. to reach the desired area around 10:00 a.m., meaning that you will have to work with hard sunlight.

Portrait photographers have an easy fix for that problem, move the model to the shade. I’ve tried using the same approach in landscape; but I’ve never had any luck trying to move mountains and lakes around. Another approach that portrait photographers use to avoid hard light is using light modifiers such as diffusers and softboxes. Unfortunately I don’t believe you can buy one of those big enough to use on a mountain. What you can certainly do is use the clouds as a light diffuser, thus avoiding the harsh sunlight from midday. Depending on how you capture your image, clouds can also help improve your composition by adding depth or a sense of movement. After I grasped this concept my mindset shifted, now I’m always hoping for the perfect cloudy day.

Bald Hills  Maligne Lake  Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada

2. It’s all about the drama

If this tip wasn’t enough to make you enjoy a cloudy day, let me tell you about a second trick that involves clouds when capturing landscape images. We all like to go online to wonder around photo sharing communities, looking for inspiration, a different point of view or even a new technique. I’m no different. I like to believe that I’m very active in some of those social media channels, however, when I look through pictures, I avoid focusing on landscapes. I like to explore portraits, Black and White, macro, pretty much anything but landscape. I can imagine you asking yourself, “Why would a landscape photographer do that?”. The answer is quite simple; I like to borrow successful techniques used in other fields. Sometimes, when I’m trying to capture an image of a mountain, I don’t face it as a landscape. I try, for example, to approach that image as a portrait. Once you learn how to repurpose techniques from one type of photography to another you will notice an improvement in your art.

In most types of photography, the most striking photos are those with strong contrast; images that harmonize shadows and highlights seamlessly. One side effect of the current advances in digital photography, sensors, and the digital darkroom, is that a lot of landscape artists try to capture everything in one single image. Some will use HDR to bring up the shadows, others will use masking and blending to create a final image. I was no different.

Lately, inspired by the work of great masters such Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson, I’m trying to play with the shadow to highlight ratio in my images. Portrait photographers are very good at using artificial light (strobes or speedlights) to create dramatic images. In landscape it might be a bit more difficult to position the sun at a different angle. Still you can use clouds as a light filter, concealing light from distracting spots while revealing patches of bright sunlight that will accentuate your main subject. Once you start to play with this idea you will be able to create very dramatic images during those dreadful cloudy days.

Tekarra Mountain  Skyline Trail  Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada

3. The path of balance

Finally, keeping up with the idea of creating a dramatic image, photographers must be able to understand an important concept called balance. Not only the shadow and highlights balance, but also color balance, subject positioning, overall image balance and so forth. I remember some of the first photos I took, very often I liked the concept behind the photo, but the final image just didn’t convey what I had envisioned. That was when I discovered the concept of balance.

This concept is very basic, yet extremely powerful. A well-balanced image will stand out on its own and will captivate your audience. Balance, simply put, is how you distribute the elements, colors, and brightness in the frame. There are countless ways to achieve balance, so many that we would probably need another entire article just to talk about it. As a general rule though, a well-balanced picture aims to distribute the elements evenly throughout the image. So next time you are out capturing an image, try noticing how you arrange the elements in the frame. Check if the amount and position of the shadow and highlight are reflecting what you want to show in your photograph. Finally, before you press the shutter, ask yourself if all the elements in the frame are contributing to the overall image. Sometimes, you can get overwhelmed by the landscape, and in an attempt to capture all the beauty you end up with a busy, unbalanced, and unappealing image.

Silence  Banff National Park  Alberta  Canada

I will leave you here, but next time you’re out there during a cloudy day, instead of complaining about it, just try your luck. You might be surprised by what you can achieve when you open your mind to work with whatever mother nature throws at you.

Mountain tops  Banff National Park  Alberta  Canada

Do you have any other cloudy day or landscape tips? Please share in the comments below.

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Diego Lapetina is a landscape photographer with over five years of experience. Living close to the Canadian Rockies he spends a large portion of the year exploring and capturing nature through his lenses. He has sold some of his landscapes to a few collectors and now he's focusing on launching his website. You can also see his work on 500px.

  • Jason N photography

    I was disappointed that when I went to shoot on this day it was at a time where I wasn’t getting a great reflection of the sky in the water. This is an HDR picture and I like it because it was my first try thinking through the composition of he photo and balancing the buoy with the rest of he photo.

  • Michael Owens

    As for the wide angle lens. Use the large square filters that fit well over the lenses – that cuts out the end of frame issue

  • harsh light is certainly the point that beginners have to care firstly

  • harjot singh

    Took this photograph of the Chandratal Lake in Himalayas.

  • harjot singh

    Took this photo of Chandratal Lake, Spiti Valley.

  • George Johnson

    There’s always something to shoot and the more you shoot, and in the more conditions you shoot, the better you’re able to adapt and opportunities. I shoot landscapes at weekends but during the week my day job keeps me in the heart of the city. So I take advantage of that and I shoot street images during the week ( before and after work ) which has taught me to react to the tinniest change in detail, when I go back to landscapes my workflow is slower that street but I’m better able to react to changes and better able to work with odd compositions.

    Too many people will simply give up when they don’t have the experience to shoot some scenes, but how will you get experience if you don’t shoot in all sorts of conditions? I remember camping out in the Cumbrian lakes last October, it rained for 7 out of 8 days, with only one day where you got stunning bright light, just one stunning morning and there were tons of togs out all over the place! The next morning it was pouring with rain again, it was miserable and there wasn’t a soul out and about! No sun so they’d all just vanished! Sure the wonderful light had gone and there were no strong shadows, so I just changed my attitude to one I use when shooting street images, I started seeing a different kind of soft, diffuse light, almost like I was shooting in a very soft lightbox. Instead of looking for perfect light, I ditched that in favour of finding strong compositions from objects and textures. I’d travelled 350 miles to camp out for a week and I wasn’t going to waste opportunities. It was hard, horrible and I wanted to give up so many times but I learned so much about eeking out every tiny little drop of photographic opportunity during that rain soaked trip.

  • Isabelle Saint-Pierre

    “…willing to hike 10 miles with 25 pounds of photography gear on their back, just because they hope to seize the perfect moment.” Forgot to mention that that hike is usually in the pitch dark so we can get that golden hour light right after dawn or before sunset…

    Also bad weather usually makes for nice skies.

    One a side note: Don’t use your polarizer on a very wide angle lens while photographing a wide scenic landscape. One effect of the polarizer is that it does a great job of darkening the sky. However the effects of the filter are greatest at 90° to the light source, lessoning as that angle decreases. As in the photo, using your polarizer while photographing a wide landscape will result in uneven polarization. As a result, the sky can be darker on one end of the photo(see photo), gradually getting lighter across the frame. Or, you could have a much darker sky in the center of the frame that gets lighter towards the right and left of the photo. Neither is desirable, both will take a ton of post processing work to try to correct. Something to remember when using a polarizer on a wide-angle lens. This is one reason why I recommend using a graduated filter for landscape photography over a circular polarizer.

  • Rob

    love the contrast of sun and shade when the day offers broken clouds, the mottled shados make for interesting shots, and if luck is with you, (and a little patience) you can wait till the particular feature you want to highlight is in the sunny spot.

  • Diana

    For me sometimes, the desire to capture all of a beautiful landscape is strong, so it works for me to take “that” photo and get it out of my system then focus on composition and breaking down the landscape into different elements, different angles of clouds, plant life or water, using clouds reflecting in the water is a good challenge, getting the balance right…

  • Satish Addanki
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