5 Tips to Take Your Landscape Photography from Good to Great

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The beauty of the scenery in Antarctica

The beauty of the scenery in Antarctica

Landscape photography is one of the most favoured genres of photography. It also happens to be the one genre that is not easy to master. The reason is simple, to become really good at landscape photography, you need to spend hours trying to master it. Most photographers are not able to dedicate that amount of time, so it becomes frustrating. Many photographers end up being disappointed with their images, but there are few things that you can do to make sure you get better results, in a short space of time.

1. Foreground interest

This is a common tip, but one that makes a lot of sense. Having a subject in the foreground, anchors the image. It tells the viewer where to look first and once they have looked at that, their eye will explore the rest of the image.

You can place your foreground subject anywhere in the lower third of your image, but it might be a good idea to put it more to the left side of the frame. This is not a rule (I really don’t believe there are any rules in photography), but rather a suggestion. We read text from left to right, so if your foreground interest is on the left hand side, it makes it feel easy for the viewer to interact with the image. The foreground interest could be anything, a piece of driftwood, a rock, a tree, anything that works for the scene.

Foreground interest anchors a scene

Foreground interest anchors a scene

2. Color in your scene

Your image will have inherent color based on the time of day and subject you are shooting. If you are shooting a forest, your scene might be predominantly green, if you are doing a seascape, there may be lots of blue because of the colour of the water.

Be aware of the colour in your scene and work with the opposite colors on the visual colour wheel. As an example, there are three primary colors that your camera sees, they are: Red, Green and Blue. The additive colors (opposite colors) are Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. To be clear, Cyan is the opposite color to Red, Magenta is the opposite to Green and Yellow is the opposite to blue. These opposing colors can work well in a scene, particularly yellow and blue.

Look at the colors in your scene and decide what you want to emphasize. To make sure you have great colours to work with, you will want to shoot during the golden hours and emphasize the warm colors.

Rich colours will enhance the drama in your image

Rich colors will enhance the drama in your image

3. White Balance

When you are shooting landscapes, you will want to be shooting at golden hour, or the blue hour. These are the times of day when the light works really well for dramatic landscape shots. In the golden hours, the light will be warm tones of yellow, orange, or red. Check your white balance setting when you are shooting at this time. If your camera is set to Auto White Balance, it will cancel out much of the warm tones in your image as it tries to neutralize any color casts you may have in your scene.

If the golden hour light is really strong in your scene, Auto White Balance will make the scene look really bland and colorless. Try and shoot on Daylight White Balance instead. That way, the camera will be capturing the light as it truly is in the scene. You could even turn your white balance to cloudy or shade to enhance the warm tones even more. Use this settings as a creative tool, it can really make a good impact on your image.

Use white balance creatively, this image was shot using shade white balance

Use white balance creatively, this image was shot using the Shade preset.

4. Movement

Some of the best landscape images have some form of movement in them. The movement can be caused by water, wind, or both. Subjects that work well with movement are rivers, waterfalls, seascapes and even stars. A long exposure image of the sea with water looking all silky and wispy is ethereal, and adds drama to the image. We don’t see this smooth silky water naturally with our eyes, it is only possible with the camera. The results are often very appealing, and it gives a serenity to the scene that is almost magical. You will need a tripod to get this right, you will also need to use a longer exposure of a few seconds. Timing is also important, particularly with seascapes. You may have to time the shot for when the water comes rushing over the rocks, or up the beach. That way, the image will be filled with silky streaks of water and it will look amazing.

Movement in water can make a scene look dramatic

5. Less is more

Landscape images become more dramatic if there is a very clear subject in them. If you are unsure about what should be included in your scene, ask yourself this question as you look around the scene, “Does that rock, tree, river, etc., add to the scene or not?” If you think it is not adding to your scene, remove it. Even if you are unsure, remove it and take a shot to see how the image looks. In many images, less is more. If you have less items in your scene, there is less to distract the eye, there is less that can make the scene confusing, so give it a try. Set up a shot, take a photo and then start minimizing the distracting elements.

Sometimes, less is more

Try these five tips and share your results in the comments below. Do you have any other tips to add?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Barry J Brady is a Fine Art Landscape and commercial photographer based in Vancouver, BC. He is also an addicted traveller and loves travelling to far off places and capturing their essence. Barry is an entertaining and experienced photography teacher and public speaker. He loves nothing more than being behind his camera or showing other photographers how to get the most out of their camera. To see more of his work, visit his site here. You can also join Barry on a photography workshop in Canada. Click here to find out more.

  • David Cobb

    Some great tips, time I think for me to start using the white balance more creatively 😀

  • Patty Mills

    Two of my recent favorites, both taken in CO.

  • Christopher Sears

    If you shoot RAW, you can set the white balance when you edit the photos.

  • great shots Patty, thanks for sharing!

  • For sure you can Christopher. I find that sometimes the result of changing the white balance in the field can be more subtle and more effective than changing it afterwards in Photoshop, in my experience anyway.

  • Uwe

    That’s all??? I think you’ve forgotten to mention the grey grad filter you use regularly!?!!? 😉

  • Patty Mills

    Thanks! The vertical image was actually a “throw-away” shot until I tried the dehaze slider in PS. It’s now my new favorite editing tool 😀 The second image was a favorite from the moment I shot it. I’ve ordered 30×40 images of both and can’t wait to see how they look!

  • Krankerdelic

    That’s beautiful!

  • John Voss

    It may at first seem that your 5th tip visually contradicts your 1st, but that would be true only if one discounts the blurred white water as a foreground subject…which I don’t. I actually prefer the 5th image as the foreground in the 1st isn’t inherently interesting enough to have that much presence. Heeding your advice, then, less of it would be more.

  • JohnnyDuke

    The vertical is definitely my favourite …

  • A starry night in Maine.

  • G. Allan Carver

    I appreciated your comments about white balance setting on the camera.. It is something I often forget to do. Thanks for article like this.

  • Timothy Chia

    Looking for reflection on still bodoes of water and puddles can give an interesting perspective on landscape photography too!

  • You are welcome…

  • Lovely image

  • Thank-you….just completed a week at Maine Media taught by Alissa and Jacob Hessler….The Quiet Landscape. Wonderful experience

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