6 Tips for Planning the Perfect Landscape Photo Shoot

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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

Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland

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.

landscape photograph Groningen, Netherlands

Groningen, Netherlands

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 one that I use the most is PhotoPills, which is very well outlined in this article.

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

landscape photograph Zaanse Schaans, Netherlands

Zaanse Schaans, Netherlands

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.

landscape photograph Land’s end - Cornwall, England

Land’s end – Cornwall, England

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 emphasizes 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.

landscape photography Manarola - Liguria, Italy

Manarola – Liguria, Italy

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.

landscape photography London, England

London, England

Conclusions

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 realized 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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Luigi Trevisi is an Italian landscape photographer based in London, where he works as a software developer. Luigi loves both natural and urban landscapes. His main goal is to capture the calm atmosphere he finds in the places where he travels. In order to accentuate this feeling, he uses long exposures. See more of his work on 500px or Instagram.

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  • Ana GR

    Very inspiring and useful tips indeed! And Photo Pills is working in the Android version, which will soo be available, they say.

  • Thank you @ana_gr:disqus ๐Ÿ™‚ True, finally there’ll be an Android version as well! In the meantime you can use TPE, it’s pretty similar.

  • Tim Lowe

    7. Pay attention to details. Not all landscape photography is about vast expanses and wide shots. Sometimes one tree, a closeup of a dry stream bed, a dark corner of a forrest, can be just as evocative of place.

  • Ana GR

    Actually, I do use TPE!

  • Good one! This is something I alway should remind to myself, because I tend to prefer wide views!

  • Stuart Wilson

    I really like this article. I am going to place a link to it on my site http://www.mangotreearts.com

  • Thank you Stuart! Feel free to share the link!

  • Stuart Wilson

    A thought, sometimes we forget people can be part of the landscape. Do you have any pointers on planning for them? I find they add a wide variety of challenges.

  • I don’t usually have people in my landscapes because I like long exposures and having a person could get things a bit more complicated (not too much actually). But I do agree with you, they add more interest sometimes, especially when you want to emphasize big spaces.

  • Avena Clarke

    Very helpful! Often my issue is pointing the camera in the wrong direction, like in the sunset, I turn around and realize I missed an unplanned object being lit up with the beautiful warm glow. I was so focused on getting the sunset. Same goes for sunrise. Should I really be focusing on what is getting lit up or the sunset/rise? When I try and plan a spot I look for where the sun is setting and let it face me, am I planning this wrong? I agree, planning is most important, it is my weakest area now and I know it should be my strongest. I have all the apps and tools but I can’t seem to put it all together cohesively.

  • Hi Avena! If you already wether you want to shoot at sunset or sunrise, you’ve already half of your planning done! In order to make sure you’re composition will be the best one you can have, just take some sample shots during the day, so once it comes to take the real picture during the golden hour, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Obviously you can’t predict exactly how the objects will be lit, but it’s something it can improve with experience, like deciding quickly what’s the best lens aperture for a shoot. Sometimes using Google Earth can help a lot for pre-visualising how the scene will be at at certain time of the day.

  • Bavarian Angel

    Dear Mr. Trevisi
    I’d like to thank you so much for this useful description

  • Thank you very much for your comment, but please just call me Luigi ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Alan Youngblood

    No amount of planning can control the weather. However, the change in weather can sometimes be a spectacular surprise. For instance this week we are in southern Utah . We headed to the north rim of the Grand Canyon for sunrise. Wouldn’t you know it? The remnants of a hurricane were blowing through. No color at all. Left at 5am. Drove two hours. Was I upset? Heck no. Fantastic storm clouds. The canyon all to ourselves! What an experience. Nothing more invigorating then then scrambling past the fence. Standing on very edge of the canyon. All the other photographers looked at the radar and said heck with this. Let’s sleep in. I love the weather.

  • This is definitely true! Despite all the weather forecast apps and websites, weather is at the same time the most annoying and exciting thing because of its unpredictability. But I think as landscape photographers we just have to live with it and don’t get upset when we’re on the top of a mountain and it hails like crazy. It happened to me when I went to the Isle of Skye. After 4 days spent days, I went back at home without anything to show! Would I do that again? 1000 times!

  • Anne

    great article and probably the best photography on this site I have seen, and believe me I have looked at a jillion photos for about 13 years also thanks for the tips.. especially the one about blue light.

  • Hi Anne! I’m I’m so glad you like my pictures, that’s true ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you very much. Yes, when I started to apply the tip of the blue hour, I’ve seen a big improvement in my pictures. It’s always a matter of patient, in this case waiting a bit more after the sunset.

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