7 Landscape Photography Mistakes That Could be Ruining Your Photos

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If your photos aren’t turning out the way you expect them to, new gear is not necessarily the answer. In fact, chances are you are making one of these seven common mistakes. Don’t be discouraged though; just as a musician needs time to refine their skills, so does a photographer. Once you recognize where the problem lies, it’s easy to make adjustments and achieve better results the next time out.

1) Shooting at the Wrong Time of Day

Harsh afternoon sunlight can wreak havoc on a landscape photo. With bright highlights and dark shadows, the contrast makes for especially difficult exposures. For truly dramatic scenic opportunities, dedicate the hours around sunrise and sunset to photography. You’ll be amazed at how few people are there to clutter your composition. With the soft light and colorful skies, your photos will take on a new level of natural beauty.

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2) Your Images Lack a Clear Subject

When you experience something grand, it’s tempting to try and include it all into one frame. The expansive landscape is undeniably beautiful but it’s lacking in any one point of importance. Before pressing the shutter, ask yourself “What is my subject?” If you’re able to provide an answer, you can learn to see like a camera. The human eye interprets a scene differently, heavily influenced by our peripheral vision and ability to scan from left to right. The camera however sees in a much simpler way, only able to record a small portion onto the sensor. By determining what the subject is, you can take the necessary steps to make an effective photo.

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3) No Foreground

The gentle hues of dawn are worth getting out of bed for, but color alone won’t hold the viewer’s interest. To make a dramatic impact on your scenic and travel images, find a strong foreground element. This can be a field of flowers, a boulder, tree, or even a man-made object. The idea is to add visual interest all the way through the frame. As you explore various options, try several perspectives including ground level. By having this location worked out in advance, you’ll be ready to capture the fleeting light.

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4) Lazy Composition

At nearly every scenic vista or photographic landmark, you’ll notice a definitive dirt spot where grass once grew. This well-worn spot is the final destination for scores of tourists who shoot the same photo year after year. Rather than following the crowd, take a quick loop around the area and search for unique perspectives. To more effectively communicate your vision, check all four corners of your viewfinder, and either zoom or physically move to make a stronger image. Do you need the fence in the bottom corner, or the tree that seems to enter the frame from nowhere? This type of attention to detail will help strengthen the composition in-the-camera which saves you time at home trying to clone out unwanted objects.

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5) It’s Been Done Before

Automatic modes were designed to provide average results under a variety of conditions. While this can be effective on occasion, it’s fundamentally opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with your art. Do you really want your images to be just average? In order to go beyond the safe shot, creative photographers will push the boundaries to explore their own vision. Rather than trying to recreate what’s already been done, find your own twist on it. This may not always be in line with current trends, but who’s to say you’re attempts won’t cause their own stir.

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6) There’s Too Much Contrast

One of the most common issues with scenic photos is the huge contrast difference between the foreground and the sky. The solution is not a new camera or complicated software. Actually, a simple tool known as the graduated neutral density filter is all you need. These commonly come in strengths of two (0.6), three (0.9), and four (1.2) stops. While HDR is another effective method, these filters allow you to achieve your vision in the camera at the time of exposure.

Start by manually spot metering the foreground. The goal is to expose in such a way that the foreground is not black, leaving some detail in the shadow areas. This could be at “-1” on your meter, or “0”, or even “+1”. Of course if you are not sure which foreground looks best, bracket. Take a quick test shot and notice how the foreground looks well exposed but the sky is overexposed. The next step is where the magic happens.

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Get out your graduated neutral density filter and position the dark portion over the top part of the lens. This will darken the bright sky while leaving your foreground properly exposed. You can fine tune the effect by adjusting the filter placement up or down in the mount.

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7) Fear of High ISOs

You may be surprised to learn that a high ISO can be helpful for landscape photography. This is particularly true when shooting without a tripod or including a person in the frame. In these instances, the shutter speed can be no slower than about 1/125 to prevent camera shake and/or subject motion. Then, to achieve great depth of field and keep everything sharp from near to far, your desired aperture would be f/11 or f/16. With these two decisions made, you may take your photo only to find that it’s too dark. This is where the ISO comes into play. Simply double the ISO number and watch as the photo gets brighter.

Many photographers are overly sensitive about high ISO noise and refrain from using anything over 800. Instead they’ll slow down the shutter speed, rely on image stabilizers, or open the aperture wider. The results may look acceptable on the small LCD only to appear soft when viewed or printed larger. Like most aspects of photography, there is always a tradeoff to consider. Would you rather have a blurry, but noise-free photo, or a sharp image with a bit of noise? Considering that most image editing programs now offer terrific noise reduction options, the ISO noise isn’t as harmful as it once was.

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Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Chris Corradino is the CEO and Head Instructor at Photo Mentor NYC, a personal mentoring service for photographers of all skill levels. For more info, visit christography.com.

  • Why haven’t you acknowledged the source of any of the images in this article?

  • Chris Corradino

    Hi Paul, all images in this article were captured by me.

  • Paul, more than likely the images belong to the author of the article.

  • Keith R. Starkey

    Good article, but, from the standpoint of an amateur photographer who will never care to go professionally, much less care to think professionally, I’m going to take issue with some of the points made. (Not because they’re “wrong” but because I guess I’m just a bit weird!

    First, when I do a landscape shot, I often don’t care if there’s foreground or even a subject. After all, nature gives us what we see, which, apart from the camera is often breathtaking, and there isn’t always a “subject” much less a foreground. Do I notice no foreground or immediate and prominent subject? No. So just because I want to capture that scenery, why should I feel that I have to interject what isn’t always there? So…I don’t. And I love the images as they are.

    Been done before? Don’t care! I don’t take pictures with any consideration of what was, is or will be photographed. I simply don’t care. What I do care about is getting the picture I want, the way I want it, how I want it, and with it communicating to me what and how I saw it when I shot it. Don’t care about what anyone did before.

    Too much contrast? Sometimes, but sometimes not. Sometimes I want a lot of contrast, other times I don’t (this, of course, is more personal taste).

    Finally, I’m one of those people who, when looking at an image, violates all the “rules” about what the eye is supposed to see first, where the eye initially goes, what’s distracts the eye, etc. Seldom are any of these issues relevant or in agreement with how I look at a photograph. It’s not that I’m trying to see images differently, it’s simply that I see them how I see them: seldom concerned with a subject (I seem to just look at the whole picture as the subject); not concerned with the brightest area (I often times migrate to the dark parts first); not concerned too much about contrast or saturation (except when the image has left my personal tastes in those post-processing techniques); and my eye not led by leading lines, this that or the other (again, I may not even start with that part of the image but find myself starting way over in the corner and more interested in something over there than the subject. And I don’t consider the photographer having done a bad job because of how I see images.

    I simply don’t care about much of what many say is the way the eye finds its way through an image. And you know what? I’m just as happy as a lark and enjoy looking at images just as much as the next fellow!

    I understand the point of the article, and I respect the author’s words. For me, though, I’m just not interested in staying in that tight, closed box, as a photographer or viewer, in the way we are often seduced to believe is the way its supposed to be done.

  • Sarah Zelt

    Thanks for the tips! I recently picked up the boo Trick Photography and Special effects because people love it (this is the review that sold me on it http://steamspoils.com/index.php/2015/05/05/trick-photography-and-special-effects-review/ ) and the book advocates. Guides like this that help me learn from others mistakes will also help me in mastering photography I think, as i like to learn from others mistakes without having to make my own. How long have you been doing photography?

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  • Photography has much to be learnt. There is huge variation of effects when taken normally and that taken by a professional person. Thanks for sharing this tips..

  • davesworld

    I couldn’t disagree more with Keith R. Starkey. For any photographer to continue to grow and learn, he or she must understand these basic concepts. These are not just about opinions, these rules are about physics and psychology common to all human beings. From Keith’s comments, it appears he doesn’t care to make any changes to the way he takes photos, so I’m not sure why he bothered to read the article at all. As for me, thank you, Chris for a good article reminding me of some basic rules. These refreshers are always helpful so one does not get caught up in the moment of a great landscape and leave with terrible pictures.

  • Chris Corradino

    Thank you Dave, I’m glad you found it to be a useful refresher!

  • Chris Corradino

    Whether I’m shooting for a paying client or personal satisfaction, I find joy in showing nature at its finest. These are seven methods that help me do so consistently. Are there times when I break these rules? Absolutely! Some of my favorite images were created by pushing the envelope. Wishing you all the best with your photographic pursuits.

  • Chris Corradino

    Thanks Sarah, I’ve been shooting for many years, starting with slide film (Fuji Velvia). Along the way I’ve learned a great deal from the mistakes I’ve made. Remember, it’s not about being perfect, but giving it your best shot. When things don’t go your way, use that experience to make adjustments for the next time out.

  • Keith R. Starkey

    First, my post was not to say that Chris was wrong. in my first post I was clear when I said, ” I’m going to take issue with some of the points made. (Not because they’re “wrong” but because I guess I’m just a bit weird!” (I see I forgot the closing parenthesis.)

    When it comes to my own personal enjoyment of my own images, I often do not concern myself with the rules. My engagement with the camera to capture what I see,what I feel, what makes me tick. Those moments for me are simply not about perfecting the technicals. (Of course, were I shooting for any other purpose, I would take into account all technicals.)

    So no, it isn’t true that, “From Keith’s comments, it appears he doesn’t care to make any changes to the way he takes photos . . . .” I am constantly monitoring my learning and application of the principles to better my photography. I study critiques, books, Websites, everything I can get my hands on, constantly (which is why I read Chris’s article). What that doesn’t mean, though, is that I have to shoot from inside the box every time I point my camera. After all, some of the most gripping images are those that are not technically correct in all aspects of foreground, subject and contrast.

    Finally, Dave, about your statement, “These are not just about opinions, these rules are about physics and psychology common to all human beings.” I don’t think there’s any need to reach so deeply into the black and dark abyss of physics and psychology to declare you disagree with me! Photography must be respected for personal gratification as much as for public gratification. I was talking about the personal side, and I think that got lost in the translation.

  • Keith R. Starkey

    Thanks, Chris, but “showing nature at its finest” as you see it isn’t necessarily how I see it (I hope we agree on that). I find that nature is often at its finest with a particular color of the light and of the sky against a mountain backdrop and, say, little to no subject or foreground…just an open expanse. “Boring” would be the critique’s response. Beautiful and meaningful would be my response.

    And then there’s Bryan Peterson, who talks about ‘helping Mother Nature’ out a bit. He’ll put a few fallen leaves in a gently flowing river to add that extra element. It’s all subjective at the end of the day.

  • jr

    This is a good list of tips.

    I find just a little bit of humor value and irony, though, in tip #4. What’s funny is not the tip (which is great), but the picture selected to illustrate the point. I have almost the same picture, taken from probably just about exactly the same spot (albeit with different weather conditions). 🙂 It’s even more ironic (and the reason I was recently reminded of my pictures from this trip) because the “Quick Tour” of the new Photos app (OS X Yosemite) page 5 has the very same shot (with foreground canoe) though probably about a 100 meters to the left along the shore. The location is Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada.

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  • Cuchulainn

    Agreed. I recognized it right away too as I have been there myself and have seen this same view countless times. The tip is a good one, but the photo to illustrate it, maybe not. It is similar to the many photos I have seen of Maroon Bell, which are more or less all taken from the same perspective. Don’t get me wrong, all beautiful photos, but they don’t necessarily illustrate the tip well.

  • Chris Corradino

    Funny story about that shot. Just as we arrived it started raining pretty heavily. Thankfully, there is a quaint hotel/bar where my wife and I waited out the storm. Once it passed, the low-lying clouds started to lift and I made this shot. Both Banff and Jasper were unbelievable locations, and of course, heavily photographed!

  • Cuchulainn

    I was just through that area this past summer. We took a 14 day motorcycle trip that took us out of Denver, through Sheridan and Missoula to Anacortes. From there we took the ferry to Victoria for a couple of days. We then traveled through Whistler, Clearwater, Jasper, Banff, Waterton, Whitefish, Billings, Douglas and home to Denver.

    Those kinds of motorcycle trips are great experiences, but often they are a lot of miles per day and a lot of hours in the saddle. As a result don’t often don’t take the time to get the shots you should or with the camera you should be shooting with.

    It helps to sometimes try to remember these tips and take a little more time for sure 🙂

  • Kovács Róbert

    The image examples are bad. Why don’t you place really bad images? This article is about mistakes…

  • Shutter-bug

    Another great article, Chris!

  • Gene Berkenbile

    I have found through trial & error, as well as readings, courses, etc., that each & every photographer has their own point of views! Trying to tell them how to do or not do something is always an uphill battle, one in which there are no winners. Like many have said here in reply to Chris Corradino’s topic, everyone will see something different when looking through their viewfinders & no two people will see it the same way!

    I know some in my area shoot almost 80% of their images with a fisheye lens or a super wide angle lens, no matter what they are clicking the shutter at! But if they love doing what they are doing with what they are using to do it with, so be it! Does it make their images great? Sometimes yes, other times no! Some are rather boring but that isn’t for me to decide but the viewers who look at them! Would I shoot the image the same way, probably not but who am I to decide that? I do shoot with various lenses depending on what I am trying to capture, I use ND filters when it is necessary to balance an images dynamic range, I use AC strobes in outdoor locations with a battery pack so I can balance sunlight in the mid day(something I am not keen to do but clients seem to love the mid day to do their sessions), the list goes on & on! But the one constant is knowing how to do the basic stuff with just a camera & a lens, nothing more!

    I have been taking the full photography course through NYIP for a while now, taking breaks between the various lessons to actual practice the techniques that have been taught through this course! I have followed Chris C’s work for a while now & know that he has one of the most unique ways of not only how to take a photograph but how to teach the basic’s of what each of us needs to learn at some point. What we do after leaning some of those techniques is up to us, nobody else! It is great to learn things from the many professionals in the world today, Joe McNally, Bryan Peterson, Kathleen Clemons, Adam Barker, Sly Arena, etc., etc., etc., the list goes on & on!

    If you want to see an image for an example of something being taught by anyone, you will be hard pressed to find anything that hasn’t already been taken by somebody at some point! There are millions of photographers in today’s world & trying to find a unique way of “shooting” is not that far from your viewfinder. Just look through it, use some of the basic techniques that Chris as well as the many others preach about every time you read an article from them & chances are, you will walk away from anything you shoot with a decent, if not great photograph!

    And if it makes you happy, need I say anything more?

    Thanks Chris! Love your photography & your teachings!

  • Chris Corradino

    Gene, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. As you noted, a photographer’s unique vision is what ultimately sets their work apart from the masses. I am honored to have the chance to discuss some of the techniques that have worked for me so that others can decide whether or not they’d like to apply them in their own work. Wishing you all the best with your imagery!

  • Tomara Miller

    When DPS posts about what not to do, I would love to see examples (and not overly exaggerated ones). The photos in the post are awesome but I’d like to see those same scenes done incorrectly as well. I think it helps us new photographers understand what the author is truly trying to convey.

  • TERRY K

    First of all the real way to get a good photo is to not be afraid to get the shot. The one you missed could be the best one you took on the whole trip. Remember you can always erase the bad ones

  • Jim the Photographer

    I would like to see an article on “What To Do If You Get There at the Wrong Time of the Day” We were driving through Utah on I-70 during the afternoon; there were great photographic images to be had, but I knew we weren’t going to go back there at sunset or sunrise — it was out in the middle of nowhere!!!! By time sunset hit we were in Nevada looking for a hotel. The fact is, we don’t always have the option of shooting during the golden hours, but how do we take a great photo anyway?

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