Landscape photography is a ton of fun – but even the best landscape shooters make mistakes, which is what this article is all about.
Specifically, I’m going to share the eight mistakes I see all the time, especially in beginner photos. And I’m also going to explain how those mistakes can be fixed, so that the next time you’re out shooting, you know exactly what to do (and what to avoid).
Make sense? Let’s dive right in, starting with the most common landscape photography mistake of all:
1. A lack of stability
In landscape photography, you usually want your images to be sharp all the way through, from front to back. To achieve this effect, you must use a narrow aperture, which in turn will reduce your shutter speed and make your images very prone to blur.
Hence, many landscape photographers return home after shooting, only to find their photos plagued by consistent blurriness.
There’s a simple way to deal with this problem, however: Use a tripod! This is especially important if you’re shooting in low light, but in all honesty, I recommend you take your tripod with you everywhere.
Now, there are tripods and there are tripods. For landscape photography, you might want to invest in a more heavy-duty option; while small, lightweight tripods might do the trick for a while, if you are shooting in the wind, you risk tripod shake (plus, your tripod might get blown over). A good tripod will also last a long time and can take a beating, so buy the best tripod you can afford and keep your camera as still as possible when shooting.
Another good piece of equipment to buy is a remote release. You don’t need one of the expensive ones with a built-in intervalometer; just a simple remote shutter is fine. Once you are set up and ready to take your shot, step back from the camera and press the shutter button. There will be no vibration from you hitting the camera shutter button, and your image will be nice and sharp.
(If you don’t want to purchase a remote release, you could use the self-timer, instead.)
2. Not getting the horizon straight
Many a good landscape image has been ruined by a skewed horizon. And while this can be fixed in Photoshop or Lightroom, you might lose some details along the way – which is why I highly recommend you deal with the horizon in camera, not in post-processing.
You can use a few different tools to make sure your horizon is straight. You might try switching on the grid in your camera viewfinder, then always taking the time to line up the horizon with a horizontal gridline. Some tripod heads even have a built-in spirit level, so ensure this is level and your horizon should be fine.
Alternatively, you can purchase a level that mounts to your camera hot shoe. Just connect the level, then do a quick check before taking your photo.
3. Shooting only in landscape format
Landscape photography is, well, landscape photography – so photographers assume they should shoot in landscape (horizontal) format.
And generally speaking, this is a good idea. The horizontal orientation emphasizes the sweep of a scene, and it can lend a sense of vastness to the shot.
Except, in some cases, a portrait orientation (vertical) can work well, too – sometimes better than a horizontal orientation. Think of a forest scene. The trees stretch into the sky, so a horizontal format will limit their height rather than show it off, and create a less interesting photo in the process.
Bottom line: If the subject’s shape is more vertical than horizontal, you should try it in the portrait format, as it may give the composition a dynamic presence. And if you’re not sure whether to shoot vertical or horizontal, just do both and sort out the issues later!
4. Forgetting about the aperture
Aperture is a camera setting – but it’s also a composition tool. And many landscape photographers forget this.
You see, aperture helps determine your depth of field (i.e., the amount of the scene that appears sharp). And by carefully considering the depth of field, you can create different compositional effects.
The moment you start setting up a composition, you should be thinking about your depth of field. Ask yourself: Do I want everything from the foreground to the background to be in focus? Generally, in landscape photography, this will be the case, but if you’d prefer to keep certain areas soft, you should decide early on.
If you do want foreground-to-background sharpness, make sure your aperture is f/8, f/11, or higher. If you shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 and you focus on the foreground, the background will be out of focus, and the middle of your scene will be soft. And once you’ve taken a shallow depth of field photo, it cannot be fixed in Photoshop.
5. Shooting using the camera’s “landscape” mode
Yes, you may have a landscape setting in the scene modes of your camera. But try to use it as infrequently as possible.
Why? Well, it’s not great at producing an even exposure, plus it can’t determine the proper aperture for a given scene (only you can do that!).
So instead of using your Landscape mode, try switching over to Aperture Priority mode or even Manual mode. Both these options will let you dial in your aperture and ISO, and they’ll also let you tweak the shutter speed for the best results.
At first, this may take some getting used to. You won’t be able to rely on a familiar point-and-shoot mentality. But over time, you’ll become more and more familiar with your camera settings, and you’ll end up with better results than your camera’s automatic Landscape mode could ever achieve.
6. Standing next to other photographers
If you see a group of photographers standing on the top of a hill, here’s my advice:
Shoot from somewhere else.
I don’t mean to imply that the other photographers are taking bad shots. Rather, I’d like to emphasize the importance of originality. Do you want to go home with a shot just like everyone else’s? Or do you want a shot that’s uniquely yours?
Of course, in certain situations, the best composition or vantage point is at one particular spot, and all the photographers will congregate in that area. That’s fine; take a shot from there to start. But then look for other places to get a great shot, too.
(Pro tip: It’s a good idea to scout a scene before you shoot it. Go and take a walk around the area the day before, look at where the sun will be setting, and decide on your position. Don’t simply follow the crowd.)
7. Including unnecessary negative space
Negative space is the “empty” area that surrounds your subject, and the inclusion – and exclusion – of negative space can truly make or break your image.
Careful use of negative space can lend your photos a sense of calm and tranquility. But poor use of negative space, as is common in landscape photography, will create static, boring photos.
In most landscape scenes, the sky is the negative space, especially on a clear, sunny day. And you’ll often see beginner landscape photographers include lots of sky in the composition, even though it doesn’t actually add anything interesting to the shot.
So before you include large swathes of sky in your compositions, carefully observe the horizon. Are there elements of interest, such as clouds? Or is there a simple, blank blue?
If the answer is “blank blue,” then make the sky a small portion of your image (of course, if there are some great-looking clouds, then by all means, give it more space in your scene).
This goes for other types of negative space, too. Are you photographing an ocean scene? Make sure not to include too much water, unless it adds atmosphere to the photo. Are you photographing a valley? Make sure not to include lots of empty grass. Got it?
8. Not including a clear subject
It sounds crazy, but it is very easy to have an unclear subject in landscape photography. For instance, if you photograph a forest but just show some random tree chaos, the viewer won’t know where to look – because there’s no clear subject. And if you’re photographing an ocean but you just point your camera at the water and shoot, you’ll end up with some boring water and sky, not a coherent, striking photo.
Instead, identify what matters to you in a scene – and then emphasize it in your shot.
Of course, you don’t need to fill the frame with your subject; it’s perfectly acceptable to show both your subject and the beauty that surrounds it. But if you’re struggling to highlight the subject, do try moving closer or using a longer lens. And check your composition afterward, asking yourself: What stands out? What will the viewer notice? And what do I want the viewer to notice?
If what the viewer will notice and what you want the viewer to notice differ, then you’ve probably made a mistake.
Landscape photography mistakes: final words
Well, there you have it:
The eight landscape photography mistakes to avoid the next time you’re out shooting.
When you’re in the field with your camera, run through these mistakes. Make any corrections, then check the photo. I’m guessing you’ll end up with a much-improved result!
Now over to you:
Which of these landscape photography mistakes do you make? Do you have any additional mistakes that deserve to be on this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!