The best photography comes from having a plan. That’s especially the case when it comes to landscape photography. In this article, you’ll learn the practical steps you can take ahead of time so you can get the best possible results. Follow these steps to plan the perfect landscape photo, and you’ll get amazing results every time.
This photo needs the seasonal salt marsh plants to give it that extra punch.
Know where the perfect landscape photo is
The first step is finding a great location to photograph. If that’s in your local area, you’ll almost certainly know where the local money shots are. What if you’re traveling to somewhere new, though? Well, there are several things you can do before you visit, which will give you a head start. It is good planning to make a list of photos you wish to take ahead of time. To do that, look to do the following:
Choose a location – The first step is going to be choosing a location. Keep this to a defined area like one city, or a national park. If the country is small like perhaps Iceland, you can look to that as your location.
Famous landmarks – Now within that location, start looking for the standout places that people visit, not just for photography, but because they’re amazing. Make a list of these places, and choose which ones you would like to photograph.
Other photos – Now it’s time to search online for inspiration from other photographers. This may lead you to replicate one of these photos. If you’re concerned about this then avoid this step, and go to the location with a clear mind about how you will take your photo. Sites like 500px, Instagram and Flickr can be good resources for this step.
If the location is far from where you live, ask people who have visited there before for their advice.
Visit the location ahead of time
Where possible the next step for you to plan the perfect landscape photo is to visit the location before you photograph it. There are three possible ways you can go about doing this. Each has its drawbacks, but if you can, then this step will help a lot.
Day trip – If your location is nearby, you could make a day trip without your camera. This is aimed at getting you that vital on-the-ground information.
Arrive early – A lot of landscape photos are sunsets. Arrive several hours before sunset to thoroughly explore the area for the best location to get a good composition. Taking a sunrise photo? Then arrive the evening before so you can see the location while it’s still light ahead of your photo the next day.
Online maps – Should the location be an airplane ride away, the only way of visiting the location early is online. While you won’t get all the information, using services like Google maps street view can allow you to explore a location remotely ahead of time.
This photo is of the new skyscraper in Bangkok, the Mahanakhon.
Sunrise or sunset?
A lot of landscape photos will be either sunrise or sunset locations. Make sure you know where these are ahead of time.
You’ll need to work out your route from where you’re staying to these locations. You also need to arrive around one hour before sunrise or sunset happens. With sunset or sunrise skies comes big differences in the dynamic range. Make sure you’re familiar with techniques like bracketing and digital blending before you go out to take these photos.
Finally, don’t always photograph towards the sun, turn around and look for the golden light and see if that makes a good photo as well.
One of my friends is a Balloonist who has, on occasion, taken me for a balloon ride.
Contact a fixer to plan the perfect landscape photo
There are lots of situations in photography where you will need a fixer. A fixer is someone who helps you facilitate the photograph you want to take. This fixer could take several forms depending on the situation or location you want to photograph. These are a few examples of fixers that you could need to deal with.
Security guard – A lot of cityscape photos are taken from the rooftop of tall buildings. Contacting the security of that building to ask for permission ahead of time is a good idea.
Restaurant or bar manager – There are some restaurants that have amazing viewpoints. Some of these will allow you to photograph from their premises. Once again, you need to contact them ahead of time to arrange this.
Photographer – Contacting local photographers to ask them for information is a great idea. If you’re lucky enough to find someone who will show you the local places to photograph, be sure to return the favor when you have the chance.
Tourist company – In some cases, joining a tour can get you to a location you want to photograph but otherwise could not reach. For example, if you want to take an aerial photo of a location, one solution is booking a balloon or helicopter ride! Remember, not everywhere will allow you to fly a drone.
This photo required a longer focal length to compress the scene.
Bring the right equipment
Make sure you have the right equipment with you to get the photo you want. The list below is a suggested packing list for landscape photographers. The location you’re photographing from will have a big bearing on which items from the list below you actually take.
Tripod – A tripod is essential for all landscape photographers, whatever the conditions. Getting sharp images is important, and you’ll get this when using a tripod.
Camera body – The newest camera body may not be as important for daytime landscapes, but if you’re photographing the Milkyway, having a new camera body is invaluable.
Lens – If you have researched your location properly, you’ll know whether the primary photo you intend to take requires a wide-angle or telephoto focal length. There is nothing worse than getting a location and realizing your lens doesn’t allow you to compose the photo the way you wish.
Remote trigger – A remote trigger or perhaps a cable release will mean you don’t need to touch the camera on the tripod. This will remove the chance of camera shake.
Filters – These are always worth packing as they take up minimal space. Neutral density filters are great for long exposure work, and graduated neutral density filters are also nice to have. A circular polarizing filter should be packed to give your photo more punch. Looking for a little creativity? How about packing an infra-red filter?
Other equipment – Looking to make a landscape that’s a little different? A lensball allows you to capture the scene in front of you in a unique way. It’s like having an external lens. How about light painting? You’ll need to bring things like a torch or an LED light stick for this.
Filters are a vital piece of equipment for all landscape photographers.
Know the local conditions ahead of time
Finally, make sure you’re checking the weather ahead of time. If your schedule is flexible enough, check the 5-day forecast and choose a day that works best for the sky. The long-range forecast can’t always be relied on though, so also be prepared to drop everything on the day if the right conditions develop for your photo.
Of course, this means using a reliable weather service or app on your phone. There are several of these out there. The recommended ones are windy.com and wunderground.com. These sites give good forecasts, though it’s worth checking them as you get nearer the intended day of your photo as they are updating their information. Then on the day itself, you can check their satellite images for up-to-the-minute information. These satellite images give information on current positions of clouds or any rain.
Another factor to consider is the sun, and that’s not whether it’s a sunny day or not. The sun’s position in the sky changes throughout the year. That means you can plan your trip to coincide with when the sun will be in the best position in the sky for your photo. To get this information use suncalc.org or the photopills app for your smartphone.
Seasonal changes to the landscape can make a dramatic difference as well. Plan for when there will be spring or fall foliage you can make use of. In the winter, the snow can also be pretty.
Those of you doing any photography along the coast will need to know the tide times. The landscape scene along a coast can change dramatically depending on whether it’s high or low tide. Again, tide times change throughout the year, so you should be able to plan your trip so that the level of the tide is perfect for your photo.
It’s also important to know from a safety perspective. If you can only access your location at low tide, you need to know how long you can safely photograph from that low tide position.
How do you plan the perfect landscape photo?
Having read this article, you’ll have a better feel for how to plan your landscape photo.
Which of the above steps will you put into your planning phase? Are there things you do when you plan your landscape photos that were not included here?
We’d love you hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section of this article. Then, once you have taken your landscape photo, you can share it in the comments section.
is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography Simon is the expert in this field, get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.
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