I wouldn’t be able to count the number of potentially great photos I’ve missed because I visited a location with only one image in mind. It’s easy to fall for the temptation to set up, get your shot, then pack up and leave. I’ve done it countless times, and I’m sure you have too.
Every location on earth has the potential for thousands of different images. Even a simple beach scene can be photographed in a huge variety of ways to create many beautiful images. You don’t need to have stunning scenery to come home with a collection of great images.
It only takes a little planning combined with the ability to improvise and adapt to the environment. Here are some tips to help you work a location to come home with more and better photos.
Step 1: Plan Plan Plan
I’m a huge advocate of planning your photos. In landscape photography, you’re at the mercy of mother nature, so the more prepared you are, the better your chances are of getting the shot.
How do the top landscape photographers in the world manage to consistently produce gorgeous images? They’re in the right place at the right time. Of course, there’s a bit of luck involved, but it’s largely down to a lot of careful planning.
Once I’ve chosen a photography location I’ll almost always do some planning for the shots I want. This usually involves looking at satellite and topographical maps on Google Maps. This will give you an idea of the landscape and features of the location.
Consider the time of day
Once you have an idea of the photos you want to take, it’s worth considering the best time of day. Golden hour at either end of the day provide great light, but you also may need to consider other factors like the tide and travel time.
There are many tools available to help you research and plan your photos. My favorite by far is PhotoPills. It’s a paid app, but worth every cent. It includes too many features to list here, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram are great for finding inspiration. Experiment with a variety of tools and find what works for you. Whatever you decide on, be sure to use them. Planning your landscape photos will dramatically increase your rate of keepers.
Step 2: Work the Location
Once you’ve planned your photos, the obvious next step is to go and create the beautiful images you’ve imagined.
Make sure you’re well prepared. Nothing will ruin well-planned photography like flat batteries or full memory cards. Watch the weather forecast and get to your location with plenty of time to spare. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll likely be doing some walking.
Get the shot, but don’t stop there. There are still many opportunities to get more great photos. Exploring on foot is the best way to find different and interesting photos that you may not have considered when originally researching the location.
Walk in the direction you just photographed and look back the way you came. Hike up to a high place. Walk up a river or climb some rocks. Move your legs. Very few incredible photos are taken from parking lots.
Change it up
Other than finding different perspectives and subjects to photograph, there are a few other ways to get more out of a location. Try using different gear. A different focal length can open up a bunch of new possibilities for shooting the same scene.
If you’re used to photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens, put a longer lens on your camera. It will not only allow you to create many more compositions from the same place, but it will also stretch you creatively.
Rent or borrow a macro lens and try taking a look at the smaller details of the location. You have almost limitless possibilities once you start looking at the grass, rocks, sand, or trees around you.
Light is everything
Another option is to wait for the light to change. Within the space of a couple of hours, you can photograph everything from daylight, through the golden hour, and into twilight. The same scene can look very different as the intensity, color, and direction of the light changes. Watch the way the shadows shape a landscape as the sun drops.
I learned to love photographing blue hour when I went out for sunset and noticed that I loved the light about 30 to 60 minutes after sunset. Try sticking around into the evening and playing with the low light. You could even stay until well after sunset and try including some stars or the Milky Way in the scene.
Finally, using various photographic techniques or effects can add a different look to the same location. If there’s movement in the scene, try photographing it with different shutter speeds. Fast shutter speeds that freeze movement look very different from long exposures that blur movement.
The way you expose the light can also change the look of the image a lot. Try exposing for a blown-out back-lit image or an underexposed the foreground for dark silhouettes. Photograph landscapes with both a large and small depth-of-field for a different look.
As you can see, with a bit of creativity, forethought, and patience, your options are many. You don’t need to come home from a location with only one good image.
Since I’ve learned to work a location, I often come home with many more decent images than I expected. Even with plenty of research and planning. Next time you go out to photograph a location, do some planning, get the shot, then walk, wait, and get creative to find a bunch more photos you’ll be happy with.