A few weeks ago I spent seven days travelling across the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Anybody who has been here knows that it is a beautiful place. I often come across remarks by photographers referencing New Zealand as a destination on their list of dream places to go to. Who can blame them? It’s a spectacular country, with beautiful landscapes.
However, the road trip brought home something of interest to all landscape photographers – landscape photography is hard. Really hard.
Not only do you need a beautiful location, but you are also relying on the weather and light to be conducive to the type of photo you want to take. If it isn’t, there may not be time on a short trip to wait for the ideal conditions.
It’s also a challenge to find an original way to photograph the landscape. Many other landscape photographers have been there before you. It’s difficult to create something new in a short space of time. Here are a few tips to help you do better landscape photography.
#1 Local knowledge
While there are ways to help ensure that you get the most out of a trip away (watch for those tips in an upcoming future article) today I want to make the point that one of the biggest advantages any landscape photographer has is intimacy with the landscape.
Intimacy comes from a deep knowledge of ,and a connection with the landscape. It’s an appreciation of the people that live there and the history of the location, plus an understanding of how the landscape changes through the seasons. People who have an intimate relationship with a region usually live there, or visit often. They are not passing through (like I was on the South Island). They know the best places to take photos, and when the light, seasons and weather are most likely to align to create the best results.
If you are struggling to find ways to photograph your local landscape, maybe it’s time to come at it from a different perspective. How can you turn your familiarity with your local landscape into an advantage?
Let me give you some practical examples. I live in Wellington, a city at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. I’ve never thought of it as a great location for landscape photography. Relatively speaking, it doesn’t have the spectacular landscapes of the South Island, nor the sub-tropical bush or white sand beaches of the northern half of the North Island. However, I’ve found other ways to incorporate the landscape in my photos.
#2 Long exposure and night photography
I know some good locations for these, including places that I would never have found on a short visit. The coastline south of the city has some beautiful, rugged locations. Walking along the sea front during all four seasons has given me an appreciation of how beautiful and changeable it is. The light and landscape change with the seasons and the weather, and I’d never understand that if I didn’t live here. Best of all, once I’ve found a location, I can wait out periods of inclement weather and return when the light is best to take advantage of it.
The benefit of these techniques is that they help you create photos with a very different look to what many photographers will take.
Example from another photographer
I recently came across the work of Mark Gee, another Wellington resident. He’s rather good at night photography. Most of his photos are taken in the local area and show an intimacy with the landscape that only comes with local knowledge and time.
#3 Try some special techniques
Painting with light and steel wool spinning are two that come to mind. The lack of spectacular landscapes has pushed me off into different directions as I look for more ways to make the most of the scenery we do have here. Mark Gee’s work has inspired me to try some night photography, and that ties in neatly with these techniques. Again, the freedom to return to the locations I want to use when the sky is clear and there is no wind is priceless.
If you are looking for original ways to photograph your local landscape, perhaps either of these techniques will help!
I take most of my portraits outside, using my favourite locations as backdrops. Sometimes a certain location may not be great for landscape photography, but it is ideal for taking portraits. The local landscape has become a part of my portrait work, and my style. If I lived somewhere else, my portraits would have a different feel to them.
How can you incorporate your local landscape in portraits?
Are there any other ways to utilize the local landscape?
#5 Use storytelling
There’s one way I can think of – tell a story. Perhaps there is the potential for a documentary project in your area. Stories are inevitably about people, so think about how local people interact with, or depend on the local landscape. For instance, activities such as running, sea kayaking, cycling, surfing and wind-surfing are all popular here in Wellington. Any one of those could make an interesting documentary project.
Or something more simple, such as Nathan Wirth’s.
What options do you have in your local area?
Ultimately, all these ideas are about the same thing: going deep and exploring your relationship with your local landscape in a way that isn’t possible on a brief visit. It’s the same reason that National Geographic photographers go away on assignment for months at a time. Intimacy with your subject and time produce a depth of coverage that you can’t get any other way.
Mastering Photography – additional learning
My ebook Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to take landscape photos like the ones in this article.