Facebook Pixel How to Photograph Landscapes in Exotic Places: 5 Practical Tips

How to Photograph Landscapes in Exotic Places: 5 Practical Tips

How to photograph exotic landscapes

Landscape photography is difficult, and even the best landscape shooters can struggle to capture consistently great shots. If you live in a location that lacks spectacular landscapes, or you just want to go somewhere new, traveling to a new and exotic location – especially a beautiful one – may seem like the solution. A few days or a week in a far-flung national park or some other beautiful spot with your tripod and camera sounds like a great way to create wonderful new images. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, the answer is plenty. The weather (and, consequently, the light) might not do what you want. If you are shooting by the sea, the timing of the tides may not be conducive to taking great photos. Since you’ll be photographing in a completely new area, and you might only have a few days to shoot, you might not have the time to find the best locations for landscape photography. And even if you do find some good locations, you might fail to get on location when the light is at its best.

So what do you do? One option is to give up on doing exotic landscape photography and instead focus on your local scenery, even if it’s less spectacular than the breathtaking mountains, valleys, waterfalls, and seascapes you can find around the globe.

But if you’re like me, you don’t want to give up on travel. Travel broadens the mind, it’s a lot of fun, and – if you take the right approach – it can result in amazing landscape photos. But because time is tight when you are traveling, you need to plan well to make the most of the opportunities that come your way. In this article, I’m going to show you how.

1. Do your research before you leave

The Exotic Landscape

Research is very important for any type of landscape photography – but when photographing exotic locations, it’s absolutely essential. As I emphasized above, you generally don’t have a whole lot of time to explore a new location when traveling, which means you won’t get any do-overs. The more preparation you do, the better prepared you will be. Here’s how I recommend you prepare when traveling to a distant landscape destination:

Use Flickr and 500px

The Exotic Landscape

Get on both of these websites (Flickr and 500px are both free to join) and search for photos taken where you’ll be headed. The results will give you a great idea of the potential of that location. You might also find some new spots away from the ones that everybody else seems to photograph.

If you are going to a coastal location, the tide schedule makes a huge difference. Try and figure out how the changing tides affect the composition of the images you see. Some places are at their best at high tide, and others are ideal at low tide. So if you’ll be shooting along the coast, do an online search for tide tables, and plan your visits accordingly. If the best photo opportunities for a particular beach are at low tide, for example, then the ideal time to travel there is when low tide coincides with sunset or sunrise so you can take advantage of the golden hour and twilight.

Got a question about an image? Send the photographer a message and ask for their advice. Not everybody will reply, but you may receive invaluable advice from those that do.

2. Get The Photographer’s Ephemeris

The Exotic Landscape

Viewing images taken by other photographers is a great way to start preparing for a landscape photography trip. However, as you look at other people’s photos, bear in mind that the light, and the direction it comes from as the sun rises and sets, changes during the year. A beautiful location might have stunning sidelight at sunset in January – but come June, the sidelight might have shifted to backlight, calling for a completely different approach.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to calculate where the sun will rise and set in any given location at any time of the year. Simply download The Photographer’s Ephemeris, and use it to determine the sun’s location during your travels. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is free for Windows and Mac computers, and you can use it extensively before you travel to determine the best times to shoot different locations. It’s also available as a paid iOS app, which can certainly come in handy if you need to do some sunrise or sunset calculations when out in the field! (Another great option is the PhotoPills app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.)

3. Check the weather forecast

The Exotic Landscape

It sounds almost too obvious to mention here, but it’s important to check the weather forecast before you go. Most trips are booked ahead of time, but long-range forecasts are only accurate a few days in advance. Checking the forecast helps you prepare.

What if the forecast calls for rain and cloudy skies? Then you need to work out how you are going to cope with that. Shooting in dreary light is very different from shooting in intense sun, and you’ll want to approach your landscape photography differently.

For instance, when faced with cloudy skies or rain, you might choose to work in black and white, you might use a more minimalistic compositional approach, or you might concentrate on creating evocative images showing the background blurred out by the rain.

Also, if rain is forecast, make sure you have a waterproof camera bag to protect your gear, as well as lens cleaning tissues or cloths to clean water off your front lens element. A cover to protect the camera is also a good idea – this cover, which costs around $20 on Amazon, is a decent choice – and as long as you’re careful and use common sense, you can use it to shoot in open rain without damaging your electronics.

4. Take minimal gear

As you research different photo opportunities, think carefully about the gear you need to take. The trick is to find a balance; on the one hand, you want to take enough lenses and accessories to create great images, but on the other hand, you don’t want to carry so much that you’re worn out upon arriving at your destination and are too tired to take photos.

For example, on a recent trip, I took my 17-40mm wide-angle zoom and an 85mm prime lens (plus cable releases, filters, etc). That’s it! Thanks to my research, I knew I wouldn’t need anything else.

I do recommend packing a tripod, but this can be tricky. You don’t want to lug a huge, bulky tripod halfway around the globe, so it’s important to find a compromise between weight and stability. There are a lot of good tripods out there that offer decent stability without weighing you down too much, so if you don’t own a tripod, I highly recommend checking out our article on the best travel tripods.

Finally, when planning, don’t forget personal items, such as protective clothing, a raincoat, food, water, etc. They all add weight to your load!

5. Be flexible

Good planning gives you a great head start, but don’t become so fixated on following a schedule that you’re unable to change plans if you learn something new. When you’re on location, you may come across a new scene that you desperately want to photograph, or you might hear from a local about an area that you should definitely check out.

In fact, I recommend that you use local knowledge to your advantage. If you can, ask the person you deal with at your accommodations the best places to take photos. You can also speak with shopkeepers, passersby, etc. And you can always browse shops, where you might run into postcards or local photo books that include interesting ideas.

Bottom line: Don’t get so locked into your plans that you are unable to see fresh opportunities when they come your way!

Photographing landscapes in exotic locations: final words

Traveling to capture beautiful photos of exotic locations can be extremely rewarding. And while it comes with plenty of challenges, as long as you take steps to prepare, you do just fine!

Of course, at the end of the day, travel can be valuable in and of itself. So enjoy your trip, have fun, and if you can create some beautiful images along the way, that’s just icing on the cake!

Now over to you:

Do you have any tips for exotic landscape photography that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Table of contents

Landscape Photography

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew S. Gibson
Andrew S. Gibson

is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He’s an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

I need help with...