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9 Things I Look For When Photographing Landscapes

by Eric Von Lehmden | June 6, 2014

photographing landscapes

I wouldn’t call myself a "Landscape Photographer", but I do love taking photos of landscapes when I travel. There are several things that make a beautiful landscape photo and the more you practice the better you get at recognizing them. You could always study some of the masters of landscape photography and learn the elements of their photographs that move you. Of course Ansel Adams is the most recognized of landscape photographers. Also take a look at John Sexton, John Shaw, and Galen Rowell. That should give you a start of a different range of landscape photographers that have been at it for a while. While trying to learn from some of the best, here are 10 things I look for when photographing landscapes.

  1. The Light - To me this is the most important elements of good landscape photography. You can’t recreate light like you can in a photo studio. You have to be patient and quite often lucky to get the right light for a good photo.
  2. Contrast - wether it is high contrast or no contrast…both can make for interesting photos. The key is to recognize the contrast of a scene. That’s what makes it interesting to look at.
  3. The Sky - If the photo includes the sky (and it doesn’t have to) then I would love to have a little drama in the sky. That is usually with clouds. Of course if your light is right you should end up with at least a nice gradient in the sky that is nice too. The one thing that kills a landscape photo for me is a white sky. Sometimes you can’t avoid it because you are at at scene for a very short time and you want to get something. This is a topic for another blog post. If at all possible look for some drama in the sky.
  4. Leading Lines - These are naturally occurring lines in nature that lead your eye into and through a photo. Could be anything from trees to rock, or the flow of the horizon’s form.
  5. Foreground vs. Background - That is another way of saying "composition". What do I include in the shot and what do I leave out. Is the foreground necessary to making the photo more interesting or should I leave it out and concentrate on what is further away? It will depend on the scene. And why not shoot both and see what you like when you are editing your photos.
  6. Color or Black & White - I usually can identify if I want a scene in black and white or in color. I usually make the decision based on contrast, lighting and the mood of the scene. A good what to practice seeing in black and white is to challenge yourself to shoot in black and white for a long period of time. You will recognize the contrast of a scene immediately and know what will look interesting and what won’t.
  7. Competing Elements - To me competing elements are things that can detract from an image. They are like clutter. These could be (but not always) cars, people, power lines, birds etc.
  8. Getting the Safe Shot - This is usually the one that all the other tourists are taking. I can use it as a baseline and just to record the scene. Plus I have to start somewhere. I get the safe shot while thinking about how I can shoot it differently.
  9. My Shot - after taking the safe shot I will try capturing the landscape shot in a different way. Through composition, adjusting exposure…there are hundreds of ways to make it your own. I don’t think I can list them all.

photographing landscapesValdez, Alaska - I kept the foreground in for added texture and interest.


photographing landscapes


photographing landscapesIt was the lack of contrast that made this landscape beautiful to me.


photographing landscapesAlaskan Glacier - One of my faves from the trip.


photographing landscapesSunrises and sunsets can provide the most dramatic skies.


photographing landscapes


photographing landscapesTry to photograph a tourist attraction in a unique way. I used the roads leading lines to photograph the Colosseum.


photographing landscapesMore leading lines in Ireland.


photographing landscapes


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