Have you ever been tempted, when you come across a beautiful landscape, to take out your camera or phone and turn it into an image?
Most of us have, and despite my belief that landscape photography might be an area of photography best left to professionals, or at least to amateur photographers who have invested in expensive camera and lenses, when I see a beautiful area in my country, I just want to make some images.
Ireland is full of beauty spots, many of them largely unknown. They are not on tourist trails, and they do not feature on any visitors’ brochure because they are tucked away on side roads, off the beaten track.
They might be close to where tourists travel, but not quite there.
They are an even more hidden part of an already hidden Ireland.
These are the spots I like to find and photograph.
I don’t have many views of our most iconic landmarks, but I do have images of places that are beautiful and special to me, and that is what my photography is all about.
This is an image of a monastery ruins in Fenagh, Co. Leitrim. It is not an image seen in many books of Irish landscapes but it is an image of an important part of our history
I am passionate about taking a more mindful approach to photography, and landscape photography lends itself to a mindful approach because if we are going to capture good landscape images we need to move away from the busyness and noise of everyday life and spend time in a quiet space, connecting with the place, being aware of our surroundings, being in the moment. It is this connection with place that helps bring part of ourselves to our photographs.
On the day I took these images I spent some time wandering, looking, being. I was attracted to this leading line, and genuinely wondered where it led. I followed the path and it brought me to a rest spot overlooking a beautiful mountain vista. It is in the grounds of an ancient church and visitors are invited to sit awhile and be still away from the busy world.
Anyone who has read my earlier posts, or even my About Me page, will know that I returned to photography after a long absence, so in that sense I am still a beginner, with much to learn.
I have built up some basic equipment but do not have the type of professional lenses required to do proper landscape photography.
Yet I haven’t allowed that to stop me.
In fact, I am not alone in the belief that we can do landscape photography with a phone camera, and there is a very popular landscape mastery course to prove it!
Even with basic camera equipment, there are ways in which we can make successful landscape images, images which, while they may not win any awards, will be images that we are proud to say are ours.
Through some of my photography lessons, my own experimentation, and a lot of learning through failure, I have come up with some tips which will help you to make better landscape photographs, even with basic camera gear. Here goes.
1. See with your eyes before seeing with your camera.
Observation is key to good landscape photography, and it is a skill that improves with practice.
I have recently come to appreciate the importance of spending time observing a scene before I take any shots.
I admit I have been guilty of arriving at an amazing scene, getting my camera out and snapping away, hoping that the scene will make the photograph for me.
You have to work hard to make the most of any scene in photography, otherwise you end up with nice snapshots rather than good images.
Finding a good location for your landscape photography shoot is the first consideration.
I always look for a location I like, somewhere in which I can feel a connection to the environment around me.
It is then that I begin to browse around, without a camera, to get a feel for the place, to appreciate its beauty and to become aware of any potential opportunities for image making.
I might sit or stand for a while and ask myself,
Why this scene?
What is it about the scene that will give me the image I’m looking for?
When making the images below, I stopped at a parking space and took a walk around the area, travelling around the road by the side of the lake, watching how the light was forming reflections in the water, discovering standing spots which might give me a good view, and making some mental decisions about the images I would try to capture.
I took a few images with my phone then went back for my camera and set out again.
On this occasion the distance around the area was short so it was possible to walk along without my camera at first. On other occasions, when I need to walk far away from my car, I take my camera with me but I still do a lot of looking before I take my first shot.
It is often said that if you are too quick to pick up your camera you risk seeing nothing, and I tend to agree with the statement. Indeed, I have often left a scene after walking around for some time because the light was just not right, or the area didn’t yield the opportunities that I had expected.
I went for a walk along the beach on the evening of my arrival at this location. It was too late to take good photographs, but I observed what was around with a view to making some images next day.
2. Take your time and make lots of photographs.
One of the advantages of digital cameras is the fact that you can take as many photos as you want, bring them all home and evaluate them later.
Cloud storage options mean that we do not have to delete immediately but we can give ourselves time to really consider whether a certain image is what we want.
I usually sort my images into three groups. The first group consists of images that I like and will import into Lightroom straight away, the second group has images that have potential and that I won’t discard just yet, the third group will be images that I won’t keep.
These images may be blurred, badly composed or images that I just don’t like.
The main point is that you should take lots of photos to give yourself plenty to choose from. It’s always better to delete photos you don’t want than to regret the ones you didn’t take.
3. Shoot from different perspectives.
One of the best pieces of advice I have learned from photography tutors is not to take all photos from the position of a standing adult.
I try to incorporate this advice into my photo shoot by getting down low and shooting from that perspective, finding a high point and shooting down from there or pointing the camera upwards.
The main aim is to have at least a few images taken from a more unique position than we are normally used to.
I often stop and look up while walking through a woodland area. There is always an interesting world up there that we seldom see.
4. Make use of natural framing.
Using natural elements that are in the location to frame your subject is a technique used in landscape photography to add emphasis to the subject. Trees, flowers, rocks, even clouds, can provide a frame. I use this technique when it seems natural to do so but it’s important not to overuse it or your images will begin to look too similar.
I think a photograph of this house on its own might be less interesting than seeing it framed naturally by the branches of nearby trees.
5. Have a focal point in your image.
A wide vista can be beautiful to look at in reality, as your eye can wander to any part of the scene, but with a photograph you have to choose which part of the scene you want your viewer to focus on, so it is important to have a focal point in your image. This could be a building, a tree, a person or animal in the scene, an unusual rock, a reflection, or an interesting sky.
If you ask yourself when taking your photo, ‘what is my focus?’ it helps to ensure that you include a focal point on which the viewer can focus.
In this image my focal point was the boat and the surrounding landscape provides a context.
6. Make use of leading lines.
Leading lines are used to lead the viewer’s eye through the image to the main point of interest.
They can help to add depth to an image that might otherwise appear flat.
They may be actual, visible lines or implied lines.
For example, a group of rocks or stones may be arranged in such a way that they lead the viewer’s eye to the centre of the image.
A shoreline can act in the same way.
When I spent some time observing this scene, I noticed that the stones in the water made a curved shape which created a line leading the viewer’s eye along the shore to the land further along.
7. Add some foreground, middleground and background interest.
Your aim in landscape photography is to try to convey a sense of depth in your images, to make them appear as close as possible to how your eye sees the scene.
If you concentrate only on the background of your image it will lack depth and look rather flat, so it is important to have some interesting elements in the foreground and middle ground of your image. This is what is known as layering and it can add a sense of depth to your image as your eye is led beyond the foreground subject, through the middle to the scene behind.
Having a distinct foreground, midground and background in your image also helps you to convey the scale of the location to your viewer.
You can also create variety in your images by using a large aperture when focusing on a foreground subject, which will then blur your background scene. To some photographers this may not technically count as a landscape image, but you can be the judge!
Which brings me neatly to the next point…
8. Make the images you want to make.
I often feel under pressure when photographing landscapes to make images that will withstand criticism.
I think that since my equipment is not top notch and my techniques are still in the infancy stage, my images will not come up to standard.
Yet, I need to ask myself, whose standard am I using to judge my images?
The only person I should judge myself against is the photographer I was last week or last year.
When you make the images that you want to make there can be no judgement. And often, when you take away the expectation and pressure to make certain kinds of images you will allow your curiosity to run free and you may end up with some wonderful shots.
9. Give your images a little love (aka do some photo editing).
Some photographers will argue that the authentic image is the image that comes straight out of camera, without any enhancements, while others will contend that no image straight out of camera is the finished product.
I tend to agree with the latter view, and while I don’t like to make too many changes to the original image, I do believe that some enhancements in a post processing program are necessary for the majority of images, particularly when we shoot in RAW format.
Even JPEG images are not fully processed by the camera and some adjustments to white balance, exposure, contrast and colour vibrancy may be required to produce images that are closer to what our eyes actually saw.
In the images below you can see that I made only minimal adjustments, but the image looks richer and more vibrant.
I don’t overdo saturation and try to keep my images as true to the look of the original scene as I can.
While it is obviously better to pay attention to your horizon and to the edges of your frame while shooting, editing does give you the chance to straighten and do any necessary cropping to improve minor details before sharing an image.
These are a few tips on how to make better landscape photographs, even without having top of the range gear.
But even on those days when you come home with disappointing images, all is not lost.
You have spent time in nature, enjoying the beauty around you and being creative.
You have learned by doing and hopefully you have enjoyed the experience.
Review your images, look at where they have succeeded and where they could have been better. Build on what you see; learn from the good and the bad and bring your learning with you to your next location.
Remember, photography is a marathon, not a sprint.
It is about progress, not perfection.
It is about the journey rather than the destination.
Enjoy the ride.
If you found these tips useful, please share them.
You might like to read my previous post One Small Sentence That Completely Changed My Perspective on Landscape Photography