Have you ever been disappointed in front of your computer screen when you get back home, looking at the pictures you just took? I’m sure you know that feeling. And so do I!

But over the past few years, it has become rarer and rarer. Here are a few tips on how to step up your landscape photography to avoid this awful feeling:

Search for the Best Light

Did you ever realize that “photography” literally means “writing with light”? And it’s even truer in landscape photography!

Watch the pictures you admire: I bet most of them are shot during sunset, sunrises, or the blue hours (before sunrises and after sunsets). Or just after a storm when the light is more complex and interesting.

So, to get that wow effect in your pictures, look for the best available light. It often means waking up at an ugly time to shoot the sunrise. But your odds of getting back with a wonderful picture will surely skyrocket!

And even if you have to shoot in the middle of a sunny day, keep an eye on light and shade plays!

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Deadvlei in Namibia. What makes this photo interesting is the strange shadow shape on the dunes in the background, which seems to enlighten the dead tree.

Prepare Your Shot

Whenever you can, plan your shot: search for pictures of the spot on the Internet, look on Google Maps, read photo blogs about the place. There are even apps that will tell you where the sun and the moon will rise and set, at the time you will shoot!

And to increase your odds, scout the location of your shot in advance. Go there the day before, try a few compositions, and even take quick tests shots!

No one is at his best under time pressure. So prepare your shot so that when the best light appears, you just have to press the trigger!

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The ghost town of Kolmanskop in Namibia. I scouted this room on my first day, and noticed its potential. I was ready at sunrise on my second day and just had to push the trigger!

Use a Sturdy Tripod

For a long time, I rarely got my tripod out of my bag: a tripod is needed when the exposure time is too slow to shot handheld, period.

How wrong was I! Here are 3 reasons why you must always use your tripod for landscape photography (and the live view mode):

  1. It allows you more time to think about the composition while you set it up.
  2. It takes longer to set it up than just pushing a button, so it’s worth wondering if you are setting up in the right place!
  3. It creates a distance between you and the shot you are about to take, so that you can be more critical with yourself the composition will be more precise.

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Tufs waterfall in France. Even in a one-meter-deep river, always use your tripod!

Mind the Edges

You want a recipe to ruin a fantastic shot? Cut out half of an interesting feature on one of the edges of the frame: a rock with a striking pattern, a trunk, a mountain at its highest…

So don’t do that: be extra cautious while you frame your shot. And find a way to include and to cut out exactly what you want.

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A bench in South Australia. Notice how the tree is cut on the left. It shows just enough to be interesting, but not too much to be the subject of the shot.

Be Sure to Bring Back All the Information You Need

If you are in an amazing place with an amazing light, don’t come back with regrets!

Digital storage is cheap, so shoot, shoot, and shoot again! The first shot is rarely the best on a spot, so try a few different angles. Even very slightly different!

And for each one, be sure to leave with all the information you need. Get bracketed shots if the dynamic range is wide (even if you won’t probably use all the exposures). And get the same pictures with different focus points (foreground and background).

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Michael Dessagne
Antelope canyon, USA. The visit of this canyon last only one hour, but I came back with a few hundred shots! All bracketed, as I didn’t have the time to wonder if the exposure was right. I’d rather shoot another point of view instead!

Follow the rule of third…

This one is an easy one, and you probably heard about it a million times. In case you did not, long story short: put the interesting focal points on a line that is a third of the picture dimensions (or better, on an intersection of two of those lines).

The eye is naturally drawn to those points and, it has been proved that the composition is more balanced that way.

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Michael Dessagne
Deadvlei in Namibia. Notice how the horizon is at one third from the bottom. And how the 2 biggest trees are at one third from each side.

… and know when not to follow it!

Study the picture you like, and notice when and why the authors didn’t follow the rule of third. There will always be a reason!

A classic one is to emphasize the symmetry of a landscape reflecting in water. But there can be a lot more reasons!

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Michael Dessagne
The Wave, USA. Placing the horizon in the middle complements the symmetry.

Use the Foreground to Tell a Story

For a good picture, the foreground has to be interesting. But to create a great picture, you have to choose a foreground that complements the story of the background!

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Waterhole in the Vanoise National Park in the French Alps. Here, the water (symbol of life) contrasts with the yellow grass that is dying. It also seems to tell the story of the water cycle : from the snow in the background, to the liquid in the foreground.

Use Leading Lines

When you frame your shot, use natural lines (roads, rivers, rocks, ray of light…) to draw the viewer’s eyes to the main subject of your picture.

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A boathouse in New South Wales, Australia. I used the dock to lead the eye to the boathouse, a classic method for this kind of shot. Have I walked a few steps aside, the composition would have been a lot less powerful.

Trap the Viewers Eyes

In photography, your aim is to capture your viewer’s attention as long as you can! To achieve that, you must use as many of the previous tips as you can!

And here are a few extra ones:
White colour naturally attracts our attention. Use this to lead the eye where you want to!
Don’t let too many ways out of your frame! Whether it’s white areas, forms, lines… Do your best to make the eye come back and forth in the frame.

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Vanoise National Park in the French Alps. Notice how the form in the foreground reminds the form of the mountain. And how those “V-forms” (that are almost white) keep the eye trapped between them.

Posted by Michael Dessagne

Serial traveler and nature lover. I have been a hobbyist photographer since I offered my wife a DSLR back in 2011. Since then, photography has became my way of bringing back great memories. Snapshots of amazing things I was blessed to witness, whether it is from a road trip on the other side of the world or from a hike in the French Alps I live close to.

3 Comments

  1. dennytang@gmail.com'

    Nice photos and tips! Another one I would add is to use an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris to plan the lighting.

    Reply

    1. mikadessagne@hotmail.com'

      Thanks !
      I totally agree (despite the fact I rarely do it myself ;)). I mention these kind of apps in the “prepare your shot” section.

      Reply

      1. dennytang@gmail.com'

        Oh right you did mention it… sorry I missed that.

        Reply

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