How To Shoot Better Landscape Photographs

By Dusty Demerson, Photographer

 

Let's start with "Why". Why do you shoot landscapes at all? What is it about the scene that makes you want to make a photograph? What makes you want to save this scene? Is it the subject? Is it the light? Is it the colors? Is it the song on the radio, the way it smells or just the way you feel right now?

 

These seem like silly questions but they lie at the core of landscape photography. Actually, they lie at the core of most photography and art in general. Something within the scene evokes an emotional response in the artist that causes him/her to want to capture or share the scene. Most of the time this response is buried deep within the artist and the triggers to the emotion are completely subconscious. With attention and some thought, however, we can tap into those triggers and use them to create unique works of art that no other person can create. That's one thing that separates the snapshot photographer from the artist or professional photographer. Creating unique photographs that no one else sees is only part of the story though. We must also be able to generate an emotional response in our audience as well for our images to be considered artistic photographs.

 

Old barn at sunsetSunset Barn The next time you're out "taking pictures" try to slow down. Ask yourself what it is about the scene that made you stop the car and pick up your camera. Don't turn your camera on until you have some idea of an answer. Is it the light, color, composition, etc.? Or was it that mountain peak juxtaposed with that amazing cloud that's now gone? When we start to analyze a scene and discover what caused us to respond we can use that analysis to compose better photographs. We can start to eliminate elements within the scene that weaken our image and refine our composition to add or strengthen elements that support our emotional response.

 

Does the sky add to or detract from what I'm feeling? Should this photograph be a vertical or horizontal composition? What about a panorama? Would this image work better as black and white or color? Is there anything within the four edges of the viewfinder that doesn't  support the photo? Can I eliminate them? Could I add anything to make the composition stronger? Should I move closer or back away? Should I change lenses to change the feeling of space within the scene? Should everything be in focus or should I selectively focus on something? Will another viewer see what I see? Will they "get it"?

 

This sounds like a lot of work and, in fact, it is the first few times you try it. In time, however, this thought process becomes second-nature and happens automatically. You will intuitively know where to stand, which lens to use, etc. Experience is a great teacher.