Landscape Photography

7 Top Tips for Composition in Landscape Photography

Have you ever tried to take a picture of a stunning landscape, only to discover that the photo of those beautiful mountains looks flat, boring, and not nearly as beautiful as the real thing? Chances are you need to work on your composition. Here are some handy tips to help you take your composition to the next level, and really make your landscape pictures pop.

  1. Learn from the masters

Of course you can read about the rule of thirds until your eyes hurt, but the best way to learn if an image is well-composed or not, is by looking at the great compositions made by the masters. Look at photographs from Ansel Adam or Ernst Haas for example, and try to see why their compositions are so great at drawing in the eye.

  1. Learn from art

Summer meadow blow balls landscape painting

One thing I always recommend to anyone asking me about composition, is to go to a museum and spend some hours just staring at the paintings. Van Gogh’s landscapes for example are all so well-composed, we landscape photographers could really learn a thing or two from them…  Also look at the way these painters use light to draw your eye to certain parts of the image, and shadows to draw your attention away from others. Try to apply what you see the next time you go out shooting – think of your picture as a painting, and make all the elements appear exactly where you want them to.

  1. Wait for the right light

Late autumn sunset on alpine pastures and mountains in Austria
Sometimes the sun is on our side and gives us a natural golden spotlight on that one particular mountain, making a boring image look instantly magical. Waiting for a moment like this to occur might not be the fastest or most reliable way to get a great composition going on in your picture, but it can sure help give your landscape photo that extra touch it needs to stand out from the crowd. So, go out to shoot during the golden hours, pray to the sun gods and wait for the perfect lighting to appear. Combine this with your own creativity and a miracle might just occur when you press that shutter release button.

  1. Look for a foreground, middle ground and background

7 Top Tips for Composition in Landscape Photography (6)
Making sure your image is made up of a foreground, middle ground and background will prevent it from looking flat. For example, when taking a shot of the ocean, don’t just take a shot of the ocean. Instead, take a shot of a few rocks in front of the ocean, followed by the waves and then a beautiful morning sky. This makes your image way more interesting and will draw the eye in, which will make your landscape engaging and pleasing to the eye.

  1. Learn the rules

The Wave in Black and White

I realise I made fun of the composition rules at point one, but it really doesn’t hurt to spend a little time learning about them. Read up on some composition techniques, do’s and don’ts, try and test them out in a test shoot and see what difference it makes to your landscape photos. Knowing the rules and seeing how they influence your photograph will help you understand what to look for when you’re hunting for the perfect angle or vantage point.

  1. Forget about the rules

Sunrise over the clouds

Now that you know the rules and have practiced with them – forget all about them. Rules alone might make for a good landscape photo, but never for a great one. If you’re out there in the elements surrounded by nature and beautiful landscapes, it would be a pity if all you could think about were composition rules. Allow yourself to become inspired and don’t worry if your horizon is in the middle of the frame – if your gut tells you that that’s where it looks best, leave it! Don’t allow any rules to interfere with your creative flow, trust yourself and get the shot the way you feel it looks best.

  1. Get creative

misty dawn in the national park deer streams

So once you forgot about all the rules and gained an infinite amount of freedom, use it! You are now free to try out any kind of composition you like, the rules aren’t watching anymore. So use your feet, walk up as close as you can to the foreground of your image or go as far away from your subject as possible. Try a  new angle, maybe even turn around completely and see what´s on the other horizon. Lay flat on the floor to get an ant´s perspective, or go crazy and rent an airplane for an hour to see what that mountain looks like to a bird. The sky is the limit, and you can do whatever you want with your landscape picture – it’s yours, after all.

Landscape Photography

6 Landscape Photography Tips to Instantly Improve Your Photos

Whether you’re an amateur photographer wanting to up their travel photo skills or an aspiring landscape photographer, for everyone wishing to take their landscape photos to the next level: these tips are for you.

Starry night

  1. Shoot at the right time

The right conditions to make a perfect environment for a great shot don’t occur all the time. Make sure you plan the time you go out, preferably sticking to early morning and late afternoon, to catch the sun at the best places and see your landscapes bathed in that golden light. Avoid the middle of the day, as the sun will be high in the sky giving your landscapes a harsh, flat look. However, on rainy or cloudy days you’re in luck: you can now stay out shooting the entire day, as the sun is not there to make any changes in your light! So arm yourself with a good jacket and umbrella, and look for those weather conditions that seem far from ideal at first sight but are actually perfect for landscape photography.

Alberta wilderness near Banff

  1. Find the right light

This goes a bit further than being in the right place at the right time. If you’re there in the early hours of the morning, your tripod all set up ready to start shooting away as soon as the sun rises, chances are you’ll run out of storage space and/or battery before the sun is even fully on the horizon. Don’t just klick away blindly as soon as the sun makes the mountains look nice. Instead, find more interesting ways to show that beautiful morning sunlight hitting your landscape. Wait for a single ray of sun to hit one particular mountain through a hole in the clouds, or capture the contrast between the dark night sky and subtle colors starting to occur on the horizon. Be creative, find the light, and work with it.

misty forest

  1. Use long exposure modes and low ISO’s

Assuming we´ve all moved past the automated landscape setting that is available on some cameras, let´s have a look at the ideal settings for landscape photography . First and foremost, do not put your ISO up. Since you´ll be using a tripod 99% of the time you´re shooting landscape, you can easily use a longer exposure time in low-light conditions to correctly expose your image.  Using higher ISO’s will cost you in dynamic range, meaning you’ll lose the details in your shadows and highlights, and make your image noisier and less suitable for large prints. Another reason landscape photographers use long exposures, is to get that silky water and stretched clouds effect.

Goðafoss waterfall in summer River Skjálfandafljót, Iceland, long exposure

Since a longer exposure will mean your camera’s shutter curtains will be open for a longer period of time, the camera will capture the cloud in the first position, then a little bit to the right, then a little bit more, etc. This gives your image that dreamy, fairy tale-like effect and really transport anyone looking at the picture to the feeling you had when standing out there in the real thing.

  1. Take your time

When you go out to shoot, make sure you take your time. Not only to enjoy being out in nature doing what you love, but also to learn. You can learn an awful lot just by sticking around and seeing how the light changes, for example. Even if you’ve already managed to get the shot you wanted, see what happens when you take the shot an hour later under different conditions. Or change your angle a few times to see what that does to your composition, maybe walk to a different vantage point to see the place from a new perspective. There’s an infinite amount of photo’s out there, try to find as many as possible.

Misty summer mountain hills landscape.

  1. Learn to see

Before gluing your eye to the viewfinder, look around at what’s in front of (and behind) you. Pay attention to little details, like a reflection in the water or an oddly shaped tree, or take a step further back than you normally would and soak up the whole scene. Train you eye to see the picture, then get behind the camera and shoot it. This will be a lot more helpful to improving your skill than just blindly clicking away, and it will save you a lot of time sorting to the hundreds of pictures later…

Vermilion Lakes Mount Rundle

  1. Practice

People don’t expect to learn how to play a violin within a week, yet people are frustrated when their pictures aren’t amazing after the first week of shooting… Take your time to learn this new skill, and then when you think you know everything, learn some more. Keep looking around at other landscape photographers; stay open to feedback, and above all: keep practicing.

Professional on cliff. Nature photographer takes photos with mirror camera

After a while you’ll get some good shots in there, and after years of practice you’ll be able to shoot consistently great landscape images.  Be patient, all your efforts will pay off in the end!

Landscape Photography

6 Urban Landscape Photography Tips

Urban landscape photography is a great form of landscape photography focusing on the patterns and movement in city landscapes, capturing the feeling the photographer had in that particular time on that exact spot. To help you create urban landscape photographs that really capture the mood, we’ve put together 6 tips to help you along the way.

Aerial view of Chicago Downtown

1:  Plan ahead:

First and foremost: plan your shoot! Of course this is important for any kind of photography, but urban landscape photography is one of the photography branches out there that really requires you to put some thought into it beforehand. The first image for example, would have looked extremely different in the middle of a rainy day. What makes the image a great urban landscape photo is the light that was only there for a split second that day. The photographer only got this light because they planned to go to that spot in the few hours in a day that have this kind of light – sunset or sunrise – on a day with gentle weather that was not too cloudy.

Retro photography concept
Also, it pays to plan what area of what city you’ll go to for your shoot. Make sure you know a little bit about the area, not only to get into the feel of the city, but also because not all areas are safe to walk around with a big camera (A.K.A. target) around your neck…

  1.  Talk to people:

When shooting a city that you’re not familiar with, even though you did your research and your planning, it never hurts to ask around for the best spots to take pictures. Locals will often know cool hidden spots that are not already crowded with tourists and photographers who saw the postcard and decided to visit the big attraction of the city. Going to remote places will provide you with the opportunity to see, shoot and share a new perspective of the city, one that hasn’t been seen before and will definitely help your picture stand out from the crowd.

Station at 190th St.

  1.  Shoot in RAW:

This goes for all kinds of landscape photography, including urban landscape: ditch the JPEG, shoot all your images in RAW. Not only will this give you more room to play around during post-production (allowing you to exaggerate anything that adds even more to the mood of the image), it will drastically improve the dynamic range in your pictures. Even though you’ll barely be forced to use a high ISO in landscape photography, even when using a low ISO the RAW file will capture way more detail in highlights and shadows than a JPEG ever could. Now you can just set your exposure on the highlights, and bring back the shadow detail later.

Chicago Skyline aerial view

  1. Take your time:

Perfect situations only occur every now and then, so it’s not really fair to expect the light, weather and surroundings to be perfect in those few hours you decided to spend in a city. To get the perfect shot that really captures your feeling, you need to take your time. Wait until the light is just right before you press that shutter release button, wait for a bird to pass to give your composition that little extra push, wait for the exact right amount of cars to light up your night scene, etc. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time on one shot – many urban landscape photographers do! Most photographers travel back to the same spot for multiple days, hoping that today the circumstances might be just a little bit better than yesterday to get that shot they wanted.

woman photographer taking picture of the Empire State Building

  1.   Get creative:

While you are taking your time to wait for the perfect conditions, get creative! See what your shot looks like if you take a step back, or walk to a higher vantage point. Maybe even tilt your camera a bit, try a hand-held shot, play with your exposure modes…  The possibilities are endless! And remember, even if you have the best camera with the most expensive lens out there standing on your tripod, the photo is only as good as the photographer. So get those creative juices flowing and shoot your next favourite shot.

new york city aerial view of the downtown

  1. Respect the space you’re shooting in:

Finally, make sure you respect the city your shooting in. If you’ve travelled from far to visit this particular city, make sure you are familiar with the culture and it’s customs and respect these. Also make sure you leave no traces (of your packed lunch for example), and be careful not to damage anything.

Young woman holding a camera

After all, it’s not really fair to capture an amazing shot of a city only to leave it less beautiful than you found it…