5 Tips for Jaw-Dropping Landscapes

To get great landscapes, you need more than just a pretty world. You might be in a scenic location, but that doesn’t mean it’ll always translate well to a 2D image.

Landscape photography advice can be contradictory, at times. Sometimes landscapes will look great at a certain time of day or year, but drab at others. Sometimes it’ll look better with a long lens, and other times, it’s better to use a wide lens. Take this article — and any future or past articles on this topic — with a grain of salt.

Be willing to experiment.

The Tips

1. Shoot during the golden hour

During most of the day, the sun is high, creating short shadows. Landscapes lose their contours and details that shadows otherwise would create. Daylight sun also travel a shorter distance, and the light is white or colorless (depending on how technical you want to get).  This makes for a flat, stark landscape.

a dry meadow surrounded by a mountain range
A dry Streamboat Springs meadow in late fall @jenphotographs

However, at the golden hour, when the sun is low in the sky, the shadows get longer. The light travels through more humidity and pollution that’s hangs low to the ground, and that’s what create the warm yellow, red and pink hues.

Both shadow and warm light transform a plain, ordinary scene to a jaw-dropping landscape photograph.

Magic.

hazy pink fog sunset beach tire tracks sand ocean mountain person walking
Foggy Sunset @jenphotographs

The golden hour occurs an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise. In summertimes, the peak golden hours are between 5:30AM and 6:30AM and 7:30 PM and 8:30PM, +/- 30minutes, depending on your latitude.

#2 Circular Polarizing Filters

What they do for you:

  • Increase the vibrancy of blues and greens — the sky and foliage, in particular
  • Cuts reflections and glare, useful for photographing water features. Can be used on glass in urban settings, for cityscapes

There are two types of polarizing filters: linear and circular. Either will work fine for landscapes, however if you plan to photograph water features a lot, like beaches, forest streams, and lakes, a circular polarizer will be more beneficial for you.

Here’s why: a circular polarizer can be rotated so you can adjust for the direction of the glare, reducing or negating it outright.

animation_polariseur_2
A polarizer filter in front of a light source emitting polarized light
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Water comparison. Without polarizer, left. With polarizer, right. Source: wiki

Lens Rental, which is a reputable camera and lens rental company, did a test on polarizer filters ranging in prices, and found that there was no discernible difference in the ability to filter polarized light. (full article)

However! It’s well established that the quality of filters can affect the quality of your¬† images. If filters have low optical clarity, your images could appear to be slightly hazy or not sharp. Rinky dinky cheap plastic filters no bueno.

So, when buying filters, avoid the bargain-barrel ones. The following are brands that photographers trust:

  • Tiffen
  • Hoya
  • Lee
  • Cokin
  • B+W
  • Formatt Hitech Limited

If you have several lens that are all different diameters, you can purchase what’s called a “step-up” filter holder and one polarizer filter that fits your largest diameter lens. The combo will allow you to use that filter with all of your lens.

#3 Subject matter

A landscape can be improved when you make an effort to incorporate a specific element or focal point. It gives the viewer’s eyes something to latch on, instead of wandering all over the image.

The following 6 elements are highly successful.

Foreground Objects

foam algae tire track wet sand beach ocean wide angle @jenphotographs
Foamy tire tracks @jenphotographs

Negative Space (also known as minimalism)

Black and white blue split toning rock climbers ascending in garden of gods
Rock climbers ascend silhouette @jenphotographs

Leading lines and S shapes

sinewy curving tire tracks wet sand foggy mist fog beach ocean @jenphotographs
Sinewy tracks

Movement

pexels-photo-991410.jpeg

Dramatic weather

fog lingers around massive red rocks
Garden of Gods Mist @jenphotographs

Unexpected perspective

aerial shot of frosty forest snow pine fir trees white blue woods
Stock image, aerial shot of frosty forest

#4 Use the right tools

When people think of landscape photography, they often assume wide lens are used. Because you want lens capable of photographing all-encompassing landscapes, right?

While wide lens definitely should be used in landscapes, they shouldn’t be the only type of lens.

For instance, this was photographed with a zoom.

ford truck beach sand wet ocean rocks gold light
Ford truck on beach @jenphotographs

When you photograph during the golden hour, you’ll also be dealing with rapidly declining light. This time of day is notoriously difficult to hand-hold a camera.

Grab a good, sturdy tripod, preferably in carbon fiber — they’re less likely to vibrate in windy conditions.

#5 Go chase weather

Go outside, especially in bad weather. (related post)

You’ll get shots that no one else is getting.

cloudy drab dreary weather seagulls birds flying wet beach ocean sand
Post apocalyptic beach @jenphotographs

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