Landscape photography is probably one of the most accepted forms of photography, on both the professional and amateur level. This is because it is hard to dispute what is shown, there are no models to direct, and there is nothing that can be quickly changed. It is the photography of nature in all of it’s grandeur. But because of this, it presents a challenge most photographers cannot cope with, or grasp on a fundamental level. This goes back to the idea that anybody with a camera can take a picture, and eventually they will take an amazing one, but what separates them from professional photographers is the concept, the design, the time light, and of course the shot.
This is something that tends to baffle a good number of photographers, and what marks a landscape photographer. If you live in Colorado mountains are a natural part of the landscape, in Kansas endless crops and prairies. SO this is what you should shoot right? Wrong. You need to find something outside of what is the natural in nature. It may sound like an absurd concept, but it is no different then trying to shoot a model in a way never done before. That is what your concept should be in landscape photography epic beauty or anomaly in nature. These two extremes are what make up the basic concept of landscape photography.
For example, I started out doing landscape photography in Northwest Oklahoma, a land characterized by nothing. Not trying to be cryptic, there is literally nothing there, no expanding crop fields, no rolling prairies, no mountains, just flat short cut grassland barren of any life only marked by fences put up more than 80 years ago. Instead of trying to shoot the grasslands in interesting ways, I sought out landscapes, and found them. I found a half acre forest, 50 foot sinkholes, and expanding shallow valleys, among other things. All of these were so completely out of character in this area that they because instant hits with the local people. Of course I did shoot grasslands, but usually only in supplement, contrast, or in rare cases of epic beauty.
Designing a Landscape
This idea sounds like an absurdity to many people, but they do not understand what it really implies. Designing a landscape does not mean that you should go out and level mountains or fill valleys, but rather, conceive how you want it to look before you start shooting. Mentally design how you want your landscape to look. Do you want that single tree in the landscape? What about that mountain in the distance? Should the sun be rising or setting? You need to decide all of these factors before you start shooting, so that you can find the perfect form to shoot. Unlike shooting a model, a landscape will rarely change, so take your time to design how you want the shot to look. Just don’t forget to design multiple shots, and include ones you never intended.
The lack of controlled lighting is the bane and power of a landscape photographer. Shooting models allows a photography to control the light on the subject, but when shooting landscapes you not only need to decide what time would be the best the best to shoot, but also how to manage that time since you will only be allotted between 30 to 60 minutes to capture anywhere near that preferred lighting.
Many landscape photographs are taken at two particular points during the day, Morning and Afternoon. These two points during the day provide the most interesting light when dealing with landscapes, they do it in two different ways though. Morning light tends to have a more “Happy” feel to it, and providing a blueish cool color tint to the image. Afternoon light tends to have a more somber and relaxing feel to it, and provides a reddish warm color tint to an image. These are not the only two times landscapes should be shot, however. Many amazing landscapes have been shot at noon or midnight as well.
After understanding the concept, design, and time light when dealing with landscape photography, it comes time to actually shoot the landscapes. While much of this will relate back to previous points I’ve made on shooting, and also be personal style relative, there are many things to keep in mind when shooting landscapes. Do not shot a landscape in a standing position, it will always look bland and sub-par. This is because you are not shooting anything interesting, you are only shooting what people can already see. Crouching or climbing, and even camera tilting will not help this much, however. Instead you need to take the idea of angling to a new extreme. Create an unnatural angle by shooting upwards, downwards, or at some other extreme angle. The harder the angle is to achieve, usually the more profound the image is.
For example, image how many roads are shot. They are usually done just above ground level, but where the real difference comes in is the curvature of the earth, the road, and the primary focus in the image. Because of these elements, no matter how cliche shooting a road is, there are still interesting photos of them.