Before I begin, I want to note how I got into landscape photography in the first place. Bear with me, it’s relevant to the topic.
I’ve always loved looking at landscape photography books whenever I’m at a book store. Ironically, I was never really interested in doing any landscape photography for myself. I was more interested in shooting scenes on the street (street photography) than I was about hiking somewhere, setting up a tripod, and waiting for a cloud to move near a mountain, or the sun to set just right so that I can get the right shot. Maybe I simply wasn’t patient enough to fall in love with the process of landscape photography.
A few years ago, while staring out the window of my office, I would sometimes daydream about getting out and exploring new places. Didn’t matter if it was a popular spot or rural, I just wanted to get outside more. I would sometimes load up Google Maps and begin selecting random pinpoints until I find an interesting area that was nearby.
While exploring I realized that there was a popular hiking area near my home and decided to visit the visitors center there. While walking around the visitor center, I noticed that it happened to be perfectly located between 2 mountains. I couldn’t help but realize that, when compared to street photography where everything is in close proximity, being in nature made me feel small again. I was looking at these 2 mountains as a child would’ve if they saw a carnival ride.
Early one morning before my kids’ baseball game, I looked at the clock and realized that the sun was just about to rise above those 2 mountains. So I told my kids, “go find your baseball socks” while I drove 2 minutes down to the visitor center to take a pic. It was one of my first landscape photos and though it wasn’t perfect, it was enough for me to see the unique colors of the morning sunrise. That moment sparked my interest in taking landscape photos.
So why did I share that story? Well, I wanted to point out how landscape photography differs from other types of photography. It requires a different process, a different mindset. You’re forced to think BIGGER and view your subjects and notice everything else around it.
So let’s get into a few things that can help you get started with landscape photography.
1) Don’t worry about buying expensive lenses or cameras with big sensors. Your 18-55mm kit lens is fine for now
When you’re shooting pics of mountains and scenics, you’re pretty much going to shoot WIDE angled and with a greater depth of field (ie: f/11+). So that stock 18-55mm kit lens that you were thinking of replacing would totally fit the bill. All you need is a tripod to keep your camera from shaking.
If you need a wider view in your photo, experiment with photo stitching. That’s where you take several pics at different angles (ideally at the same aperture and shutter) and have your photo software, ie: Photoshop, combine them all together into one BIG photo with detail that’s equivalent of a camera with a super HUGE sensor.
2) When composing your shot, find objects that reference and show the scale of your subject
If you’re taking a pic of a mountain, it might be interesting to include that car near the bottom of the hill just to show how big this mountain is. Include it all! If your eyes notice anything interesting enough for you to stop and look at it, it might be worth taking a pic of it.
3) Use a UV, polarizing filter, or simply use the Dehaze, Clarity, or Texture tool in Lightroom/Photoshop
I once had a job next door to a photo studio. One day, the photographer who worked at the studio noticed that I had a camera in my hand. Particularly, he saw that I had a UV filter screwed on to protect my lens from scratches, etc. In theory, it made sense to me at the time. However, the photographer said, “why would you put cheap glass on good glass?” From that day on, I left my lens filters in my bag.
One day I was taking a pic of a lake and had some issues with the glare from the water ripples. I remembered that I had a polarizing filter in my bag and whipped it out. That little (cheap) filter that I had filtered out most of the glare from the water! Sure, I had cheap glass over good, but F-it. It worked.
Luckily today, most of the software that we have available does a pretty decent job of fixing the parts in our photos that our old lens filters used to do. I use the Dehaze, Clarity, or the Texture tool in Lightroom/Photoshop religiously to enhance contrast and detail. My old lens filters are back in the bag.
4) Use Google Maps or Google Earth to scout different locations and angles
With the price of gasoline being as high as it is in California, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of financial sense to drive to random places and walk until you find a cool spot. We’re living in the future now, which means there are easier ways to do old things!
When scouting different areas on Google Maps/Earth, I like to pay attention to where the north is. Why? You’ll be able to predict how the sun rises and sets and where your shadows will be.
And now, my personal opinion…
A few years after that initial moment between the 2 mountains, I came to the conclusion that landscape photography STILL wasn’t as interesting as street photography.
For one, taking a landscape photo STILL requires a lot of patience which involves camping around just to get the perfect shot. You also run the risk of taking pics in the same spot as other photographers who visited the same exact spot.
At least with street photography, you’re taking pics of random people, doing random things, in random places. You never really know what you’re going to get.
Plus, I’m a fan of bokeh in photographs. With landscape photography, you’re usually doing quite the opposite of all that by shooting with a greater depth of field.
But on the flipside, landscape photography is so much cheaper when compared to virtually any other kind of photography. You don’t need a super-fast expensive lens to do landscape photography, just a tripod. You don’t really need a flash either (again, you’ve got a tripod). Other types of photography usually require a fast lens (ie: f/2.8 or faster) just to get that creamy bokeh in the background. Some require you to chase bigger sensors that can run your pockets into the thousands.
But I guess we’re just comparing apples to oranges and that it really all comes down to preference at the end of the day.
Have fun and good luck!