Ten Truths of Landscape Photography

Sorry to be bearer of bad news, but you often have to suffer to get the shot. This is perhaps one of the most important truths of landscape photography. 75 degrees and sunny blue skies doesn’t always translate to beautiful images. If you want to go home with an incredible shot, there’s a good chance that you will have to suffer. That might mean waking up at an ungodly hours of the morning, shooting in freezing temperatures, working in the rain, hiking long distances or a combination of the four. If you are not willing to suffer for your art, then you will never reach your full potential. Keep in mind that there is a difference between suffering for your art and Dying for your art. The later is not advisable and you should never push yourself harder than what you are comfortably capable of.

One of the most frustrating things that can happen to a landscape photographer is to experience incredible light while not knowing where to shoot. It’s happened to all of us at some point for one reason or another. The goal is to eliminate this from happening as much as possible. The more prepared you are at sunset or sunrise, the more likely you will walk away with “the shot”.

So, how do you prepare? If you can, it is always beneficial to visit your shooting location at a time of day when the light is less desirable. This will allow you to thoughtfully scan the scene, giving you time to look for foreground objects as well as any distractions. Once you find a nice foreground element, you have to consider where the sun will be during the time of your shoot and try to envision how the light will look at that time. This is easier said than done, but it gets easier with time. Now that you know what you want to shoot and where the sun is going to be, you can decide how you want to frame up the shot. I often bring my camera with me when I’m scouting so I know exactly where to place it when the time comes. Being prepared is the main ingredient in the the recipe for success. Cheesy but true!

The truth is that I experience inadequate light much more often than Incrediable light. If you want a shot with unique light, there’s a good chance that you will have to visit that location more than once. Sometimes luck is in our favor, but I would not count on it. When planning a photography trip, it is a good idea to give yourself a few days to tackle your most desired shots. This will give you time scout as well as increase your odds of getting really great light.

One of the most frequent questions I hear is, “do I need to use physical filters in landscape photography?” The answer is YES! There is a common misconception that you can just “fix it in post”. I strongly disagree with this mindset. There is no editor that is going to remove glare from a river like a polarizing filter does. No photographer should be without one. My favorite brands of polarizers are Breakthrough and Tiffen. Both are made in the USA as well.

Neutral Density filters are probably my favorite filters to use. ND filters allow photographers to shoot much longer exposures than they could with just their camera’s native settings. Even though you can combine multiple shots to simulate a long exposure in post, it is by no means the best practice and will more than likely result in “ghosting”. I highly recommend using a quality ND filter instead. Breakthrough makes the most color neutral filters that I have found and they are backed by a 25 year warranty.

What about Graduated ND filters? This is sort of a grey area for photographers. I recommend having at least one 3 stop grad in your bag. I have two, one hard 3 stop and one soft 3 stop. These filters can be extremely useful when shooting near the ocean where you may only have once chance to nail the shot before a wave causes your tripod to sink into the sand. With that being said, there are times that I prefer not to use grad filters. When I’m shooting in the mountains, I sometimes opt to shoot one dark and one light exposure and then blend the two together in post. I use Breakthrough grad filters because they are made of glass instead of resin like most other brands.

UV filters produce no visual effect on digital cameras, but can be very useful for protecting the front element of your lens. UV filters are much cheaper than lenses and I’d much rather scratch a filter than a lens. One thing to be aware of is that UV filters can cause strange refractions at night when you point your camera towards electric lights. I will sometimes remove all filters under these circumstances.

Tripods are tools, not toys. If you buy a tripod that is priced like a toy, it will act like a toy. If you buy a tripod that is priced like a tool, it will act like a tool. If you’re going to spend thousands of dollars on a camera and lenses, why would you feel comfortable leaving it four feet off of the ground on a hundred dollar tripod? I’m not saying that you need to buy the most expensive gear out there, but you should not be buying the cheapest gear out there either.

There are three characteristics of a tripod. Weight, durability, and cost. Here’s the kicker though. You only get to choose two out of the three. If you want a cheap and durable tripod, it’s going to be heavy. If you want a durable and light tripod, it’s going to be expensive. never go for the third option which is cheap, light, and flimsy.

I use a Gitzo Systematic as my main tripod and an Induro CLT 303 as my backup. Both Tripods have Really Right StuffBH-40 quick release ball heads on them.

It is important to give your eyes a break when editing. If you stare at a screen for too long, your eyes will become fatigued. It is important to work in a well lit area and take breaks regularly when editing. This will give your eyes a chance to rest as well as give you the opportunity to look at the image with a fresh mindset when you return to your computer. I like to save snapshots of alternate edits while I work in Lightroom and Photoshop. This helps me quickly browse though different versions of the image while examining which one looks best. I would refrain from printing or posting anything online until you have stepped away from the computer for at least an hour. Letting the image rest over night is usually best habit to get into. I often make minor tweaks to an image after I see it with rested eyes.

One of the biggest mistakes that photographers make is editing their images too dark for print. I often edit two versions of my images, one for screen and another for print. The print image is always edited brighter than the screen version. I use an iMac to process my images and generally work with the brightness two to three clicks down from full brightness. Generally, the image will still look a little too bright on the monitor but the prints turn out great. You should always do a small proof before investing a lot of money in a large print.

So you’ve got some really nice prints that are sale worthy… next step, set up a web store and watch the cash roll in, right? Wrong! Although you may sell a few prints simply be placing them on your website, don’t expect to rake in the dough. If you really want to sell any volume of prints, you will have to try much harder than just setting up a website. People are so overwhelmed with online content that they rarely purchase photography online. A more lucrative approach might be to display your work in a local gallery of coffee shop. When people see a physical print there is a much greater emotional attachment to that image and they will start to visualize what it will look like in their home. This is what sells prints best.

We live in a digital age and it’s very easy to get wrapped up in social media. Yes, social media can be a great way to reach an audience that was previously inaccessible just a few years ago, but it is also important to remember that social media is quite superficial. The success of your account is not directly tied to the quality of your work. Yes, having good content certainly helps, but I would argue that marketing and engagement play a larger roll in the size of your following. Which explains why it is not uncommon to see an account with 60,000 followers and sub par content. At the same time, some of the best images I’ve seen on Instagram have come from people with relatively few followers. In fact, I know many successful full time photographers who have 1,000 followers or less. I’m not trying to discourage you from using social media. Rather, I’m trying to encourage you to do your art without getting too caught up in the popularity contest that is social media.

Someone once said to me “I see all of these photographers walking around Yosemite, how do you know which ones are good?” I explained, most professional photographers are nice. They don’t have a reason to be angry because they are comfortable in what they are doing and doing what they love. The next time you come across one of those jerk photographers, just remember that they are hiding something and they are being a jerk to compensate for the fact…

Originally published at https://wardynskiphoto.com on May 20, 2019.

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Mike Wardynski

Mike Wardynski

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Professional landscape photographer and instructor with a passion for preserving mother earth.