Landscape is one of the most popular photography genres and, because of that, it’s easy to find thousands of stunning examples online to give you ideas of where to shoot and inspire your creativity. But it’s equally easy to get into the mindset that to shoot the perfect landscape image you need to have a combination of specific elements and without any one of them your shot will be a failure. Of course, that isn’t true. To prove it, we’ve taken six commonly-held beliefs about landscape photography and deconstructed them to explain why they aren’t always the case. This isn’t to say you should ignore these ‘rules’ but more that straying away from these ideas can still get you great landscape images.
Myth 1: You have to shoot at a certain time of day
Landscape photographers will often talk about the magical light around the blue hour (the time before sunrise and after sunset) and the golden hour (the time after sunrise and before sunset). It’s absolutely right that these can be great times to be out with your camera, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot at other times of the day. In the winter months, the light is great all day long because the sun stays low in the sky, and even in the summer months – when the sun is high in the sky – you can still capture great results. If you want to shoot landscapes in the summer, be sure to pack a polarizing filter which will cut down reflections in water and help saturate colours. Alternatively, consider heading to woodland and get out of the harsher sunlight to shoot waterfalls and rivers. In a similar vein, don’t think the sun has to be shining – bad weather can produce some outstanding landscapes.
Myth 2: Your camera has to be on a tripod
A tripod or other form of support serves two key purposes when shooting a landscape. First, it avoids any shake so your images will be pin sharp and second, it slows the picture taking process down, so the resulting images are more considered. But not using a tripod doesn’t mean those things can’t happen. Modern image stabilisation technologies can help you capture pin-sharp images without the need for a tripod and hand-holding the camera does give you more creative freedom. You can clamber to a higher viewpoint, crouch down low and explore all compositional possibilities while a tripod user is still getting their camera set up – just make sure you stop to check you’ve got the right shot before pressing the shutter. Naturally, you could also embrace camera movement and shoot some Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) images. This involves setting a slow shutter speed and intentionally moving the camera during the exposure. This technique works best on landscapes that have well defined horizontal or vertical lines.
Myth 3: You need a wide angle lens
Great landscapes always show the vastness of the location by using a wide angle lens, right? Wrong! Wide angle lenses are great if you do have a wide scene where you want to capture as much as possible, but a telephoto lens can be just as effective. They’re great for isolating specific details in a landscape, such as a lone tree by the side of a lake, or compressing perspective so that mountains appear almost stacked on top of one another. Try heading out to shoot landscapes with just a telephoto lens and see what you come home with.
Myth 4: You shouldn’t include people
Purists will say that landscapes should be photographed just as nature intended – with no evidence of human beings in them, but we say people can add a much needed element to your landscape shots. What better way to add a sense of scale to a landscape than by including a person to show just how tall those mountains are, how steep those valley sides are or how wide that river is. Of course, the trick is to make sure that the person you include fits in with their surroundings, so it’s best to avoid people wearing jeans and trainers, but someone in appropriate outdoor gear is a great idea to include in your shots.
Myth 5: You need to be in a beautiful location
Landscape photography can be tackled anywhere – you don’t have to visit the well known locations where you can spot tripod holes in the ground. The key here is teaching yourself to look at familiar locations in a new way. Start by trying to capture a landscape within walking distance from your home – try to imagine that you’re seeing the area for the very first time; what elements stand out and how can you capture them effectively? Once you’ve done that, try going to a new location and trying the same approach. City-dwellers don’t get out of this, either. Who says a landscape has to include rolling hills, trees or rivers? A town or city produces just as many landscape photo opportunities.
Myth 6: You have to follow compositional rules
Frames, lead-in lines and the rule of thirds are just some of the compositional rules that are often deployed when shooting landscape images. They’re effective in helping create balanced photographs, but they’re not the be all and end all. Be bold with your compositions – fill the frame with the sky, put the horizon across the middle of the frame, place that lone tree right in the centre of the frame. Rules are made to be broken and when it comes to composition, be bold!