It's a goal we all strive for as landscape photographers...
To create photos that look like the ones we drool over in magazines and online forums.
Of course, most of us (myself included) spend a little too much time trying to cut corners and get a quick shot that we hope will look awesome.
But that's just not how it works to get a stunning landscape photo, at least not most of the time.
I'll say that a couple of my favorite landscape photos that I've ever taken were totally unplanned, having literally seen something out the car window, pulled over, and snapped a shot.
But those situations are few and far between.
That means that the rest of the time, we need to rely on a few tried-and-true landscape photography tips to get us the results we want.
Here's four dead-simple tips that will have a marked impact on the quality of your photos.
I know that not every landscape photographer is the patient type (I'm certainly not).
But patience is a majority of the battle when you're trying to find the shot that knocks your socks off.
Patience comes into the equation at all stages - you need to be patient when planning your photo shoot, patient in finding the best vantage point, patient in waiting for the ideal lighting conditions, and so forth.
I'd argue that landscape photography is as much patience as it is actually knowing how to take a good photo.
Don't be one of those photographers that shows up, snaps 10 or 15 shots, and packs up and leaves.
Instead, get yourself and your gear set up, watch, sit, and wait for the ideal moment. The images you create will make all that patience more than worth it!
Be Ready at a Moment's Notice
There's something to be said for patience, but when time is of the essence, you also need to be able to act.
Perfect lighting might be fleeting, and if you're caught flat on your feet, you could very well miss the moment and end up without your ideal landscape photo.
The biggest factor in being ready at a moment's notice is to actually know how to use your camera.
I realize this is a no-brainer, but I know plenty of photographers that panic when time is short and mess something up - usually with metering or exposure.
I'm a big advocate of shooting in manual mode because I can do a better job of gauging what exposure settings are needed than my camera can.
But - and this is a big but - if you're short on time, your camera's semi-automatic modes like aperture priority, shutter priority, and program can give you the leg up you need to shoot quick and with the right settings.
To take that a step further, it's not enough to know what the little letters on the mode dial on your camera mean. You actually need to practice using those modes so you can make on-the-fly adjustments when needed.
It's cliche to say it, but practice really does make perfect!
Manage the Light
Photography is all about lighting, and if you aren't locked-in with an understanding of lighting and how to use it, you'll have a much more difficult time creating images like the pros.
For starters, the quality of light changes as the day goes on.
During the middle of the day, the light is harsh with a lot of contrast - neither quality is particularly good for landscapes.
But at sunrise and sunset, Golden Hour lighting is soft and diffuse, creating a much more pleasing light for landscape photography.
See how to maximize the use of Golden Hour lighting in the video below by Mark Wallace and AdoramaTV:
But managing light isn't just about timing. It's also about looking for the direction of light that is best suited to your photo.
When it comes to landscape photography, sidelighting - that is, light that enters the scene from the left or right of the scene you're photographing - can be extremely beneficial for creating a dramatic photo.
That's because sidelighting creates long shadows that give contrast to the scene, as well as create depth, as seen in the shot below.
Notice how the long shadows created by the hills give a little darkness to the shot that contrasts so nicely with the highlighted areas of the scene.
Also notice how the contours of the plants and hills are on full display due to the low-slung sidelighting entering the scene from the left.
Just imagine this same shot had it been taken with the sun overhead - it wouldn't be nearly as dramatic, would it?
This isn't to say that you can't take a great landscape photo with frontlighting or backlighting or even during the middle of the day. But if it's drama you're after, try shooting during Golden Hour with sidelighting.
Use a Tripod
Is shooting handheld more convenient? Yes.
Is it more fun? Perhaps.
Do you get as good of a result as when you mount your camera to a tripod? No.
Yes, there are times when using a tripod just isn't possible, but by and large, using a tripod for landscape photography will get you better images.
You can even use a tripod and still get a very low angle perspective, which is often quite eye-catching. Learn how to do that in the video below by Benjamin Jaworskyj:
By giving your camera a stable base, you instantly increase your chances of getting a sharp photo.
What's more, having a tripod-mounted camera allows you to do some creative photography too, like using a neutral density filter and taking a long exposure or using a camera remote to take a time-lapse video.
And it's not like every tripod on the market is big, bulky, and expensive, either.
Your camera and lens should obviously be the first investment you make in photography gear, but the third should be a good tripod. Your images will be better for it!
Have a Vision
There are lots of ways to get a great landscape photo, but most of them involve some amount of artistic vision.
Call it planning, brainstorming, getting inspired - whatever you want - but it's necessary to put some thought into the shots you take.
This involves planning your shoot - where to go, when to go, and how to get there.
It also involves finding a good spot to take the photo - a process that starts at home before you leave and will continue once you get to the desired location.
Having a vision also requires that you work on composition and framing such that the images you take have maximum impact.
It also necessitates that you tell a story about the landscape before you.
Each of these things requires time and patience, and the process you develop for bringing your vision to life will be different from everyone else's.
But the point is to be prepared and take the necessary steps to get your vision into your camera and your images out into the world to tell your story.
When you can do that, you'll find that your photos look less amateurish and more like the pros!