If you're like me and you're a fan of landscape photography, you're always on the prowl for a way to improve your photos.
On many occasions, the way to improve our photos rests in time-intensive things - learning how to compose a better shot, getting familiar with your camera settings, or discovering ways to use post-processing to enhance and improve your images.
Those things are certainly important, and I don't want to give the impression that you shouldn't pursue those avenues to improve your landscape photography.
However, there's something else you can do that will have an immediate, positive impact on your landscape photos, and it doesn't take a lot of time, either.
All you have to do is scout for locations to shoot.
Hear me out on this...
When I started in photography, I would get in my car, drive someplace I knew was pretty, get out of my car, and take a few photos.
I got some decent shots, but after awhile, I realized I was just relying on the same pretty spots over and over again.
The result was a whole lot of photos that looked a whole lot alike...
The key to taking my landscape photography to the next level was in finding new spots to take different photos.
Here's how you can do that both quickly and easily.
Going out and exploring isn't necessarily a quick solution.
But I would argue that when you're out exploring, at least you're having fun, and it will seem like you haven't invested as much time in the process as you really do.
Exploring doesn't have to be a daylong adventure, either (though, that would be nice!).
Instead, take the opportunity to explore areas near you. Heck, walk down your street, visit the local park, drive to a nearby recreation area...
The point here is that there are opportunities for taking beautiful landscape photos within just a few minutes of just about anyone's house. It's just a matter of pounding the pavement, so to speak, and seeing what options are there.
But even if you go someplace iconic like Joshua Tree or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, still commit yourself to exploring.
Quick Tip: In other words, don't just settle for postcard shots that everyone else takes. Walk around, find new vantage points, and work on framing iconic spots in an interesting way. The more unique your images are - even of great subjects like Half Dome - the more impressive they will be.
Peruse the Work of Others
When I'm needing some inspiration, the first place I turn to is the internet.
And, boy, are there some incredibly talented landscape photographers out there to admire!
The great thing about checking out other people's landscape photos is that it's something you can do a few minutes at a time.
When you break for lunch, grab your phone and scope out a few images of a nearby location.
After you put the kids to bed, plop down on the couch, fire up your favorite TV show on the DVR, and investigate how other people have tackled landscape photography.
Go to local art shows. Search Google for images of a place you want to photograph. Just get "out there" and get inspired by what others have done and the locations they've photographed.
The point is that you never know when you might stumble across a photo of a location near you that's stunningly beautiful, but that you've never heard of.
Quick Tip: This isn't a license to try and copy someone else's work...Instead, this is all about getting inspired. The more inspired you are, the harder you'll work to create something beautiful!
Create a Shot List
Once you've done some research and have a better idea of what to photograph and where, it's time to build a shot list.
Think of a shot list as your photography bucket list - it's a guideline, and even a challenge for you to commit to getting out there and taking more photos (and better ones, too!).
For me, building a shot list gave me a concrete pathway to taking better photos.
Because it got me out with my camera more. And the more I was out, the more photos I took. The more photos I took, the better I became at everything from composition to exposure.
Another benefit of creating a shot list is that it forces you to visit different locations. That means no more looking at the same photos of the same subjects over and over again.
That variety will challenge you to learn how to work in different environments with different subjects. The photos you took last week at the beach at sunset require a different approach than the ones of the snow-covered mountains on a cloudy day the following weekend.
Again, this is all about challenging yourself to learn and grow as a photographer so that you can see better results in the photos you take.
Quick Tip: When creating your shot list, try not to edit it. Just put pen to paper and write down every location that comes to mind, no matter how impossible it might be for you to actually go there to take photos. Then go back a step or two and explore the photos that others have taken at those locations. That way, when you finally do visit your shot list locations, you'll have a better idea of what you want to do with your images.
Putting It All Together
As I noted in the introduction, there's a wealth of things you can do to improve your landscape photography.
But one of the most fundamental approaches to improving your work is to simply find new ways to photograph old landscapes and challenge yourself to find new locations to feature in your image.
Whether you're out exploring for an afternoon, taking a few minutes to see what others have done online, or developing your landscape photography shot list, these steps will inspire you to work harder and find new ways to take landscape photos.
That might mean early mornings or late nights. It might require some hiking around or long drives in the car. But if better images is what you want, you have to put in the work to get the best shots.
Here's a little more inspiration for your landscape photography from Thomas Heaton: