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There are many, many things that can make up a great landscape photo, however, I cannot name them all here because there is no one set of factors that make up all great landscape images. Each one is great for its own reasons, and the best thing you can do is learn what many of the greatest landscape images have in common and start from there. So here are a few things to think about when you go out hunting for the next greatest landscape photograph.
Great lighting is the key to almost every great photo. Whether it's during the sunrise, sunset, after a storm, or on a partly cloudy day, the differences in lighting conditions can drastically change the look and mood of your landscape photos. Patience is the name of the game here. Most of the time, you have to wait for the right light to capture a great scene. Waking up at noon and going out to capture some landscapes usually isn't the best plan. Early morning and late evening light typically give you the most interesting look. However, every scene is different, and the same type of lighting doesn't work for every shot. But if you have the time, wait for that moment when the sunset creates a deep pink sky, or a wall of storm clouds start to roll in.
One of the most common factors contributing to the beginning photographer's poor landscape shot is the lack of foreground elements. When most people see a beautiful mountain range, they try to take a photo of just the mountain range. But this often ends up being a very bland two-dimensional looking photograph. When you see a beautiful landscape scene, take a look around you. Try to find elements you can add to your scene that will add some depth to the photo. Creating a foreground and middle ground will make your image look more three-dimensional. Things you can look for are flowers, nearby cliffs, trees, lakes or ponds, trails, signs, or even people. In fact, adding a person can add perspective to a photograph, as the viewer will have a reference for how large other objects in the scene are.
Composition is another aspect that is important in all genres of photography, and landscapes are no different. The rule of thirds is always a great place to start when composing a scene, but don't feel that you're limited to this rule. Your angle/perspective is another big determining factor. Looking at a large bluff from the ground is completely different than looking at it from the sky. Changing your angle can let you manipulate the apparent size of some things, making them look taller or smaller. Also think about how much you want to capture in your photo. Oftentimes people want to capture as much as they can in the frame, and so they zoom all the way out. But sometimes moving in and looking closer at a section of the landscape can create a more detailed and unique perspective. Lastly, think about framing elements. This goes along with foreground elements. Using trees or other objects to create a kind of frame around your image can add to its overall appeal.
When it comes down to it, all of the things you're changing are working to alter the image's atmosphere. Sometimes a landscape shot falls short just because it doesn't have the right atmosphere. This is something that can't be configured based on the composition or lighting or camera settings alone. It includes a multitude of factors that can really only be figured out by the feel of a place. When you stand in front of a giant mountain, it feels grand, and it makes you feel small, But how do you translate that into a photograph? There is no straight answer, and this is why there's no one way to create a great landscape photo. Every scene can be presented by a number of different atmospheres. Which one you choose and how you create that particular atmosphere is up to your knowledge and gut feeling about how the shot should be captured. This is no easy task, nor is it a skill that you simply gain and can use over and over again. Sure, the more you shoot, the more you'll learn, and the more ways you'll know how to capture a given scene. But the scenes and conditions will be forever changing, leaving you to experiment every time you encounter a new one.
Written by Spencer Seastrom