Creating a dynamic, interesting, and beautiful landscape image takes much more than holding your camera up to the landscape and pressing the shutter button. In fact, it’s much more than composing and framing the image well, dialing in the right camera settings, and using all the necessary accessories, like a tripod and shutter release cable, to ensure your camera has the best chance of capturing a sharp image.
The very best landscape images build on these basics and have a voice. They tell a story. Ansel Adams was a master at telling stories with his images - that’s why they are so widely regarded. It’s not that others haven’t taken photos that are equally as breathtaking as his; it’s just that he was a supreme storyteller.
Let’s explore how you can tell better stories with your landscape photos by becoming more engaged with the landscape you seek to photograph.
Dawn is Where It’s At
Sunset gets a lot of attention from photographers, and it’s easy to see why. Sunsets are often dramatic, colorful, and intense, and create an incredible backdrop for a beautiful landscape image.
However, sunrise affords you the ability to interact with a landscape in a much different way, and one in which you might be able to tell a more engaging story.
Dawn might present you with soft, pink light. It might also be intense and yellow. If the night before was relatively cold, you might have fog and mist to work with. If there is wildlife in the area, the chances are that you will see a critter here or there that’s just waking up and venturing out into the world for the day. What better compliments a landscape than a colorful sky, fog and mist, and an animal or two?
Simplicity is Key
There is often a temptation to pump up the volume of a landscape, so to speak. You might throw a filter on your lens or increase the saturation in post-processing. There might be layers and layers in Photoshop, each with a different purpose, each addressing one “problem” or another to make the image look as perfect as possible.
And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with processing your photos, there is something to be said about letting the scene speak for itself. After all, it was beautiful enough to make you stop and take a photo, so why can’t your photo be beautiful enough on its own to stop people to have a look?
Doing some touch ups here and there will go a lot further toward making your image perfect than you often realize, so hold off on the overprocessing and see what a simple editing approach will do. You might be surprised! Besides, taking a more minimal approach to editing allows the image to tell the real story of the scene you photographed, not the heavily edited version that often ends up looking sterile and cold.
Go Back Over and Over Again
One of the best ways to tell a story with your photos is to capture the same scene over and over again. If you’ve got a favorite spot to photograph, go there on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to see how it changes over the course of a year. After all, what you think is spectacular in the summertime might just be jaw-dropping come winter.
Additionally, there’s a bit of luck involved in landscape photography, so increasing the number of visits you pay to a particular location will increase your chances of hitting the jackpot. Timing is everything, and where you miss a good opportunity for a gorgeous shot one day, you might find an even better opportunity another day. And, as you continue to go back over and over again, you’ll be able to develop a good rapport with that location, become more comfortable photographing it, and find more success that way as well.
Stop Focusing on the Equipment You Use
Gear lust is a common problem for all photographers, and landscape photographers are no exception. The problem with gear lust, aside from the price tag associated with many photography implements, is that getting newer or better gear does not a better photograph make.
Your camera simply captures an image of what you point it at and creates a representation of that scene for you to share with others. Ultimately, you are responsible for how a photograph looks. You compose it. You frame it. You ensure the horizon line is level. The sooner you realize this, the photos you take will improve on a much larger scale. If you focus on developing technique rather than your collection of gear, if you work on finding ways to engage more deeply with the landscape and help it tell its story, the sooner your photos will start to look like those you admire.