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Landscape photography seeks to capture the magnificence of the natural world around us, portraying nature and the fleeting human experience of being amongst it. However, as any photographer who has tried their hand at landscape photography will tell you, there are some serious challenges that you need to learn to overcome.
In the first instance, being aware of the challenges will help you to avoid them or, at the very least, mitigate their impact on your work; but ultimately, you’ll have to practise and master the artform of working in the natural world to capture the images that you envisage.
The main problems that you will face while taking landscape photos relate to the environment itself, which always brings unique challenges of its own depending on the terrain, weather and location you’re working in. You’ll also need to learn about the techniques that you can use to get the best photos while you are out in the field and far away from the controlled situation in your studio!
Travel and Getting To The Right Location!
Landscape photos are, by definition, taken in locations that are off the beaten track and are often miles from the centers of civilization! Since most people in the modern world live in built up towns and cities you are going to have to travel to reach those special sites where you can create wonderful landscapes that will inspire your fellow city dwellers.
Most landscape photographers do have an innate love of the natural world and so the necessary travel to reach the best locations can be seen as an exciting adventure. While you are travelling out into the wilderness, especially if you’re fairly new to it, you need to take care to keep yourself safe.
For instance, in some areas, you need to be aware of the potential dangers of animals such as bears or snakes. In other situations, when you are travelling to remote locations you should always tell somebody at home where you are planning to go and the approximate time that you expect to be back. If you don’t get back on time and they haven’t heard from you then they can alert the authorities in case you’ve had an accident and need to be rescued.
The Weather Is Often Unpredictable.
You should try to check the weather forecast before you plan a trip out into the natural environment to take landscape photos but even at the best of times their predictions are never perfect. From a safety point of view you should always take waterproof clothes with you in case you get caught in the rain as well as waterproof protection for your camera and gear.
However, even if the weather isn’t sunny with a perfectly clear blue sky it doesn’t need to be a problem from a landscape photography point of view. Some of the best landscapes are taken in thick fog, rain or under dark heavy skies with dramatic clouds and lighting. Remember, that some of the most impactful landscape photos are taken in the very worst weather conditions!
The lesson to be learnt is that when you’re working in the wilderness you can never control the elements around you and so you’ll have become adept at working in a whole range of conditions. As a landscape photographer you need to be able to combine good preparation, in terms of bringing spare waterproof clothes, with a flexible and adventurous approach to your work.
Catching The Best Lighting Is Not Easy.
When you’re working out of doors you cannot rely on any artificial lighting so you’ll have to time your photos well to get the kind of lighting you’re looking for. The ideal time for soft, mellow lighting with lovely orange hues is during the Golden Hour, just after sunrise and before sunset. However, you can also make use of the strong overhead light at noon which produces harsh contrasts and short shadows.
The challenge as a landscape photographer is to time your photos to fit with the available lighting. It might be that some photos will look far better during the Golden Hour while others are better during the heat of the midday sun. It can really help if you have been to the area before so you can plan your expedition to be in the right place at the right time of day. You should also try to arrive at the location with a little time to spare so you can set up your camera before the lighting is just right.
It’s Difficult To Capture The Scenery As It Appears To The Naked Eye.
One of the most difficult things about landscape photography is managing to capture what you are seeing with your eyes by using the camera! This might sound like an obvious challenge, but it’s a barrier that landscape photographers often find themselves facing.
This can be especially true around sunrise and sunset when the camera might not be able to capture the dynamic range of colors, hues and the differences between shadows and highlights that you are seeing with your eyes. When shooting in locations such as canyons, forests or snowy scenery this problem can be especially noticeable.
One way that you can overcome this is to use a graduated neutral density filter to help to balance out the bright light, darkening the sky, while maintaining the clarity of the foreground.
Alternatively, you can use bracketed exposures to create an HDR image. This allows you to merge several exposures into one image that combines to give you the dynamic range you want. This means that you don’t have to carry a filter around with you but it does take more time in the editing suite and will also take up more space on your memory card.
Where Should You Focus While Shooting Landscape Photography?
Another common problem you might face while shooting photos in the great outdoors is not knowing where to focus in the frame and how to get the maximum depth of field.
Generally you want to get as much of the image in focus as possible although at other times you might want to pick out a particular detail in the scene, such as a bridge, tree or a boat floating in a lake.
Here’s a few tips to help you with the challenges of choosing the right way to get the focus you want while you’re out in the field.
- You can use a wide angle lens to get a larger depth of field which will allow you to get more of the scenery in focus. If you are using a telephoto lens you will be able to pick out details of the landscape in the distance but you’ll have a much shallower depth of field and consequently less of the frame will be in sharp focus.
- You can use the hyperfocal distance on your lens to maximize the depth of field, regardless of the lens you are using. This will let you get as much of the scenery in focus as your lens will allow. You can use apps to determine what this focal length is or else practise, practise and practise some more! It’s a very useful technique though which should be mastered by all landscape photographers.
- If you’re shooting in a busy or cluttered landscape, such as a woodland for example, then it is often best to focus sharply on a particular detail, like an interestingly shaped tree. You can take this to the extreme and create a bokeh background by using a very shallow depth of field or else allow the background to fade more gradually out of focus.
Keeping Generic Landscape Interesting.
While it might be undeniable that a lake with a mountain range in the background is stunning to see in reality when you take a photo of it then the outcome can look fairly generic and boring for your audience. This is not because the scenery isn’t beautiful but because your audiences have seen images just like it a thousand times before.
So, when you’re thinking about photographing an amazing scene that could come across to your audience as generic, try to look for some interesting or unusual features in the landscape that you can use as a focal point. For example, man made structures such as bridges, isolated houses or a boat can give your image the impact it needs while still capturing the incredible scenery in the background.
Alternatively, you can use wildlife to add interest or use objects in the foreground to frame the image. You can position a tree in the foreground of the image and use it to frame the scenery in the background. This can be used to powerful effect and so remember, just because you’re taking landscape photos it doesn’t mean that you can’t stop being imaginative and creative!
Selecting The Right Locations – It May Take Time.
When you’re working as a landscape photographer the location is of absolutely central importance; which means that finding the right one is vital to come away with some top quality images.
It’s not always as easy as it sounds though to find a great location and it may take some serious walking, exploring and motivation. One great piece of advice is to find locations that you can return to again and again so you really get to know your way around and can mentally bookmark sites to return on. You might find a spot that would be great to take photos from on a gloomy misty day, while others might be perfect for a sunny day with a blue sky or a snowy winter’s day.
One way that you can help yourself start to document the different sites for shooting from is to learn to read a map and start marking down places on it. You can simply put a number by the site on the map and then in a notebook write down a few details about it and make a note of when it would be good to return – for instance, you might write, ‘excellent view of mountains, perfect for a day with dramatic clouds’ or ‘waterfall, good for photos on a bright sunny day’.
By noting down as many details as possible about your locations you can save yourself time on future photoshoots and visit the spots which are suited to the weather and seasonal conditions that you’re in at the time. Also, as you return to the location again and again, keep taking notes and eventually you’ll have most of the terrain well marked out which will give you a huge range of options in the future!
Demand For Landscape Photographers Is Not Very High.
One of the toughest things about working as a landscape photographer is finding clients who are willing to pay for your expertise! Unlike genres such as portraiture, wedding photography and product photography it can be very difficult to generate a sustainable income.
Many photographers work in a professional capacity in other genres and then shoot landscapes as a passion project in their free time however if you don’t want to go down this route you’ll have to be very entrepreneurial to make ends meet. You will need a website to promote your work and to use as a hub for your marketing.
You can produce photo books, calendars and posters which you can sell but the income you make will depend as much on your marketing abilities as the quality of your work.
The Challenges Faced By Landscape Photographers Are Manifold But Can All Be Overcome.
Experience, practise and good forward planning will all help you to succeed as a landscape photographer but so will creativity, imagination and a genuine love for the natural world.
You’re also going to need a good deal of patience to work as a landscape photographer because you will need to wait for the right weather and lighting in the uncontrolled environment of the wilderness!
Nonetheless, when you get a photo right and manage to capture the grand splendor of the natural world there’s no better feeling; and when your audience sees your work not only will they enjoy the images in their own right but it also helps them to value the environment and see how precious it really is for us all.
What are the challenges you face in landscape photography?