Most landscape photographers are self-taught. They may have read books, watched videos, or used other resources to help along the way, but most have no formal training or education related to photography. When I did a series of interviews with accomplished landscape and nature photographers, I always asked if they had any formal training. About 90% of them said they had no formal training.
Landscape photography is definitely a skill that you can learn and master on your own, but it takes a lot of trial and error. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the common challenges that new nature photographers face, as well as how to overcome these challenges.
Landscape photography is definitely a skill that you can learn and master on your own, but it takes a lot of trial and error. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the common challenges that new nature photographers face, as well as how to overcome these challenges. The best way to improve your photography is to simply get more practice. If you make a commitment to get out and photograph on a regular basis you will see the results.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a 52-week challenge for anyone who wants to be more active and see their landscape and nature photography skills improve.
This is intended to be a loose guide that will give you suggested tasks so you’ll never feel like you’re out of ideas. If you decide to take part in the challenge you don’t need to follow each week in order, and you can start at any time throughout the year. Some of the tasks require you to be at a certain type of location (for example, a waterfall) or in a specific season.
Feel free to tackle each challenge as you are able and as nature allows. If you can’t do one now, skip it and come back to it later.
We have a printable checklist that you can download to help chart your progress. Just check off each task as you accomplish it.
If you’d like to share your photos please feel free to post them on our Facebook page.
Week 1. Create an Account to Share Your Photos and Get Feedback
As you go through this 52-week challenge it will be helpful and encouraging to share your photos and get feedback from others. Sites like Flickr and 500px are excellent options for showcasing and sharing your work. Before you dive into the challenge, take a few moments to set up a profile at one of these sites. Sharing your photos give you the chance to get feedback that may help you to improve.
You can even submit your photos to forum threads that are dedicated to photo critiques, where you’ll be sure to get constructive criticism. Not only will the feedback help you to improve, but simply knowing that you are going to share your photos publically can motivate and inspire you to create your best work. Every photographer, amateur or professional, would love to get positive responses from their work, so it’s just natural that you’ll want to do your best if others are going to see it.
Week 2. Overlook or Vista
Photograph the view from a scenic overlook, vista, or viewpoint. It could be an official overlook on a road, a scenic view in a park, or a high point that you can hike to. The best photos from overlooks will feature a focal point or something of interest rather than just a valley view from above.
Find something interesting to include in your shot, or use an element like a creek or river to create a pleasing composition.
Week 3. Sunset
One of the most popular options for a landscape photo is the sunset. This time of day brings beautiful light and makes any scene more interesting. You can include the sun in your composition, or wait until the sun tucks just below the horizon to get beautiful colors in the sky.
For more, see Tips for Better Sunset Photography.
Week 4. Sunrise
Like the sunset, sunrise is an amazing time to photograph in spectacular light. Get out early and you can have most locations all to yourself and capture a beautiful scene without any people in your shot.
For more, see Sunrise Photography: Make Your Images Sparkle & Shine
Week 5. Forest
Visit a woods or forest near you and capture the scene. You could photograph trees and plants, paths and trails, forest creeks, or anything that you find interesting.
Week 6. Water (River, Creek, Lake, Ocean)
Water presents endless possibilities for photography. Head to a local lake, hike along a creek or even visit the ocean if it is near to you.
For more, see Water Photography: Composition & Creativity Ideas.
Week 7. Snow or Ice
Most people like to stay inside in the winter, but the cold weather presents great opportunities to get unique landscape photos. Capture a landscape covered in fresh snow and you will be glad you made the effort to get out.
For more, see Winter Landscape Photography Tips.
Week 8. Find a Unique Perspective
The same scene can look drastically different from various perspectives. Make an effort to find unique perspectives or angles. Try getting high or low, or work to find an alternative angle to get a unique photo.
For more, see How Perspective Impacts Landscape Photography.
Week 9. Find a Composition with a Strong Foreground Element
One of the most effective ways to create compelling compositions is to use a foreground element that will draw interest from viewers. With a wide-angle lens you can get very close to the object in the foreground and still capture the vast landscape behind it.
For more, see How to Use Foreground Elements in Compositions.
Week 10. Include a Person in Your Landscape Photo
Most landscape photos intentionally avoid having people in the composition, but people can actually add a lot of interest to the shot as well. You can include a person in the distance for scale or photograph the back of someone looking out over the landscape. Be creative.
Week 11. Photograph a Silhouette
Silhouettes can be very powerful images. Whether it is the silhouette of a person, a flower, wildlife, or some other natural element, it can be a very effective technique.
For more, see Creating Compelling Silhouette Photography.
Week 12. Railroad Tracks
Railroad tracks can be a great subject for photos for a few different reasons. First, they’re everywhere so you should certainly be able to find some options regardless of where you live. Whether you live in the city or a rural setting, finding railroad tracks is usually pretty easy. Second, railroad tracks are great for creating compositions with leading lines.
Week 13. Photograph Nature Coming Back to Life (Spring Blossoms)
Spring is a perfect time for nature photography. Trees, flowers, and plants are blooming, colorful, and full of life.
Week 14. Close Up Flower
Flowers are ideal subjects, and they are easy to find. You may even have some flowers worth photographing in your yard. Local parks are also a good place to find flowers, or you can head to a local botanical garden.
For more, see Tips for Macro Flower Photos.
Week 15. Vertical Landscape
It’s easy to get in the habit of always shooting nature photos in horizontal or landscape orientation. Break the habit by intentionally looking for opportunities to capture vertical photos. It’s always good to have a variety in your portfolio.
Vertical shots are great for use in magazines or for websites like Pinterest.
Week 16. Find a New Location to Shoot
Landscape photographers are always on the lookout for locations that are new to them, especially if they are close to home. Take some time to do a little research and find an interesting location within driving distance that you have never visited. If you live in the United States you can use our State Guides as a resource.
Photography forums can also be very helpful resources. Search popular forums for suggestions in your local area, or start a new thread to ask others for their suggestions. Message boards and forums can be great places to find recommendations.
You can even search Flickr for landscape photos in your state, town, or county and read the descriptions or check the GPS coordinates (if available) to see where they were taken.
Week 17. Abstract
Some of the most interesting and compelling nature photos are abstract. Use your creativity to find a way to create an interesting abstract photo.
For ideas, see 3 Ideas to Start Shooting Abstract Landscapes.
Week 18. Waterfall
Waterfalls are a common subject of landscape photos and with good reason. Most locations have at least a few waterfalls within a reasonable driving distance, so find one near you.
Week 19. The Moon
Research the moon phases and get out at a time when the moon will make an interesting subject for your photos.
Week 20. Night Sky
Instead of photographing the moon, capture the stars in the night sky. You can photograph just the sky, or capture a landscape at night including the star-filled sky.
I highly recommend Collier’s Guide to Night Photography in the Great Outdoors.
Week 21. Bracket Exposures and Create an HDR Image
One of the most common problems with landscape photography involves dark shadows and/or blown-out highlights. Bracketing exposures to create HDR images is a highly useful technique when a scene includes a huge contrast between light and dark areas. For example, a bright sunny sky and a foreground in deep shadow.
Capture multiple bracketed exposures and merge them together in Lightroom, or other HDR software.
Week 22. Leading Lines
Find a composition that makes use of leading lines to guide the eye of viewers.
Week 23. Bridge
Bridges can be interesting subjects for your photographs. It could be a rural covered bridge, a small walking bridge, a uniquely-designed bridge, or a major bridge that is lit at night.
Week 24. City or Urban Landscape
I’m always in a rush to photograph whatever subject I’m working on so I can move on and get to the next spot. Most of us tend to think of open fields, mountains, waterfalls, and other natural scenes when it comes to landscape photography. You can also capture urban scenes featuring the landscape and architecture.
Head out for a photo walk and simply photograph whatever you come across that seems interesting. This one kind of goes against the earlier point about planning and research, but sometimes it helps to change things up a bit. You can also combine your photo walk with the previous point about limiting yourself to one lens.
When you’re rushed, you’ll miss some of the best angles and compositions that you would only find by walking around the scene for a while. You’ll also come home and find that your exposure was off or that your photos are a little blurry. And maybe most important, you don’t take the time to relax and enjoy the natural beauty that is surrounding you.
For more, see An Introduction to Photographing Urban Landscapes.
Week 25. Night Cityscape or Skyline
Cityscapes and skylines or other options for using landscape techniques in urban settings. These scenes usually become even more interesting at night and with lights playing a major role.
Week 26. Garden
Gardens are easy to find, and they present plenty of photographic opportunities. Plants and flowers can be photographed in your own garden, at a friend’s house, or at a public garden.
Week 27. Barn or Farm
Farms, animals, and barns provide excellent opportunities for photographs. If you’re in a rural area drive along some farms looking for an ideal vantage point. If you are in the city you can usually start to find some farms within a relatively-short drive outside of the city.
Week 28. Storm
Storms often bring dramatic light and perfect conditions for amazing photos. You can even wait out the storm safely inside and then head out to catch the beautiful light after the storm has ended. Pay attention to weather forecasts and be ready to take advantage when the situation presents itself.
For more, see Tips for Photographing Storms.
Week 29. Use a Telephoto Lens
Sometimes restricting yourself can force you to be more creative. Instead of changing lenses or carrying several different lenses in your bag/backpack, trying limiting yourself to just one lens for an outing. Landscapes are most commonly photographed with wide-angle lenses.
But telephoto lenses can be extremely useful and effective as well. Make a conscious effort to break the habit of always using a wide lens by going out and finding opportunities to use a long lens. The exercise will force you to evaluate the scene as it would be photographed with the particular lens that you’re using.
For more, see Tips for Shooting Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens.
Week 30. Reflection
Reflections can add significant interest to landscape photos. It could be a reflection of a lake or a reflection of a small puddle.
For more, see Using Reflections in Landscape Photography.
Week 31. Create a Panorama
Panoramas are a great way to showcase an amazing landscape. And software like Lightroom makes it easy. Lightroom will automatically stitch your photos together to make a seamless panorama. For more see Guide to Shooting Panoramics.
Week 32. Blue Hour Before Sunrise or After Sunset
Sunrise and sunset are ideal times to photograph, but the blue hour shortly before sunrise and shortly after sunset can be equally spectacular. Most photographers heading out for sunrise don’t leave enough time to photograph the blue hour, and most who are capturing a sunset will pack up as soon as the sun drops below the horizon. Don’t fall into this trap.
If you want to get photos in the best lighting, you’ll need to plan your schedule accordingly instead of just taking photos whenever you happen to be out.
For more, see Guide to Blue Hour Photography.
Week 33. Road
Photograph a road in the wide-open landscape, a tree-lined road, or a winding forest road. There are plenty of possibilities, just find something that interests you.
Week 34. Dock or Pier
If you are near the ocean, photograph a pier. If you’re not near the ocean, lakeside docks make an excellent substitute.
Week 35. Something with Texture
Texture can give added depth and intrigue to a photo, and textures are everywhere in nature. Capture a photo that utilizes texture in some way. It could be rock, sand, wood, or some other texture.
Week 36. Colorful Landscape
Nature photos come to life when the colors are magnificent. Find a colorful scene for your next photo. Spring and fall bring plenty of natural colors. Wildlife can also provide color. You can even use man-made objects like an umbrella to bring a pop of color to your photos.
Week 37. An Interesting Tree
Find a tree or group of trees that results in an interesting photo. It could be a lone tree in a field, a dead tree, an unusual type of tree, a tree with colorful blossoms, are anything else that is interesting.
Week 38. Wildlife
Take the challenge of photographing wildlife. It could be a bird, horse, or something truly wild. If you live somewhere that is not conducive to wildlife photography, head to a local zoo and try to capture some photos without the cages and enclosures being visible.
For more, see Bring Out the Wild in Wildlife Photography.
Week 39. Local/State/National Park
If you are fortunate enough to live near a national park, head there and capture the beauty. Otherwise, photograph a state, county, or local park near you.
See our list of the best state parks in each state.
Week 40. Colors of Autumn
Fall is a favorite season for many photographers. The beautiful autumn colors provide a perfect backdrop for your photos. Get out and photograph during peak season in your area.
Week 41. Pattern (Plants, Farm, Vineyard, etc.)
Patterns make for intriguing photos. Look for patterns in nature to photograph.
Week 42. Natural Bokeh
Blurring the background is a great way to make your focal point really stand out. This is especially popular with subjects like flowers, birds, and insects.
For more, see How to Create Beautiful Bokeh in Nature Photography.
Week 43. Scout a Location Using Google Earth or The Photographer’s Ephemeris
Scouting and planning are essential if you want to get the best results possible. Tools like Google Earth and The Photographer’s Ephemeris are incredibly useful. Make an effort to get familiar with these tools and you’ll find it to be well worth your time.
If you want to see the quality of your landscape and nature photos improve, one of the best things you can do is increase the effort and time that you put into researching, planning, and scouting. A big part of getting a great shot comes down to being in the right place at the right some. Sometimes that involves luck, but if you don’t want to rely on luck, plan your outings to give yourself that best chance at success.
A lot of your research and planning can be done online with helpful resources like our location guides that provide plenty of information to get you started on your planning. Once you know where you’re going, you can use apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris to track the position of the sun and moon. Scouting on-site can also help you to find the best spots and compositions.
Week 44. Showcase the Power of Nature
Photograph a scene the displays the amazing power of nature. It could be a canyon or gorge carved out by a river, trees taken down by a storm, a landscape destroyed by wildfire, or anything else that shows the power and impact of natural forces.
Week 45. Mist or Fog
Mist and fog often create a mood that is perfect for being photographed. Pay attention to the weather and when you have the opportunity to get out in the fog, jump at the chance.
For more, see How to Photograph in Mist and Fog.
Week 46. Black & White
Either find a high-contrast scene that will work well as a black and white photo or take one of your old color photos and convert it to black and white in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Week 47. Return to a Location You’ve Shot Before, and Find Something New
Finding new locations to photograph is exciting. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the places that you have already visited. Even if you have photographed a specific location many times you can still find new things to photograph or unique ways to photograph the same things.
Browse through your photos and find a place that you will re-visit. and challenge yourself to come away with better photos. Maybe you’ve learned about the best spot or best vantage point to capture the sunrise or sunset. Or maybe you know about a hidden or secret spot that most people miss.
The more familiar you become with a location, the better your photos will get. This can also be a helpful exercise because it enforces the idea that you don’t need to visit epic locations in order to take great landscape photos.
For more, see 8 Reasons to Re-Visit the Same Locations.
Week 48. Photograph in the Rain
“Bad” weather can often lead to great photographs if you are willing to brave the weather. When it’s raining don’t automatically head inside and put your camera away.
Week 49. Try Focus Stacking
Focus stacking is a more advanced technique for getting sharper photos and better focus. Learn more about focus stacking and try implementing it for yourself.
Week 50. Long Exposure
Slow shutter speeds can lead to unique and amazing landscape photos. When you want to blur moving water, show the movement of clouds, or capture light trails, long exposures can be effective. See our Guide to Long Exposure Landscape Photography.
Week 51. Motion
Capture something in motion. You could use a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of wildlife or sports or use a slower shutter to emphasize the motion.
Week 52. Create a Portfolio Website
Now that you have spent a full year improving your photography skills, it’s time to set up your own portfolio website to showcase your work. There are a lot of different options. An easy way is to use a site builder like SmugMug, PhotoShelter, Zenfolio, or Squarespace.
Bonus Challenge: Enter a Photo Contest
Sometimes competition drives us to improve and do our best. Participating in photo competitions can be a fun way to push yourself. You may even get some exposure from the contest or win some valuable prizes. But even if you don’t win, simply participating in the contest can be just the challenge that you need.
There are all kinds of different photography contests and competitions, and plenty of them are geared towards landscape, nature, and travel photography. There may be a contest in your local area that you’re aware of, or you could check sites like:
If you’re looking for fun ways to improve your own photography, try one of the ideas presented in this article and I think you’ll find it to be a positive experience.