Through the process of interviewing many leading landscape and nature photographers, I was able to gather a lot of details about the backgrounds of people who are doing some of the best work in the industry. Of the photographers that I’ve interviewed here at Loaded Landscapes, the vast majority have had no professional education or training in photography.
Most professional landscape photographers are self-taught. They may have learned through books, magazine, online courses, and workshops led by other seasoned photographers. But most importantly, they’ve learned by trial and error.
While there are a lot of ways to learn about photography, and formal training can certainly be helpful, most of us learn best by actually doing something. Mistakes may be discouraging at times, but they are powerful learning tools. We learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.
With that in mind, let’s look at 5 specific ways you can learn from your mistakes as a landscape photographer.
Mistake 1: Blurry Photos
In landscape photography, you’ll generally want as much of the photo in sharp focus as possible. Of course, there are exceptions, like when you want to create an artistic abstract photo or use bokeh to selectively blur part of the photo, but in general, sharp focus is the goal.
What do you do when your photos are blurry?
Faster Shutter Speed – Blurry photos are often the result of a shutter speed that is too slow. You can use manual mode or shutter priority mode to set a faster shutter speed in order to freeze the motion and reduce or eliminate blur. Of course, the ideal shutter speed will depend on the subject of the photo and the amount of movement in the scene.
Change the Aperture – Aperture is 1/3 of the exposure triangle and will also play a big role in the sharpness of your photos. Larger apertures (smaller f-stop numbers) will generally produce more bokeh to blur the background, so many new photographers will go to the opposite extreme in search of maximum sharpness.
However, most lenses will not produce the sharpest images at the extreme end. For example, many lenses will produce the sharpest images at f/11 – f/16, rather than going to f/22.
Test your lenses by photographing the same subject with different aperture settings, and then view the images in full size on a large computer monitor. See what aperture produces the best sharpness with your lenses and then try to keep the aperture as close to that setting as possible when you want to maximize sharpness.
Use a Tripod – If you want to get your photos as sharp as possible, you should be using a tripod. If you don’t currently use a tripod, you’ll probably see a noticeable increase in the quality of your landscape photos as soon as you start using one. A tripod will give you maximum stability, removing any vibration from holding the camera.
→ Related reading: 11 Steps to Tack-Sharp Landscape Photos
Mistake 2: Boring Photos
You can’t rely on beautiful scenery to lead to an amazing photo. Boring photographs can be taken at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, the Canadian Rockies, and any other amazing landscape that you can think of.
What do you do when your photos are boring and do not accurately represent the beauty of a scene?
Choose a Focal Point – One of the most common causes of boring photos is the lack of a focal point. One of the challenges with photographing incredible natural beauty is that you’ll be tempted to simply fit as much of the scene into your composition as possible, and snap the photo assuming that it will be great.
However, in order for a photograph to be interesting, it needs to have a focal point. When you are composing your shot, think about what you want the viewer to see.
Follow One of the Many Composition Rules – There are many different composition rules or guides that you can follow with landscape photography. Of course, the rule of thirds is extremely popular, but there are plenty of others.
While these are not hard and fast rules that need to be strictly followed at all times, they can help you to stay on track, especially if you’re just learning. When you’re having trouble creating a photograph that you can be proud of, turn to one of the rules of composition and you’re likely to find something that helps you to get a better photo.
Find More Interesting Angles and Subjects – The same subject can look completely different if it is photographed from a different angle or perspective. One angle or perspective may produce a boring photo, but a simple change can lead to a much more interesting photo of the same subject.
Likewise, you can also look around the area to find other subjects that may be more interesting. Take your time and find subjects and angles that create interesting compositions, and don’t settle for boring photos.
Mistake 3: Bland Sky
The sky is a critical element of many landscape photos. A dynamic sky can make a great photograph and a bland sky can lead to a boring photo. To some extent, the details of the sky are outside of your control, but there are some things you can do.
Photograph During Golden Hour – In general, the best lighting for your landscape photos with occur around the time of sunrise or sunset. The golden hour, just after sunrise and just before sunset, is often recognized as the best time to photograph landscapes due to a higher probability of favorable light. The blue hour, just before sunrise and just after sunset, can be equally awesome.
One of the best things you can do for your landscape photography is to get out and work the best hours of the day. It won’t always be convenient and you’ll need to work with limited windows of lighting, but you can drastically improve your chances of capturing a photograph with a beautiful sky by photographing around sunrise and sunset.
Watch the Weather – Weather will also play a huge role in your landscape and nature photography. Cloudless days tend to produce boring blue skies that generally are not the best. Partly cloudy days will give the sky some character, and having clouds in the sky will also greatly impact the look of a sunset or sunrise.
Of course, the weather is outside of our control. But you can pay attention to the weather forecast and make an effort to get out when the conditions will be the best.
Mistake 4: Overprocessed
Post processing is an essential part of digital landscape photography, but you don’t want your photos to look unrealistically edited. A little bit of saturation goes a long way.
Go Easy with the Adjustments – Regardless of whether you are using Lightroom, Luminar, or any other software, you don’t want to push the boundaries when it comes to sliders and adjustments. Take things too far and your photo will have unrealistic colors and/or artifacts or haloing from excessive sharpening.
When it comes to photo editing and landscapes, less is usually more.
Mistake 5: Clichéd Photos
Do your photos look the same as everyone else’s photos from the same spot? This is especially common with popular destinations and epic locations that have been photographed millions of times.
Spend More Time Scouting and Researching Locations – One of the best ways to get more interesting photos at popular locations is to put more effort into researching and scouting. Before your trip, you can do plenty of research online to find the best spots and unique vantage points that aren’t always photographed. Once you’ve arrived, you can spend some time scouting the area before it is time to actually take the photograph.
I mentioned earlier that the hours around sunrise and sunset are generally going to be the best times to photograph landscapes. If you find yourself struggling to photograph during the harsh midday light, shift your focus to scouting. Instead of trying to take photos in bad conditions, spend your time looking for the best spots and views so you’re prepared for the next sunrise or sunset.
Find Different Options – Most people stick to the easy views. This includes roadside pull-offs and overlooks that are easy to access. If you’re willing to work a little harder and put in some effort, you can usually find different views or completely different subjects that many people don’t see.
Making mistakes is a part of photography, and thankfully there are a lot of ways that you can learn and improve your photos as a result of your own mistakes. Embrace your mistakes and use them as a way to improve.