Landscape Photography Tips [Weekly Duel]

This week’s theme is Landscape.

Shooting landscapes for this duel was NOT an easy feat.  Unlike some other types of photography, landscape is very dependent on the weather.  In Idaho, everything is still dead and brown despite the calendar promising Spring.  This can make landscapes difficult to shoot–especially because we were both shooting in places we’ve never shot before, and we only had two hours to come up with something.

With no further excuse, here’s Dustin and I got from our Friday morning shoot (we take the photos on Fridays and post the duel on Mondays).

New to the weekly Improve Photography Duel?  Check out this page, where we explain how it works. We’re asking YOU to vote on the photos below.

Settling the Score

Last week was the first duel.  Unfortunately (for Jim), Dustin won the duel with 53% of the vote, and Jim lost with 47% of the vote.  That means that Dustin is currently winning 1-0.

Here are the photos for this week’s duel…

Jim Here:  I was definitely feeling the pressure with this duel since I suffered a gut-wrenching defeat last week :-)

I decided to shoot from Table Rock in Boise, which is an overlook where you can see for miles.  Since the kids haven’t been sleeping well this week, I was so tired that I slept through my alarm.  I woke up at 7AM and flew out the door, hoping I could still catch the sunrise.  As I drove into Boise, I saw that there was fresh fallen snow, which I was glad for–as it adds interest to the landscape.

Jim’s Process:  When I got to the top of the mountain, I saw a little sage brush right on the edge of a small cliff.  I thought it would make a nice foreground element to give some depth to the landscape.  Since there was so much distance between the sage brush and the mountains/sky in the background, I took one set of pictures (7 stop bracket) on the foreground, and then took a second set of photos focused on the background.

So, in all, this photo is made up of 14 separate shots.

Jim’s Metadata:

Shutter speed: 1/50 seconds, Aperture: f/18, ISO 100.

Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8.

Post processing: Due to the HUGE dynamic range including the bright sun and dark shadows behind rocks, I needed to blend the exposure together.  I shot a 7 stop bracket on location to capture this data.  I’m not much of a fan of the unrealistic HDR tonemapping process, so I manually blended the exposures together in Photoshop.  Then, to make things come together a bit, I did tonemap an HDR and put it on top of the other layers, but I set the opacity of the HDR layer to only 8%.


Table Rock Sage Brush in Boise Foothills

Table Rock in Boise, Idaho

Dustin Here:

This photo duel was a bit of a challenge – I won’t lie. It’s that awkward phase between Winter and Spring when everything looks gray and ugly. But I appreciated the challenge because it encouraged me to become creative with what I had to work with. At the end of the day – I am please with what I came up with and that I can still sleep at night. :)

Dustin’s Process: 

I spent some time in Photoshop and CameraRaw to bring this photo to life. I spent most of my time in CameraRaw working the adjustment brush to get white balance, exposure, contrast, and saturation where I wanted it in the many different parts of the photo. To help create and add interest to the photo was I needed was a warm subject and cool background. This also helps add contrast and depth to the photo.

Once I had that finished – the photo made it into Photoshop where I used a series of adjustment layers to further extend the feeling I was trying to achieve in CameraRaw. Once I was basically there – I took the photo into Nik Software – Color Efex Pro for my finishing touches. Even though this was taken during Sunrise – I like the sunset feeling this has with the warm clouds.

The saturation of the colors might be a bit much for some – but I happen to like it for this photo.  However if you are interested – I have posted the before and after shot of my image on my blog.

Dustin’s Metadata: 

Shutter speed: 1/125, Aperture: f/11, ISO 800

Camera: Canon 6D, Lens: Canon 24-105mm lens

Lighting: Sunrise

Landscape Photo - by Dustin Olsen

Landscape Photo – by Dustin Olsen


Let the Voting Begin!

Please note that you do NOT have to share this to your Facebook page or Twitter feed in order to vote.  It just gives you that as an option after you’ve clicked your vote.

[socialpoll id=”6093″]


  1. Melissa

    As I sit through yet another 2 hour school delay in Western PA. I look at these pictures and Jims photo looks cold and barron. Love the mix of snow and ground but I prefer the warm look of dead weeds in the wintery spring. The warm toning is what makes this picture by Dustin My choice. Sorry Jim, I did vote for you last time.

  2. Tim

    With all of the work each did post-processing, Jim’s photo looks less artificial, thus he receives my vote. Post-processing is great (IMO) provided the work doesn’t result in an image actually appearing (too much) computer generated.

    I’m enjoying this ‘duel’ idea you guys have come up with. :-)

  3. Ann Sinclair

    Love the softness of Jim’s picture. Very soothing and beautiful. I find Dustin’s more harsh although I like the subject. Have to vote for Jim this week. Voted for you Dustin last week.

  4. Teresa

    I’m with Melissa on this one: Western Pa, another snow storm, the warmth of Dustin’s drew me in. I too, voted for Jim last week, but was drawn to Dustin’s this week. Keep up the good work, both of you – love the duel & your pod casts!

  5. Ed Lipe

    What spectacular photos – especially of Idaho in March. For all of us that think there is nothing to photograph this time of year – well it shows there is always something if one looks for it. In the end, I gave Jim’s photo the edge – primarily for balance of composition. Dustin’s photo had great color and interesting elements, but some (the grass) overshadowed others (the sky) when I would have preferred the opposite. Thanks for the valuable lesson!

  6. Jim Harmer

    @Melissa – Well, hopefully I’ll get your vote next week. BUT, I did find a little bit of humor in this sentence, “I prefer the warm look of dead weeds.”

    Thanks for voting in the duel. It makes it more fun to hear people’s comments of what they think.

  7. Stacy Berube

    While both pictures are great I would have to say that Dustin has it this time! The warm tone makes everything look alive regardless of it’s “winter” state. The closeness as well as reflection on the water just draw you into feeling as though you’re actually there.

  8. Art

    Both shots are great; however, the sky area in Dustin’s is a little too blown out for the warm looking foreground. Jim’s shot conveys the cold, barren feel of winter in the mountains that I remember so well.

  9. Paul

    Keep the duels comin! Jim gets my vote this week. Dustin did a nice job making an interesting image from a “not-so-special” subject but overall I have to choose Jim’s photo here. I love the sun bursting through the clouds to give the snow a golden feel. (I also may be biased toward Jim’s because it is snowing quite a bit in the States and my wife and I are missing it here on Zanzibar).

  10. Da' Coach

    Well, Dustin’s foreground is a bit too blurry and should be more in focus.

    They’re both nice, both have pluses and minuses and I love the starkness and subdued colors in Jim’s. I think five minutes either way on Jim’s would have made it much better, so….

    Dustin wins despite his lack of focus.

  11. Maggie

    Jim, you won my vote this week. Both of the shots are really well done, but for some reason Dustin’s makes me a bit uncomfortable. I really like the way the light is reflected on the water, but for some reason, the rocks and dead grass on the shore remind me of dead ducks. (Sorry Dustin!) Jim’s does look cold and desolate but with the sun coming out behind the cloud, it makes the whole picture look like there is hope of better things. (Man, where did that come from?) Good job on the duel. Keep them coming.

  12. joe

    Jim’s photo looks the least computer generated so my vote goes to Jim. I agree
    with Maggie, at first glance I thought of
    dead ducks in the foreground of Dustin’s photo.

  13. Paul

    Dustin’s shot is a prime example of how a big landscape can exist in a smaller space. I’m actually taking some inspiration from that when I go shoot this week. Very nice. HOWEVER, all that being said, I am a dead sucker for mountains and a big sky full of squishy clouds. Vote: Jim. Great job on both though.

  14. Melissa

    I voted for Dustin. I like the warmer tones in his photo, and also it’s not what you normally think of when you think of a landscape. The photo just holds my attention longer than Jim’s.

  15. Cookie Koch

    Looks like I am gonna have to go with Jim again this week. To me it is more landscape. However, I do think Dustin’s shot is great too. Jim’s shot looks very cold out there! Love your duel idea. Love your podcasts and also I have been referring your website to many who want to improve their photography skills.

  16. Julian

    What I like about Dustin’s image is the warmth and the fact that it is bigger when I click on it :). What I don’t like is the foreground (lower right), I find it distracting. Jim has a very well excuted image. He gets my vote because the image clean and interesting. Without the distracting part, Dustin would have gotten my vote because of the feeling I got from his photo. Thanks to both of you.

  17. Jason

    Although I do like both photos, I felt Dustin’s was more of a ‘portrait’ or ‘close up’ of reeds. IMO it lacked the definition or expectation one thinks of as a landscape which I believe Jim did better in capturing. Jim’s reminds me more of the Ansel Adams-type landscapes. Jim did need more eye-catching color and Dustin’s wash-out of the sun was distracting. They’re still both great images but I had to go with Jim on hitting my definition of the subject matter.

  18. Sheila

    On my phone… I love the composition of Jim’s… I have to say, though, I voted for Dustin’s on the bigger screen. It’s more relatable for me… I just wish there was more sky to it.
    Great job to both of you!!!

  19. Alexandra

    Absolutely…hands down winner is Dustin. I almost feel as if I am there, the colors are amazing, including the sky. The perspective is perfect for making me feel intimately involved. One of my all time favorite landscape shots. Dustin…I firmly believe you need to start your own editing school…you do incredible work…a true artist!

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