7 Creative Landscape Photography Tips and Ideas

As a landscape photographer, I can be prone to getting into a rut.  I haven’t spent much time branching out to other genres of photography, so almost all of my photography efforts are geared towards landscape shots.  As a result, my workflow often consists of similar habits: find good light, find a picturesque scene, position an interesting foreground element below it, and press the shutter.  There is nothing wrong with that strategy.  I could make a lifetime of solid images perfecting that workflow.  However, I would eventually start to die a little inside when it would feel like I was taking photos based on habit instead of inspired creativity.  Without learning new techniques, trying new things, and creating different looks, landscape photography will start to feel stale.

This process may not be for everyone, but I find it important to branch out with my photography.  This branching out does not necessarily mean that I need to make drastic changes to keep the photographic process from feeling stale, but it does mean that I want to keep learning new tricks and trying new types of shots, even if those shots are only slight variations from my typical workflow.  There are plenty of ideas and tutorials out there to get your creative juices flowing, both inside and outside of Improve Photography.  The next time you are looking to try something new, take a look at this list and pick something to incorporate into your next landscape shoot.

Light Painting

Photo by Jim Harmer

Landscape photography typically involves planning out shots and waiting for interesting light to illuminate all or portions of the scene in front of you.  The downside of landscape photography is that sometimes these interesting lighting conditions just do not materialize.  Well, as the saying goes, “when life doesn’t throw you lemons, might as well pour yourself a glass of some perfectly good store-bought lemonade instead.”

That’s how the saying goes, right?  Just to be clear: In this metaphor, the store-bought lemonade is artificial lighting…

Light painting offers an endless amount of possibilities.  It can help to illuminate a foreground of wildflowers that won’t hold still so that you can use a faster shutter speed and it can cast creative light on a scene at night.  Check out Jim Harmer’s tutorial on light painting a landscape scene at night.  Light painting can even be used to place creative streaks of light into your scene, sort of like the steel wool effect.  Basically, if you attach a light to a string and start swinging it around within your composition, it is just like swinging around the burning steel wool, just without the risk of arson!

Put the Night Sky In Your Frame

Photo by Kevin D. Jordan

Even being an experienced night photographer, I never fail to be impressed by how different a landscape scene looks and feels at night compared to during the day.  I can photograph a scene countless times during the day to that point that it starts to become boring, but photographing the scene under a clear, dark sky is a game changer, especially if the Milky Way is involved.  Next time you have the option, find one of your favorite landscape locations and shoot it after dark.  The drastically different lighting conditions and sky open up a wealth of new creative possibilities.  If photographing the night sky is new to you, go check out these tutorials on how to plan, shoot, and edit photos of the night sky, especially the Milky Way.

 

Level Up Your Post-Processing

When it comes to my own photography, post-processing is an area where I am never satisfied and always trying to “level up.”  The possibilities in post-processing are limitless, which can be both a blessing (if you know what you are doing) and a curse (if you’re stumbling around in your editing software without knowing how to proceed).

There are several excellent videos on Improve Photography Plus on landscape post-processing, including working with luminosity masks, processing HDR panoramas, and focus stacking.

Level Up Your Compositions

From Jim Harmer's Block Method Composition Tutorial

One of the biggest possible contributors to me feeling like I am getting into a photographic rut is either sloppy composition or getting repetitive with my compositions.  It easy to start seeing a scene in the same way.  Like I mentioned above, simply looking for a background, a foreground element, and firing away can feel stale fairly quickly.  Look for new ways to frame your subject, choose different subjects altogether, or pretend that you are a painter.  This tutorial on advanced landscape composition should get you moving towards keeping your compositions fresh.

Elevate Your Perspective

Photo by Kevin D. Jordan

Some of the most interesting landscape photos are the result of using the camera to get a perspective that most people do not normally see.  Prominent, focus-stacked foreground elements grab our eyes because few of us sit on the ground with our faces a few inches from a rock or a wild flower while looking at the mountain in the distance.  Likewise, getting an elevated view can do wonders for providing a unique perspective that adds immediate interest to your shot.

There are plenty of ways to get a higher vantage point of a scene.  Find a company that offers doors-off helicopter tours (or just befriend a pilot).  If you are an experienced rock climber, use your gear and talents to scale a wall before shooting a scene.  If you are in a city, try to contact management companies or owner of the tallest buildings in your area and see if they will let you onto the roof for a shoot.  And, if none of those other ones are an option and you have a few hundred dollars to spare, get a drone.

If you end up choosing that last option, keep in mind that there is a lot to know about using a drone for photography.  Given how quickly the technology has advanced and become available to everyday consumers, laws and regulations are quickly changing as well.  For you new drone buyers out there, take a look at this article for how to get started with your first drone flight, and take a look here for what to consider when you are planning to take your drone on an airplane.

Elevate Your Subject

As a landscape photographer, I have not made many attempts to include people in my compositions.  My love of photographing landscapes comes from being outside away from people, so the idea of including them is not normally one that is at the forefront of my mind.  However, adding a human element to your shot can go a long way in telling a story with your image that a simple landscape might not be able to convey.

If you want to take the human element to the next step, check out this tutorial on “levitating” your subject, which could do a lot for taking a scene of an already surreal landscape to the next level.  I haven’t actually tried this yet, so I unfortunately don’t have any photos of my own to show for it, but it’s certainly on my list of things to try out the next time lit feels like my landscape photography needs a kick in the pants.

Treat Your Landscape Photography As If It’s A Different Genre

Artists take inspirations from all over.  Musicians develop a unique sound through the influence of various singers or bands that came before them.  Likewise, many visual artists draw inspiration from different genres of art or from outside “art” altogether.  If your landscape photography begins to feel stale, try approaching from a different artistic perspective.

If you typically process your landscape shots by avoiding any bright highlights or dark shadows, try using lighting techniques and processing from portraits too give a different look or feel to your image by blowing out highlights to emphasize a subject or making a low-key image that emphasizes only certain features and edges of your frame.  If you are inspired by painters, try to use motion and blurring to create an abstract or impressionist feel to a scene.  These techniques can shake up your habits enough to make you look at a scene differently, even if the photos you come home with are not ones you plan to include in a portfolio.

Final Thoughts

Trying new techniques in landscape photography can work wonders for advancing your learning, sparking your creativity, and making you more versatile as a photographer.  If you want to gain more knowledge, or just feel like you’re getting into a rut and need to find something new, try some of the ideas above or put a different one you have thought of to the test.  I never want landscape photography to stop being fun for me, and wouldn’t wish the feeling on anyone else.  So, get out there, get creative, and keep expanding your photography abilities and creativity as much as you can!

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