Editor's note: My Lightroom Classic articles have moved to my new website Mastering Lightroom. Visit the store and get 20% off any ebook or ebook bundle with the code ml20 (valid until midnight October 21). Thanks for reading, Andrew.
Whenever you see a survey for popular photography subjects landscape photography is usually at the top. We already have lots of landscape photography tutorials on this website, so I thought it would be fun to look at some unconventional ways you can improve your landscape photography. In fact, some of these are almost the opposite of what our other tutorials suggest!
Unconventional idea #1: Stay local
If you spend much time on Instagram you’d be forgiven for thinking that you have to travel to Iceland or the Lofoten Islands to make good landscape photos.
Or if you live in the United States you may think that no landscape portfolio is complete without photos of Arches National Park, waterfalls in Oregon or Babcock mill in West Virginia.
All these locations are amazing. But, in a world where travel is becoming more difficult, we need an alternative. And that is to stay local.
Working locally gives you three big advantages.
- You get to know your local area intimately. If you like to explore you’ll soon find interesting areas that few photographers seem to know about.
- You’ll learn how the landscape changes with the seasons and how it looks in different types of light.
- It’s convenient. You don’t need to travel far to make photos. You can plan your shoots around the weather conditions that give the best light.
- It forces you to work with what you have and be creative.
For example, I made these photos within walking distance of my home. The scenes are ordinary, but there’s beauty there if you look for it.
Unconventional idea #2: Experiment with different landscape photography techniques and equipment
The conventional way to make a landscape photo is:
- Find somewhere beautiful.
- Use a wide-angle lens and tripod and set the aperture to f11.
- Find the best composition, using foreground interest and leading lines to add depth.
- Shoot in the best light.
It’s as simple as that. But there are other techniques that you can use for landscape photography. These include:
- Painting with light
- Intentional camera movement
- Long exposure photography
- Multiple exposures
- Using vintage printing processes such as cyanotype
- HDR (high dynamic range) photography
The benefit of working locally is that it gives you time to practice these techniques.
They also give you new and interesting ways of photographing uninteresting landscapes.
For example, I made the photo below using a Lensbaby Edge 50 lens. This lens has tilt movements that let you change the plane of focus. It creates an effect like using a view camera or tilt-shift lens.
Unconventional idea #3: The macro landscape
To most photographers the words landscape photography mean making photos of grand, sweeping vistas. That’s the conventional approach because it works when you’re in a spectacular location. But you have to be creative if you live in a less inspiring place.
The answer could be looking at the macro landscape. Forget the sweeping views. Instead get up close and photograph interesting details.
This works well if you have a strong emotional attachment to the area where you live.
For example, you may like wandering through the woods and looking at the ways the ferns grow underneath the trees, or that lichen grows on tree trunks. There may be interesting rock formations, flowers growing in hedges, or grasses swaying in meadows.
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This is different from close-up and macro photography. A typical close-up photo of a flower, for example, has a blurred background. You could have made it anywhere.
But a macro landscape photo places the flower in the landscape. You need to use a smaller aperture so that more of the scene is in focus and you can see the flower in its environment.
Unconventional idea #4: Shoot portraits in the landscape
I used to live in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It may be a capital city but it’s small (population around 420,000 people) and surrounded by hills and forests.
You may be thinking it sounds ideal for landscape photography. There are local photographers who do great work. But I found it more productive for portrait photography.
When I make a portrait of somebody I prefer to do it outdoors rather than in a studio. I started out by making portraits, then realized that I was using the landscape as a backdrop. The two subjects had become fused.
It’s like the idea of the macro landscape, where you try and show, for example, a flower in its natural environment. For this to work with portraits the landscape needs to be sharp enough to be recognizable. It’s about showing hints and details rather than the whole scene.
Set yourself a landscape photography assignment
If you’re looking for a creative challenge then how about setting yourself four assignments based on these ideas?
Assignment 1: Find somewhere beautiful close to home and make a conventional landscape photo of it. This includes urban landscapes for those of you living in towns and cities.
Assignment 2: Try a new landscape photography technique of your choice.
Assignment 3: Make a macro landscape photography photo. Flowers are a great place to start. Try and show the flower in its environment.
Assignment 4: Make a portrait in the landscape. Make sure the landscape is recognizable and not completely blurred out.