Five common landscape photography mistakes and how to fix them
With good weather in full swing across the northern hemisphere, landscape photography is high on the activity list for many photographers. After all, who doesn’t want to be out there enjoying their camera passion in the sunshine?
Shooting landscapes seems fairly straightforward, but there are some easy mistakes you could be making. Fortunately, they’re easy to correct, and here’s landscape photographer Andy Mumford to show us how in his newest video.
[Related reading: How to turn landscape photography into a successful career]
There are many more mistakes than these, often seen in landscape photographs posted online and on social media, but these are probably the most common ones out there. I’ve probably been guilty of all of these at one point or another. As you work through Andy’s list, you’ll probably recognise these in your own images, too.
0:56 – Compositional distractions
It’s easy to miss distracting elements in the scene when shooting a landscape photograph. And we’re not even talking about that errant piece of trash lying on the ground you didn’t spot. We’re talking about the scene itself and elements just being distracting to the whole and not creating a balanced and cohesive composition.
This is an issue I used to struggle with regularly when using DSLRs for landscape photography. I was so focused on the main subject that I’d miss little distractions in the shot. This is something that I actually found I was doing less as I started shooting more with mirrorless cameras that provide a clearer view of what the final image looked like before you even hit the shutter.
2:32 – Using the wrong lens
There’s no such thing as a “landscape photography lens”. All lenses are capable of producing amazing landscape images. All lenses are equally as capable of producing terrible landscapes, and there are times when I’ve used the wrong focal length lens to try and get the shot.
Usually, when I’ve used the wrong focal length, it’s because it’s the only lens I’ve had with me. I’ve tried to force the shot, and it simply hasn’t worked. This is where zoom lenses can come in handy for landscapes, providing you with a range of options in only a couple of lenses.
4:42 – Images lacking depth
This is a tricky one and it’s one I’m still trying to figure out myself. I see a scene before me with my eyes and it looks to have a lot of depth. Of course, we have two eyes. We see the world in three dimensions. So, everything has depth.
A camera (well, most of them) only has a single viewpoint perspective. We need to create depth using means other than stereoscopic vision. The focal length you choose is one way to create depth. Light, colour and contrast also help to provide depth.
[Related reading: This simple color tip can dramatically improve your landscape photography]
6:43 – Not exploring the scene
We’ve probably all done this. We show up at a place, we see something that looks amazing to our eyes, we get one or several photos and then we move along to the next location. Sometimes, just stopping, looking around and exploring the nearby area can provide us with a whole wealth of images that we would have otherwise missed.
This is something I always make a point to do when I arrive at a new location. This is mostly because a lot of what I photograph is people in the landscape. So, I’m looking at using the landscape as the backdrop for the person. Looking around lets me find new backgrounds that might better complement the subject. For landscape photography, it might find you a whole new perspective on the area to show off in your images.
9:19 – Shooting for your LCD
This is a tricky one. Often, photographers will shoot for an image that looks good on their LCD (or EVF), completely ignoring the fact that once you get it home and see it on a computer screen, it looks nothing like it did when you were there. Even using the histogram as a reference isn’t telling you the exact truth, as histograms are based on the processed JPG version of that image and not the raw data.
Despite the fact that the histogram isn’t really the raw data, exposing to the right (ETTR) of the histogram is still generally considered best practice. Darkening an overexposed image (that isn’t blown out) will often result in a much better image than brightening an underexposed image. Of course, we want to get the exposure correct in the camera wherever possible, and we have to have a bit of faith in our camera’s light meter for that, but if in doubt, expose to the right and bracket if need be to give you a range of exposure options when you get home.
What mistakes do you see others making when shooting landscapes? What’s your biggest landscape photography mistake?
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.