During these last 14 years there have been a few things that have really assisted in my growth as a photographer. These aren’t technical camera skills or secret photoshop techniques as such. These are real things that I use to make better photographs. They have helped me a great deal and I hope they can help you too.
1) Create a mental showreel
When I first started looking at landscape photographs, I obsessed over them – I couldn’t get enough. I was looking at photos of places I was familiar with and seeing them photographed in a way I had never seen before.
On my very first landscape shoot I went out with some of the images I had in mind and tried to replicate them, which is something I think we all do in the beginning. Not very creative of me I know, but I was new!
Although I was lacking the most important part, the creativity, this did teach me a different lesson that I still employ to this day. The importance of studying the work of photographers that you admire. This doesn’t mean the most popular photographers, or your friends’ favourite photographer necessarily, but the ones whose work really holds your attention.
Simply spend time looking at their work. Figure out what it is that separates it from the pack – whether it’s the compositional techniques, the light, or the use of colour (or lack thereof).
But even more importantly, memorise your favourite images. Having a gallery of images in your mind that you can accurately call on at any time is incredibly useful.
It will help you see things in the field when you are scouting a location. You may recall a mountain scene that has a striking resemblance to the rocky coastline you are scouting. Yes, they are different scenes, but the compositional elements, or light may be remarkably similar.
Furthermore, this will trickle into how you process your images. This becomes a subconscious thing. Your work will, over time, begin to develop a style, inspired by the work you love, with your own creative elements thrown into the pot as well.
2) Less is more
‘Less is More’ is a phrase I was fortunate enough to hear very early on in my landscape photography career, and its one that holds true to this day and something I constantly remind myself of.
You may have heard other phrases such as ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ or ‘good design is as little design as possible’.
Although it is still something very important to me and how I compose photographs, it is even more important when you are just learning the ropes. This is because as you progress in your photographic journey, many aspects of shooting become sub-conscious.
You no longer must think about what camera settings to use to get a desired look, or what tools you can use in post-production to enhance the feel you are searching for.Like how someone in their first year of playing guitar must actively think about where the notes are, whereas a seasoned professional can just play by feel.
This is exactly what will happen with how you compose your photographs if you put in the time. You will be in the field and compose a photograph with a fantastic composition by feel. Simply moving the camera around until all the elements ‘feel’ right, rather than having to use a camera’s guidelines to see if you are following the rule of thirds, for example.
So, trying to compose ‘simple’ photographs that are void of distracting elements is a practice that is hugely beneficial from day one.
Of course, It is certainly easier said than done. Particularly if you are shooting with a wide-angle lens. Certain subjects are challenging too – forests for example are incredibly chaotic. Finding clear, concise, and beautiful compositions amongst this chaos is difficult.
Key I think is to not feel as if you must always show the beauty of an entire scene. Be minimal in your selection of what interests you. For example, it may be just an area of sea foam catching the sunlight that interests you, instead of the wide-open beach. Remember, what you choose to exclude is just as important as what you try to include.
3) Break the rules
The ‘rules’ are good to learn when you are starting out. However, they aren’t set in concrete and you can work outside of them.
The rule of thirds for example is an easy way to know where to place subjects within a frame. It is a technique that is incredibly effective. However sometimes so is placing a lone subject dead centre in the frame.
The ‘rules’ don’t have to be the hard and fast ones either. For instance, in landscape photography, it is often thought that shooting at sunrise and sunset are the only times of day with light worth working with. This is largely accurate but there are always other opportunities.
Rainy days are often perfectly suited for photographing forests. The clouds create a nice soft light while the rain produces a similar effect to fog in a forest.
On the other hand, sometimes late morning or early afternoon light can be great in a dense forest to help create dappled light and sun-star opportunities.
Mid-morning or early afternoon light can be fantastic for abstracts of moving water as the light creates patterns and textures in the water’s surface.
Don’t limit yourself to just those short windows of dramatic light at the start and end of the day. Yes, of course they are great times to photograph landscapes, but they aren’t the only times. Let your subject and the weather conditions dictate what you shoot, and don’t be so close-minded to not shoot something simply because of the time of day.
Experiment. Try new things. Be open to what nature presents you with rather than going on every outing with only one thing in mind. This will lead to missed opportunities. I say this from experience. These days I much prefer to often go out with little planning and just see what I see.
As landscape photographers, we often think absolutely everything needs to be shot using a tripod. Although this has been true in the past, camera technology has come so far, and I find myself often going without a tripod. I will always bring one with me, but wherever possible, I shoot handheld. It is incredibly freeing and can make setting up in awkward positions a lot easier. It also allows me to work and adapt to changing conditions a lot easier.
Combine this with a steady hand and a camera body with good image stabilisation capabilities, and I have been able to make perfectly sharp images, hand-held, with an exposure time of 1/4 of a second. I prefer to use a faster shutter speed where possible, but it is an indicator of what can be done with current technology. This takes practice; however, it is another ‘rule’ of landscape photography that can be broken and can free up your workflow in the field.
I encourage you to take these suggestions and try incorporating them into your own work. Learn to use ‘rules’ like ‘less is more’ and find out when it works and when it doesn’t. Once you become proficient in this, or any other given technique, it becomes another tool in your kit.
Next time you are shooting wide-angle landscapes, try switching on your image stabilisation and shooting handheld images with slow shutter speeds to find out how far you can push the technology. Knowing what your camera is capable of will enhance what you can do with it creatively in the field. It is only a tool, and you should know it inside and out.
I hope these tips give you something to think about, and let you express your own vision more accurately through your photography. ❂
About the author: Dylan Fox is an award-winning Australian Landscape Photographer based out of Perth. Having always loved to travel and witness nature’s finest moments, it was only a matter of time before he started capturing them in the form of photographs. His aim is always to capture photographs that provoke emotional connections. For Dylan, the photograph must tell a story and truly captivate those that see it. In 2016 he was awarded first place in the nature category at the international black and white photography awards, has been a finalist in the ANZANG awards for the last three years, and a runner-up in Capture magazine’s emerging photographer of the year competition.