Top 4 Tips for Going the Extra Mile with Landscape Photography

This is a guest post by photographer and Photofocus writer Levi Sim.

Landscape photography brings its own rewards. Being in a beautiful place at a tranquil time of day is therapeutic. Add good company, and it doesn’t really matter if you make any good pictures because the experience alone was worthwhile. For instance, I recently visited my parents, and my dad and I awoke early to photograph the moon setting over one of our favorite places, Garden of the Gods.

Due to a small cloud that wouldn’t move, the moonset was a bust, but I exercised a few tips I’ve learned to make the most of the experience anyway! We ended up having a good time and making a few good pictures. Here are four tips that may help you maximize your time photographing beautiful places, and they all require going the extra mile.

1. Always Go the Extra Mile

The following picture is my best shot of the moon that morning. This little cloud moved in quickly at just the right time to ruin the sunrise on the rocks with the moon behind.

Plus, it was windy and minus -9F (-23C), so staying to shoot more wasn’t very appealing. But, we drove into the park a little farther anyway just to check it out and see if our favorite spots had anything to offer. Even though we’ve both photographed in this small natural park many times over the last twenty years, I find that each time I visit a place something is different and the light may offer a good photograph.

This is the picture I made from our stop at the North Overlookits much better than the one above. Its always worth going the extra mile to see what’s around the bend, or over the next hill. Don’t be set on photographing only the spot you originally planned. Rather, plan a few spots so you can progress with the light and find another picture.

2. Take Two Steps and Turn Around

As long as you’re set up with the camera on a tripod, and you’re out in the cold, make sure that at every spot you take two steps to the right, or squat down low, or reach up high. Don’t only shoot the first composition that comes to mind, or you’ll be leaving a lot of possibilities unused. You’re there, so maximize your opportunities. It’s important to always turn around, as well, and make sure you’re not missing a great shot where you’re coming from. I made the following photo eight steps to the right of the one above and much lower with the yucca in the foreground. Moving your camera to a different spot is the only way to change your perspective, and you should always try it.

3. Don’t Leave When Golden Hour is Over

The hour surrounding sunrise and sunset is often called Golden Hour, and after the sun is gone and the sky is glowing blue is called Blue Hour. These are great times to make a picture because the light is softer, richer, and low on the horizon, but they’re not the only times to make pictures.

On my first visit to Arches National Park with a camera I went to photograph Delicate Arch at sunset and was not surprised to find one hundred other photographers also perched on the sides of the bowl waiting for the perfect light. I was surprised, however, that everyone else packed up and left as soon as the sun set completely. Now, it’s a dangerous hike down in the dark, but I was prepared for that and was rewarded with more terrific pictures after the sun was long gone.

Similarly at Garden of the Gods with my dad, even though the sun was climbing higher, we made the most of our time by continuing to walk and shoot. We found a couple of places we hadn’t used before and we found some spots we’d like to shoot again (when it’s not below freezing and covered in snow). Going the extra mile in the park also lead us into the next tip.

4. Be Ready To Practice a New Technique

We had a great advantage in the park in that the dozens of large rocks jutting out of the ground are very thin, so one can walk right up to them. That made it easy to practice two new techniques with my dad and have plenty of opportunities to practice. We practiced making starbursts on the edge of objects with the sun, and we practiced bracketing for HDR. The starburst technique works best when you can obscure the sun behind an object. As the sun rose higher, we just moved closer to the rocks to force the sun to rise again and again.

If we hadn’t had a purpose, another technique to practice, we would have simply gone home, and I wouldn’t have made my favorite photograph of the day:

Conclusion

Any time you’re out photographing, you’ve already made a significant sacrifice of time and resources to get there. In my case with my dad, not only did we wake up early during our holiday, but it was frigid outside. However, we were already bundled up in our warmest clothes, so why not make the most of it? Im glad we took the time to go a little farther, change our perspective by taking a few steps, stuck around after the light was ‘gone’, and made the effort to practice some new techniques. That last picture is my favorite of the day. I’ve walked by that rock thousands of times (I was a park ranger here, so it’s no exaggeration), but since it was usually in the warmer months, I’ve never seen the sun sitting so far to the south that it could be framed in this way. I encourage you to go out and shoot, and go a little farther to make the most of your experience.

If you’re looking for a great gear guide for landscape photographers, check this out.


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