As we consume social media, YouTube videos, and online articles, it is easy to think everyone else out there knows what they are doing. I made many mistakes early on in my landscape photography journey. I still make mistakes today! I’m going to share some of those early mistakes I made and things I wish I’d started doing sooner.
One of the things I enjoy about landscape photography, and photography in general, is that I am always learning something, improving something, and making better images with every passing year.
But part of learning is making mistakes. Making mistakes can be discouraging, especially when everyone else might look like they are doing fantastic and can do no wrong! Even today, I still make mistakes: sometimes a technical error in the field, forgetting to change my ISO to something reasonable, using a poor choice for aperture, or any number of things.
Let’s look at five mistakes I made early on in my practice of landscape photography. Some center on gear and others on techniques I used incorrectly or should have been using.
Using a Cheap Tripod
This is a piece of advice all landscape photographers get when they start out: “buy a quality tripod.” I think all landscape photographers subsequently ignore that advice. I know I did!
First, I used my Dad’s old tripod, like film days old, and not even that great of a tripod to start with, pieces actually fell off of it while hiking on a trail, just strapped to the pack.
After going through a series of other tripods, I finally bought a quality tripod and have been using and happy with an FLM-CP30-S4 for a couple of years now. I should have listened to the seasoned landscape photographers and first started with a quality tripod.
Why a quality tripod? Because you need a stable surface to photograph from if you want to do long exposure photography for water scenes, giving clouds an ethereal look, or even seascapes.
On workshops I’ve led, I’ve seen people show up with tripods with thin, unstable legs, loose center columns, and tripod heads that wouldn’t securely hold their camera. A quality tripod will be the stable platform you need and last you a long time. Just start with a quality tripod.
Rushing the Shot
When I started my landscape photography journey, I would show up to a popular location, set up in a spot where hundreds, no thousands of photographers before me, had created an image, and take the shot. I was in a rush to take the photo and didn’t really take the time to look around. Yes, I got the image, but it wasn’t unique and didn’t really tell a story.
I have no issue with wanting to capture that iconic shot (I still do), but once you have that one, take the time to work the shot more. Look for interesting angles, high, low, left, right, or look for smaller details or unique ways the light is falling during the particular time you are there. Take your time and think about what story this location has for you. Think about how to compose your image to tell that story.
Taking this extra time will help you transform your photos from something everyone else has to something more unique.
Overusing a New Skill
As we learn new skills, we are eager to put them to use! I remember when I learned exposure bracketing. I bracketed every composition whether it needed it or not, sometimes five-stop brackets.
I’d come home from an outing with hundreds and hundreds of images, even though I only visited two spots. Not only was that cumbersome to go through, but it also added work to the editing process and was often unnecessary.
Instead, I should have thought more about what situations warranted exposure bracketing and only used that technique when the situation warranted it, not for every composition I did for a couple of months. It is good to learn new skills. Just remember to understand when to use them and why.
Not Understanding the Histogram
Early on in my journey, getting a good exposure of a scene seemed more like guesswork. This probably plays into why I overused exposure bracketing early on; surely, I would get a decently exposed shot if I shot every composition with five different exposures!
Until I started using the histogram, either via playback review or live view as I adjusted camera settings, I had never been super confident in my exposure. Learning to use the histogram was probably the single most important thing I did to start getting consistent exposure in my landscape photography images.
The histogram is a tonal chart that lets you easily see where your shadows, highlights, and midtones are in an image — nearly real-time feedback on whether you are overexposing or severely under-exposing an image. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s well worth heading off to learn more about it and starting to use it for your landscape photography.
Not Using Lens Filters
Another hardware lesson. I wish I would have started using lens filters for my landscape photography sooner. While I don’t like to push people towards gear very often, a polarizing filter made a big impact on my images.
I gravitate towards water scenes, specifically waterfalls, so the polarizing effect of a good circular polarizing filter does help cut down glare from the water and the moisture on nearby rocks, making the images much more pleasing to my eyes.
Adding to that, having at least one neutral density filter, say an ND64 filter, can be very handy for the landscape photographer to help you photograph a waterfall during brighter parts of the day and still get a smooth, long-exposure effect.
I’ve been through several filter brands over the years and have settled on magnetic filters as my preferred filter setup. I am currently using Kase Magnetic filters, and they have made it easy to attach, remove, and stack filters in the field.
What Mistakes Have You Made?
Those are five of the early mistakes I made as a landscape photographer. Even today, I still make mistakes, but again, to me, that is part of the fun of photography — always learning, always improving.
How about you? What mistakes have you made as a landscape photographer?