Gallery: How to take stunning landscape photographs
As a landscape photographer, I react to weather very differently from most people.
A beautiful sunny day in California without a cloud in the sky would probably cause me to groan, “Oh please, not again, the weather is terrible.”
Yes, I am appalled by clear, sunny days.
If there are too many of them, I’m brought down to the level of chronic depression. The recent three-month long drought caused by La Niña brought me to the brink of a meltdown.
On the other hand, clouds exhilarate me. And certain kinds of foul weather.
A landscape photographer will make incredible efforts to get to the right place at the right time, which can only be achieved by an analytic mindset and objective decision making, not to mention tenacious physical effort.
Sleepless days, countless hours of driving, earning a reputation of being insane … these are all things to take in stride while chasing the perfect shot.
Here are six ways to think like a landscape photographer.
1. Use the clouds
Clouds are the best light reflectors in nature.
Depending on the distribution and height of the clouds, the light changes and impacts your shot accordingly.
Higher clouds (3,000-7,500 meters) will give you the most intense colors but lower clouds (below 3,000 meters) will give you better texture and higher contrast.
It's best to utilize higher clouds for photographing toward the sun and lower clouds for photographing away from the sun.
2. Use Google Earth
Before I begin scouting potential sites to photograph, I like to use Google Maps and Google Earth to look at various topological features.
Google Earth is useful because it gives you the ground level perspective and you can simulate the lighting conditions by changing the times and seeing how the light changes.
However, keep in mind that it only works for large-scale features like mountains and lakes. It doesn’t work in terms of the small rocks and boulders, which are important in constructing your foreground.
3. Be up-to-date when scouting locations
Winter has been very strange this year. There is practically no snow in California and it has been particularly dry.
While researching for a photo trip, I read that it was the first time since 1933 that Tioga Pass in Yosemite had not been closed off in January due to snowfall.
For a landscape photographer, this kind of news means that there is a chance of finding something new.
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Sure enough, when I traveled to the regions of Yosemite that had been closed off around this time in previous years, I found my shot. It was a lone tree on a hill framing a lake in the background.
Only around winter solstice did this tree get the last light –- since only then the sun sets in the southernmost direction and the light is not obstructed by a nearby mountain.
With the intense light, the tree was on fire, in wonderful contrast with the stormy clouds and calm lake in the background.
It was the kind of chance that comes along once in a lifetime.
4. Take advantage of unusual weather
Thunderstorms are the kind of foul weather that a landscape photographer can use to his or her advantage.
In the summer in California, thunderstorms tend to develop early in the afternoon and weaken around sunset.
Since the storm clouds are usually localized and develop periodically for as long as a week, they tend to make for more predictable conditions and consistent opportunities over a longer period of time.
5. Realize that your suffering may not mean anything
Despite all the incredible physical efforts you may have made, your suffering does not necessarily add any value to your work.
Sometimes that is the hardest thing to accept.
6. Start as a scientist and end as a gambler
This is something that I like to say to my friends when they ask me what it takes to be a landscape photographer.
What I mean by this is, you have to use your analytic mindset to be as objective as possible and process all the information available to you so that you can project the conditions no matter how chaotic they get, but at the end of the day we’re talking about luck.
You can do everything correctly according to your analysis but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get that shot.
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