The first step in landscape photography is understanding the ins and outs that make up compelling compositions. It can be an extremely tedious journey too. It’s not something you can do within a couple weekends shooting. No, the first step in landscape photography take a lot of time. In fact, I thought I was finished with the first step many times before.
It comes down to giving yourself a reality check and understanding humility in its most basic form. You have to be able to understand that there’s always something you can learn and improve on in the very basic foundations of photography. When you aren’t afraid to go back to the foundations of composition and technique, then you’re ready to move onto taking the next step in landscape photography.
Your next step in landscape photography is extremely vague. What makes it so challenging is that there’s no real formula or specific number pattern or path to follow to level up your photo game again. There are multiple paths you can take.
In terms of shooting, I would say the most important next step in landscape photography is to harness light. You know all about leading lines and foreground objects, but not everyone can effectively harness light to give the composition of the shot another compelling element.
Everyone knows about the golden hour, but not many people know about taking a photo at the exact moment when you get the most detail out of your dynamic range as possible. And it’s difficult again when there’s no exact way to know when that time is before you go out shooting. Every sunrise or sunset is different because of the amount of light available, your location, and what type of cloud cover is present in the sky.
You see what I mean now when I said that the next step in landscape photography is vague?
It’s all about effectively training your eyes to see and notice when the sky is getting too bright or the foreground is getting too dark. You want your foreground to be slightly shadowed, but slightly illuminated with the available light. You want the sky to be colorful, but not so bright that it blows out highlight details in clouds.
The next step in landscape photography is like walking on a tight rope across the grand canyon. You have to know how to do it, but when you’re out there, you have to pay attention to your conditions. If one condition isn’t calculated correctly, your shot might fail. But, if you’re persistent and you are patient with light, you will snap a photo at the right moment.
Working with light is one of the most frustrating things in photography. However it’s also the most rewarding. For example, in the photo below, I had snapped the shot at the split second before the sun rose over a sand dune. That one second in time allowed me to illuminate the sky over the peak of the dune, almost creating a glowing effect, and it let me keep the foreground fairly darker than the rest of the photograph. Thus, I was able to extend the dynamic range that much more. If I had waited ten seconds later, the sun would have risen above the peak of the sand dune and blown out the sky, causing the entire photograph to fall flat.
The lesson is to continue shooting, but take your photography a step further by training your eyes to see them moments when your lighting and dynamic range are at their peaks. It may only be for a few seconds, but they are the best seconds of the day.