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One of the most common questions I get asked: “Why does my landscape photography come out looking so flat all the time?” When I answer this and other landscape photography tips, I always talk about Ansel Adams, the most well known landscape photographer of all time. What most people don’t realize about Adams is that he would find a location that he wanted to photograph, and he would then stand in his chosen place, with his camera, for 14 hours, waiting for the light to be just right.

Adams_The_Tetons_and_the_Snake_RiverAdams The Tetons and the Snake River” by Ansel Adams

Landscape Photography Tips

If you find yourself taking a lot of landscape photographs that look flat, the reason is simple. Rather than standing in one place for 14 hours, you, most likely, walk by your landscape, snap one picture of it, and keep walking. Sometimes, you might even take a second picture right away of exactly the same scene just to see if it will come out any more interesting and, somehow, that never seems to work.

Imagine you’re standing in a photography studio with studio lights of all shapes and sizes. In walks a beautiful model that you’re going to photograph and you get to put the lights wherever you want them. Does it make sense that where you put the lights will impact what the image looks like? Does it make sense that a light above and behind you will make for a very different look than a light that is on the ground in front of you pointing up at the model?

Here’s a news flash: Landscapes are no different than models. Sun directly above will make a landscape photograph look very different than sun coming in at an angle. Sunlight a half hour before sunset will look very different than a light cloud cover diffusing the sunlight.

Are There Rules I Should Follow When Taking Landscape Photography?

There are no hard and fast rules-of-thumb for landscape photography. I can’t say, “Always shoot with the sun behind you!” or “Wait for the light that happens a half hour before the sun goes down!”

Yes, guidelines like these can be generally helpful, but that’s the extent of it. What’s required of any landscape photographer (or any photographer for that matter) is getting fundamentally related to the light on a given scene as it is.

Canyon_de_Chelly_panorama_of_valley_from_mountainCanyon de Chelly panorama of valley from mountain” by Ansel Adams

So, if you’re taking a picture of a landscape and the image is coming out looking flat instead of looking dynamic, there is nothing to be done in that moment unless you want to bring in some movie-set lights and/or do hours of Photoshop work. The last time I checked, it’s not so easy to move the sun on a moment’s notice.

This concept does not only apply to landscapes. Let’s take something as seemingly unrelated as car photography. Say you’re selling your car, so you go out to your driveway and start snapping pictures. You look at the images and you think, “Wow, these don’t look impressive at all!”

What do you do? Most people try shooting from different angles, zooming in and out, using different apertures and maybe even adjusting the exposure of the shot. All of those things might help and are worth exploring. But cars are no different than landscapes and models. The light is the light is the light.

Final Landscape Photography Tips

So, the next time you take a picture of a car (or anything else that you’re shooting outside of a studio), and if the image doesn’t come out that well, one very important technique to try is to shoot at different times of day under a range of different lighting conditions. Another technique is to simply move the car. You can’t do that with a mountain in a landscape scene, so it’s one thing you’ll want to take advantage of whenever your subject is on wheels or legs.


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