7 Challenges All Landscape Photographers Must Overcome
Landscape photography allows you to be outside, surrounded by amazing nature while creating images to remember the experience. However, there are many challenges that you will face and need to overcome, as a landscape photographer. Some of the challenges relate directly to the nature that surrounds you, and others relate to how you go about capturing your images.
In this article, we’ll look at 7 of the biggest challenges for landscape photographers and how you can overcome them.
1. Unpredictable Weather
One of the realities of landscape photography is that you have no control over the weather. Maybe you want to photograph the sunset, but it’s rainy and overcast with no sun visible. Or maybe you want to photograph a beautiful waterfall secluded in a forest, but harsh sunlight is making the scene less than ideal. Or perhaps a thunderstorm or snowstorm is making it hard, or even dangerous, to be out.
The good news is that there are opportunities in all weather conditions. Whether it is sunny, cloudy, foggy, rainy, stormy, or snowing, there subjects and types of photos that work well with that weather. You just need to be flexible and work with the conditions that are presented to you.
A few years ago I was heading out to photograph a sunrise in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which is about a one-hour drive from my home. As I got closer there was a thick fog that made it obvious that I wasn’t going to see much of the sun. At first, I was disappointed because I had intended to get some more typical sunrise photos that morning, but pretty quickly I got excited about the mood that was created by the fog. The fog presented some great opportunities – just different than what I had initially planned.
If you’re willing to work with the weather there will always be plenty of opportunities. In many cases, the “worst” weather will bring out the best photos.
Further Reading: How to Take Great Photos in Bad Weather
2. Short Windows of Time for the Best Light
The hours around sunrise and sunset are obviously favorites for landscape photographers. The challenge is that these windows of time with the best light are limited, and you need to be ready to make the most of them.
Plan ahead so you know when the sun will rise and set, and from what angle. You can also scout out your locations and vantage points ahead of time so you’ll be prepared. Be sure to arrive ahead of time! The sky will often be the most colorful before the sun rises and after the sun sets. Don’t show up just in time for the sunrise or pack up as soon as the sun hits the horizon.
Further Reading: Planning a Landscape Shoot
3. Capturing a Scene as it Appears to the Eye
The scene captured by the camera will not always equal what you saw with your eyes. The dynamic range captured by camera sensors has improved a lot in recent years, but there are still times when a scene has too much range between the shadows and highlights.
This is especially common around sunrise and sunset. It can also be an issue when photographing a forest, a canyon, or other scenes with deep shadows.
There are a few options. First, you can use a graduated neutral density filter to balance out the light (this darkens a bright sky, while not impacting the foreground). Another option is to bracket your exposures and create an HDR image. One of the benefits of merging multiple exposures into an HDR image is that it means you don’t need to carry around filters.
On the other hand, the bracketed exposures take up more space on your memory card and hard drive, and the process of merging HDR images can be time-consuming.
4. Finding Places to Photograph
Simply finding places to photograph can also be a challenge. There are a lot of ways you can go about finding locations in your area. One of my favorite methods is to find other photographers in my area on Flickr and browse through all of their albums. Many photos have descriptions of the location, and some have GPS data, so if you find something interesting make a note of the location.
Photography forums can be great resources too. You can either start a thread and ask for feedback from others in your area, or simply search forums for existing threads that may give you some ideas.
Depending on where you live, there may be some websites dedicated to covering that area. Websites and blogs can often be a great source of information on locations that you didn’t know about.
Further Reading: Top Locations for Landscape Photography in the UK
I also like to check Google Maps and inspect all of the green areas that typically represent parks and natural areas.
Keep track of everything you find. I have a custom Google map I created using My Maps with about 200 locations in my home state of Pennsylvania. In the descriptions of the pins, I paste a link to a website or photo on Flickr showing details of the location. Then, when I am planning a trip, I can easily find several spots that are close together and decide a route.
5. Creating Interesting Photos at Popular Locations
A trip to well-known, epic location can be a great experience for a landscape photographer. But those locations have already been photographed by millions of people, and most of us can instantly recognize many of the places we see in photos.
While these epic locations are usually popular for good reason, the fact that people have already seen so many photos of the scene makes it difficult to stand out from the crowd. Creating something unique and interesting in these types of locations can be challenging.
When visiting a popular location you have a few options. You can take photos from the most popular viewpoints and spots, and accept that your photos will be similar to many others, or you can work a little harder to try to create something unique (or do both).
Personally, I don’t avoid the overdone, clichéd locations at popular spots. Usually, I want a photograph of my own from that spot. It may not get much attention or stand out from others, but it’s something I enjoy doing for myself. Also, I like to make an effort to go further and get some more unique shots as well.
In many cases, with a little bit of hiking and some effort, you can easily find unique opportunities even in popular locations. Most people stick to the easy views, so if you’re willing to work and take the time to go somewhere most people don’t go, you can get different views and find new subjects.
Possibly the biggest challenge for many of us is the need for patience. Whether it is waiting for the right light or weather conditions, taking the time to find the best perspectives and compositions, or feeling rushed to move on to the next location or subject, patience is always a challenge.
Force yourself to slow down and take your time. Go with the understanding that the light and weather are out of your control and that you won’t get great photos every time. Try to enjoy being surrounded by nature even if the opportunities you’re hoping for do not present themselves.
7. Trying to be Perfect
If you’re interested in landscape photography, chances are you read a lot of blogs, browse showcase sites like 500px, and possibly read a few magazines on landscape or nature photography. As a result, you see a lot of amazing photos by very talented photographers. In most cases, these photographers have spent years developing their skills.
While it’s great to be inspired by the beautiful photos that you see every day, it can also be a detriment to your own photography at times. It’s normal to want your own photos to look as good as the ones you’ve seen from other photographers, but if you’re just getting started remember that no-one became an expert without lots of practice and hard work.
Don’t try to be perfect, and don’t get disappointed if you feel like your photos aren’t as good as those taken by someone else. Focus on photographing what you love, enjoying it, and improving as you go.
What are Your Biggest Challenges?
Feel free to share your own challenges, and how you deal with them, in the comments.