Now that phone cameras have essentially caught up in terms of photo quality with their DSLR counterparts, shooting landscape photography on the go is no longer just the realm of professional photographers. With powerful phone cameras at our disposal, capturing once-in-a-lifetime moments has never been easier. No need to lug around a heavy DSLR to capture beautiful, complex images in nature when your phone camera is significantly more compact and just as powerful. But with all this creative potential at our fingertips, why is it that landscape pictures taken on mobile rarely convey even a fraction of the awe or splendor of the original experience?
Despite the incredible technology available to us today, capturing beautiful landscape shots still requires a dose of the unquantifiable - an eye for photographic composition and visual storytelling.
Unfortunately, inherent artistic talent (having a natural eye) can't be taught, but the ability to identify and capture what makes an image visually stimulating and well-composed, can. Next time you find yourself in nature, pull out your phone and snap some world-class pics on the go.
Landscape Photography 101: Shooting Locations
Successfully photographing and conveying the emotion and the character of a landscape is largely determined by how you approach the many different natural settings and utilize their unique characteristics to better your visual storytelling. Below we've detailed 5 different landscape 'types' and curated tips for how to best capture photos of each.
Select a Topic to Jump to a Section Below
Moving water is one of the most fun elements of landscape photography to shoot because of just how versatile it can be in your photo composition. Rivers, streams and waterfalls can be used as the central subject matter in your photo, or as a complimentary visual to help guide the viewers eye around the image. Waterfalls are especially complimentary, and provide a nice sense of contrast in static landscape pictures.
Like waterfalls, rivers and streams can also work as visual guides, but when composed as the primary subject of of an image there are a few fun photographic tricks to consider trying first. If the water is moving more slowly, try framing your shot to emphasize the water's reflection or colorful floating leaves. For water moving more quickly, try using a tripod with the iPhone 11's long exposure option under "Night Mode" to capture the sense of movement.
Be sure you're using a tripod whenever you are creating long exposure photos, even the slightest bump or change in framing can blur the entire image.
Like other bodies of water, lakes and ocean coastlines can be used in a variety of compelling photo compositions, whether they're complimentary or the the main focal point. One of the more interesting elements of photographing lakes and oceans is the geographic diversity found in these locales. Sure, lakes and seacoasts are prevalent all over the world, but they exist in many different forms - rocky New England shores, tropical Bali beaches, tranquil mountain lakes in the Swiss Alps, the list goes on.
One of the most important parts of photographing a large body of water like an ocean or lake is deciding the sentiment you wish to convey and the character of the photograph you want to be on display. Every lake and ocean locale conveys its own unique emotional response based on the weather, flora and setting, so choose a location and composition that best represents the character, emotion and story you're trying to tell.
Open expanses such as plains and grasslands are one of the most challenging landscapes to photograph well. As scenes of of general, static emptiness, identifying a subject to focus the picture on can prove difficult. Regardless of whether or not you wish to highlight the emptiness and openness of the image, every good photo requires a subject, something for the viewer to focus on. Try and find an element of the landscape that seems out of place, or in contrast to the the rest of its surroundings and focus your photo on that as the subject. Remember, just because something is the subject doesn't mean it has to be front and center in your photograph, photo subjects can be in the foreground, background, on the sides or in the middle of the image, it all depends on how it's framed. Experimenting with framing can help you discover different photographic characteristics, and show how even a minor difference in composition can drastically change your perception.
A fun experiment to try when shooting grasslands on mobile is to use a long exposure camera setting to capture the synchronized movement of plants and grasses in the wind.
Much their grassland counterparts, deserts and tundras are notoriously hard to photograph. The overwhelming sense of emptiness and monochromatic color palettes require a lot of creativity on the part of the photographer to create a truly engaging image. Both deserts and their wintery cousins, tundras, are inherently very extreme places and the best photographs display the landscapes celestial ruggedness and natural brutality.
One of the many hurdles in shooting these locales is capturing the scene without the overhead sunlight overexposing you're shot. It's important when shooting on mobile especially to manually adjust your exposure before taking the photo. Bringing the exposure down will help highlight contrasts and expand the color palette, bringing many nuanced details into focus. Also consider using a wide angle camera setting when shooting directly into the sunlight, as the sun will take up less space in the overall composition, leaving room for the other photographic elements you want to highlight - visual heatwaves, dust or ice dancing through the air, or wind-shaped geographic formations.
Like mountains, forests are best photographed either early in the morning or in the late evening, when the golden hour lighting comes through strongest. Despite many outdoor photos being oriented horizontally, forests present a unique opportunity to capture their scale using vertical photo orientation. In addition to finding new vertical angles to shoot, look for colorful flora to add a hint of contrast to a largely monochromatic image.
Of course if your lucky enough to find yourself, say, in the North Eastern United States during the fall, you will have no problem finding a plethora of incredible colors to use as complimentary elements in your forest photography.
Maybe you're just not feeling how any of your photos are turning out, if so, try shooting in black and white or post processing your color photos with a black and white filter. Switching to a black and white shooting format lets you focus on how the light is interacting with your setting, instead of being bogged down, distracted by balancing color, contrast and light all at once.
Photographing mountains requires more delicacy than other types of landscape photography, there are more opportunities to get a cool shot, but also more opportunities to miss it.
Some things to consider when taking pictures in the mountains:
- The golden hour effect is much shorter, and in some cases nonexistent depending on where the mountaintop is located. So arrive earlier, stay later and take as many shots as you need.
- Lighting and shadows on the mountains are finicky, be sure to take multiple of the same photo to get a balanced exposure.
- Capturing the perfect shot usually requires a bit of hiking from spot to spot, even a positioning your shot a few meters away can drastically change the effect of the composition.
- Consider including a person, animal or small flora somewhere prevalent in the shot to really give a sense of scale.
- Use wide-angle camera settings, but be purposeful in choosing your subject. Don't just photograph an entire mountain range, choose a specific peak, cliff-face, or other geological structures to highlight.
As mentioned above, lakes, rivers and waterfalls can provide great visual direction in mountain based landscape photography. Use water elements to add contrast to the typically muted, earth-tone-centric mountain color palettes, and also as a visual guide to the viewer.
Landscape Photography Tips: The Snackable Takeaway
Taking good landscape pictures is hard, but it doesn't have to be. Utilizing any of the tips mentioned in this article will help you level-up your landscape photography game. No longer should you fret about whether or not to pack the big camera, leave it at home and trust your phone camera this time. The key factors that contribute to a great landscape photo have little to nothing to do with your equipment, and everything to do with your photographic composition and ability to think creatively.