Even if you are a landscape photographer who has mastered the art of taking and editing photos, knows how to plan and compose a photo, and consistently creates good images, you might reach a point where you feel stuck with your photography. In this article, I share a way to break through this barrier to take your photography to the next level.
When I first started taking landscape photos over 10 years ago, I planned many photography tours around popular sights and locations. It was fun for a few years. I learned a lot, perfected my technique, and sometimes even found a shot that stood out. But landscape photography isn’t just about recreating the same images over and over again.
I draw a lot of inspiration from learning and discovering new things. In the beginning, it came from learning photography and editing techniques. Then I focused on improving my compositions and experimenting with new angles. Meeting other photographers and seeing how they work also helped.
But in recent years, it has become more and more difficult for me to progress in my photography. What has helped me stay motivated is investing time in researching new places and shooting in places where it is possible to express my own creative vision.
Take your photography to the next level
There are different ways to take your photography to the next level, and finding the right one largely depends on what level you are currently at. At the head of this article, I am addressing the somewhat experienced landscape photographers who have mastered the basics. For those, one way to get better is to get better at scouting, and below I show you how to get the most out of known and unknown photo spots that way.
Scout for new perspectives
Let’s start with popular photo locations. Before a visit, try to find photos of them on the various photo-sharing platforms. It’s nothing new, and I’m sure it’s something many of you do to plan your photo trips. But instead of recreating those photos later, do the opposite. Once you’ve seen the typical compositions from one point of view, make it your mission to find new perspectives. Removing the obvious compositions from the equation forces you to get creative.
It can be a difficult exercise, and in some places you might not find anything original. Sometimes you will have to admit that the most popular are also the best compositions. But coming to this conclusion after first exploring other available angles is always beneficial as you train your photographic eye in the process.
Let me give you an example: the photo below shows the Vikos Gorge in Greece, photographed from the Beloi viewpoint. If you google this view, you will find many similar images. What they have in common: They were taken from the same narrow viewing platform and lack foreground.
I went there with an hour to spare before sunset. This allowed me to explore and find a more interesting view not far from the main viewpoint. Here I could include the characteristic layered rocks in the foreground, which you see everywhere around Vikos Gorge. The middle of the image is made up of vivid greenery, which provides the perfect color contrast against the magenta hues of the sky. All of these elements were missing from the other photo. Another example is the photo I took at Sarakiniko on Milos. I invested a lot of time avoiding typical compositions. Funny enough, this rock formation is located near the entrance to the beach. But it was only after sunset that this composition was revealed to me. Prior to this, I had spent nearly two hours surveying the various rock formations along the beach for a possible photo. This brings me to the most important aspect of finding popular photography locations: allow plenty of time and, if possible, visit at different times of the day to experience these locations in a different light.
Find new locations
As I wrote above, you won’t always be able to find something new if you only visit known photo locations. Eventually, you might want to get a little more adventurous and start researching unfamiliar photo spots. From one of my previous posts, you know I like to do it via a run, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes time is short, especially when a multi-day hike is needed to reach an area of interest.
For me, these unknown and more remote places are a huge source of inspiration, and I dedicated my second day in the Vikos Gorge area to one of them. In the introductory video, I show how I plan my hike into the unknown, and I give five tips for successful scouting:
First of all, you need to properly plan such a reconnaissance hike. I use a mixture of Google Maps, Google Earth, OpenTopoMap and outdooractive. The result of such planning is the GPS coordinates of the viewpoints I want to visit and a map of the hike, including elevation differences.
While hiking, stay open to exploring the views along the way. Document them with your mobile phone. Once you reach the destination, you can compare it to the sights you passed through and choose the best one to photograph, then drive there for sunset or sunrise.
These recognition photos are not enough. Use apps like PhotoPills and its augmented reality view to check the path of the sun. This gives you an idea of how the light will develop at a potential photo point. Avoid choosing a view to photograph for which there is no chance of getting adequate light.
As hiking takes you further and further into the wilderness and the trails begin to disappear, ask yourself when it’s time to stop or even turn around. You need to be aware of your path finding abilities and skills. Don’t overestimate yourself and always consider hiking these trails in the dark if you’re staying somewhere for sunset.
Finally, it is always good to have a backup plan. If your reconnaissance hike doesn’t reveal the views you’re looking for, it’s good to have something else to photograph at the end of the day.
For my hike in Vikos Gorge, I didn’t need a backup plan. Found a nice view along the way. An hour before sunset, the light was perfect for photographing it.
I did another hike into the unknown a few years ago in Colombia. That led me to this scene of a cluster of palm trees surrounded by thick clouds in the Santa Marta Mountains.
The advantage of these photos is that they will be yours. You are not distracted by other images you may have seen from an online location while you are composing your shots. You’ll be able to express your own creative vision, and it’s a great way to get better with your photography.