How I Approach an Unknown Landscape and Photograph it

When you are starting out on landscape photography and do not have your finances in place; traveling twice to a far off location or spending some time there to get a photograph can be a daunting task. This post is based on my experience shooting landscapes.

Mannavanur Lake, Kodaikanal (Nikon D7200, Tokina 11-16mm, 30″ Exposure)

Try to reach the destination as early as possible no matter what kind of landscape you intend to shoot. Light can change quickly and if you’re already in the place and have a composition in mind it is considerably easier to shoot than to suddenly jump out of your vehicle and approaching the scene. Composition matters a lot but do not get too overwhelmed by it. If there is an unavoidable branch or any object for that matter that is distracting, try to move it in the corner of the image so that you can crop it off.

Going to a place with wonderful views after every bend can get you super excited and your plan will be to shoot each and everything in that particular place, this is one big mistake that landscape photographers make even if they have some level of experience, just a few months ago on my visit to Ooty hill station in Tamil Nadu, India, I found an excellent spot to capture the sunset. I tried to get a composition there using my wide angle lens (which was a bad idea) all the while thinking that I have seen a better location on the way. This clouded my thinking and I didn’t even bother to change my lens to the telephoto zoom lens and check for another composition, I noticed it only when I came back to my PC and checked it. I left that place and was highly disappointed as I couldn’t find another place and by that time it was too late to go back.

Don’t spend your afternoons locked up in your hotel room watching movies (in case you need rest, don’t hesitate to take a nap), go and explore some places which might look like a good place to shoot. Use your compass to check east and west (there are wonderful apps like Photopills to know the exact direction of sunset and sunrise), take some photographs of the place using different focal lengths, check it on your camera screen or transfer it to your phone and check it out and determine a good composition, speaking of phone, you can use your phone to take some sample shots too. Mark the location on Google maps unless you have a wonderful direction sense and memory.

Do not try and emulate others photography thinking that you will get some good shots; this could be treated as a general tip to photography. Trying to emulate something from someone else’s shot can rob you of a fantastic experience of trying to get beautiful photographs, when you yourself try to get a wonderful shot, you will know more about your camera, which is absolutely important.

Know the limitation of your gear and be prepared for that – when I started using my first DSLR, the Nikon D3200, I had a terrible time focusing on the landscape at night or just when it gets dark and there is a faint beautiful colour in the sky that you know that the camera sensor will pick up beautifully. I used to carry a torch with me so that I could focus on the spot where the torch light hits, which I used to shine on the foreground almost in the middle. So, in case you have some techniques like these which involve some props, do not forget to carry it. I would like to wind this up by saying that, if you do not get the desired capture do not be disappointed, try to learn from your mistakes. Never delete photos on your camera, view it in your computer and try to analyse the image, some images can look good if you crop it, if you can’t make any sense of the photograph, imagine that place in your head and think about what you have learned from the image. Do not focus much on the gear that you are lacking, you could be lacking the finances to purchase a better lens or a camera, do not let it limit you as even basic DSLR/ Mirrorless cameras can capture fantastic images.

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