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Common Landscape Photography Mistakes

Standing in a valley frozen or lush beneath majestic mountain peaks while the cool fresh-scented forest air fills my lungs is my ultimate cathartic experience. Photographing that splendour is an honour in which I hope that I can capture the beauty before me with some true-to-life replication.

I have yet to meet a landscape photographer who does not enjoy being immersed in nature's beauty.

Each photographer has her own unique way of seeing the world and then photographing that beauty, from her perspective, within a landscape scene. However, there are some common mistakes that landscape photographers can make. Here are some mistakes you can learn to avoid in your landscape photography.

1. Using an automatic or semi-manual mode

Our cameras have limitations in dynamic range, which is the ability to capture a full spectrum of shadows through highlights in certain scenes. If we leave our cameras in an automatic or semi-manual exposure mode (for most landscape situations), we throw caution into the wind by leaving the exposure decisions up to our cameras. Setting manual exposure will allow you to control the brightness or darkness level in your images ensuring that you attain the best exposure in a single frame, or, if necessary, best exposure for highlights then shadows throughout a couple of frames. When photographing landscape images, choosing manual mode will almost always be your best choice for exposure mode. 

ISO 100, 16mm, f10, 1/100SS 

2. Using incorrect shutter speed

The best shutter speed choice for a landscape scene is always dependant on the conditions of the environment and your creative vision for an image. I adore long exposures. That pull of movement across clouds in a sky or softening of water captivates me every time. My vision for many landscape scenes often involves slow shutter speed techniques; however, this technique is not always the best choice. Windy conditions are not ideal for long exposures if you want elements like trees and grasses to be captured with a sharp focus. Therefore it's always important to consider how a long exposure will impact the entire scene and not only elements like water and clouds. 

Should you still wish to try a long exposure when it's windy, try a faster shutter speed exposure for elements like the trees and grasses in which you can later blend during post-processing into a long exposure image.    

ISO 31 16mm, f11, 0.6 sec

3. Using a high ISO 

Every landscape photographer should have a sturdy and functional tripod. Using a tripod will allow you to set a low ISO, which will help you capture higher quality images with less noise as long as you set your exposure triangle settings accordingly to attain the best exposure in your images. Keep in mind that if your camera's ISO can go below ISO 100, you can use an ISO lower than ISO 100 to extend your shutter speed time for longer exposure without the need for a neutral density filter. 

ISO 100, 16mm, f13, 1sec

4. Not turning off vibration reduction (Nikon) or image stabilization (Canon)

Vibration reduction (VR) or image stabilization (IS) is lens technology that helps stabilize the lens or camera movement associated with minor movement at shutter speeds that are too slow to be handheld. In most situations, a landscape photographer should use a tripod. When a camera is mounted to a tripod with vibration reduction or image stabilization turned on, the stabilizing system detects its own movement then attempts to stabilize an already stable lens. A camera mounted on a tripod confuses the vibration reduction or image stabilization process and will actually introduce movement and blur into an image. Not all lenses have VR or IS functions, but if yours does and is mounted to a tripod, turn it off. 

ISO 200, 112mm, f11, 1/50sec

5. Not considering composition 

Composition is an in-depth topic and one that is worthy of its own conversation. However, the short form for my point today is that all serious landscape photographers should always be thinking about composition. Include elements within your frame that add to a scene and work towards eliminating what is visually or aesthetically distracting. Become especially aware of the edges of your frame and try to crop at natural points if possible. For example, include or exclude an entire tree or element along an edge. Thoughtfully composed images are an important aspect of the creation of a strong landscape image.   

ISO 31, 16mm, f16, 4sec 

6. Having expectations

I'll be the first to admit that I want pretty light and captivating mood in all my images. Landscape photography does not often produce exactly what you have envisioned for an image or scene. Be willing to embrace that which nature chooses to show you. Be open to something different from what you wanted to capture. There's always beauty to be found. 

ISO 31, 16mm, f11, 0.5 sec

Take the time to jot down these common landscape photography mistakes into the notes section on your phone. Refer to your notes next time you're out capturing landscape images so that you can avoid these common landscape photography mistakes! 


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