5 Things Every Landscape Photographer Should Know
I've got a quote here for ya, and I think this says a lot. So I'm not interested in shooting new things. I'm interested to see things new. And I'm gonna ask you guys to think about that throughout the day and throughout the day tomorrow, because I hear that a lot in landscape photography, especially today, guys. Our, with photography so accessible to people and travel so accessible to people, there are tens upon tens of thousands of great photos. It's very, very difficult to go to a location that's never been photographed before and been photographed well. That can get daunting and almost demoralizing when I talk to some people sometimes, because they're like, I can't make a different photograph here. It's okay. It doesn't always have to be about you going to a location and making a total different photograph. It can be about you going to the location and making your own photograph of it. It doesn't have to be different. The fact that it's yours makes it different and it makes it fun. ...
So a lot of this is the experience, so I think that's a good quote to kinda kick us off here. But our first video dives into just walking up to a location, what runs through the head? And I just kinda broke it down into a couple simple things. So we good on kicking over to the video all right? I think a video will appear.
Hey, everybody, we are here live on location at Ocean Beach. Not live, but close to live. I'm with Justin Katz. Justin, tell us a little bit about what you do at Creative Live.
Sure. I do content marketing for the photography team here at Creative Live, and I'm also one of the hosts of the Creative Photography Challenge.
I'm really excited to be here today.
Cool. So, and you're really into landscape photography.
Which is kind of what brings you out with us is... I think, you know, the idea is, what I was hoping for is that as I talk about things, I kinda have somebody here, because we don't have a live studio audience, but Justin kinda is your audience, if you will, and so he can kinda ask the questions that you guys'll have. So we're gonna jump right into it, because we're here at Ocean Beach. I'm assuming, you know, you get to a location and there's 1000 things that could possibly be going on at this point in time. So how do you narrow that down into what you're gonna concentrate on? So what I did is I kinda came up with five things. Five things that you just need to think about as soon as you get to the location. Stick to these five things and then you can go from there. So Justin, we're gonna get started with the five things.
All right, thing number one. Not two, one. Is light and clouds. So this is, like, the star of the show. You know, the light is really what we're gonna be after. We don't have so much of it today, but normally I'm gonna hope that you're a little bit luckier than I am. And where's the light happening and where are the clouds happening? That's gonna be the star of the show. You wanna start pointing your direction wherever that's happening. Or let's say you're somewhere with mountains and canyons and the light's hitting those canyons, what's happening, you know, makes them glow red, maybe that's where you wanna point. But that's what you wanna start to look at is where does the light look the best? Number two, foreground. This one is huge, all right? Because what it does is when you include foreground in your photos, it gives whoever's looking at it a sense of place. So we'll see throughout this course there will be many photos where I'm standing up on top of a mountain and there's this, you know, large vista out in front of me. Those are cool. They're never my favorite shots. My favorite shots are the ones where I have something in the foreground, I get my camera close to it, and I'm able to bring somebody into the photo and into everything that we're able to see out there. Thing number three is the sun. So where's the sun and can you use it? Always be on the lookout for this. And this one can really take your photos up a notch, because when you include the sun in a shot, what it does is it kinda gives it, it gives it a sense of time, all right? Because our landscape photos are usually very static, but if I include the sun maybe out on the tip of a rock, maybe the sun's coming through a tree, maybe it's hitting the edge of a mountain, and as we talk throughout this course, we'll talk about the ways to get those little, that little sun star where it kinda gets the little edges of the sun kinda bursting out of it. When you include that in your photo, I think it really gives the photo more of a purpose and a sense of time to it rather than just this stagnant landscape photo. So always be on the lookout of where the sun is and can you get a shot when it's gonna hit something. And number four, timing. So when I say timing, I'm thinking along the lines of shutter speed, but even simpler than that, just water, all right? Chances are you're out, it's landscape, there's gonna be water involved in the scene somehow. So as you look at that water, what do you wanna do with it? Do you want that water to be blurry? Do you want that water to be sharp? You know, I'm looking out here and I see the water hitting the rocks and it, you know, it's a big wave and it hits the rocks and it splashes. So I'm thinking of that. You know, I wanna freeze that. So I start to go into that mode of how do I freeze the water? Other times where maybe I see the water hitting another rock and it cascades off and it looks like a little waterfall, well, I'm thinking maybe I wanna go a little bit longer with that and make it look like a waterfall. Then I've gotta get my tripod out and I gotta start to do things differently. But as you start to look at that, it'll kinda give you an idea of where you wanna be. Number five. Last but not least, and honestly, this literally just happened to me 10 minutes ago as we were setting up for this, and that is the environment. You're into landscape photography. I'm gonna guess you're into all types of photography. You know, you're outside. You just love the outdoors. You like to shoot outside. So that doesn't take people off of the table. You wanna be able to have great shots of people, too. The surroundings you're in. Be aware of your environment. So we're standing here, we're getting ready, I'm looking at the waves, I'm looking at the rocks, I'm figuring out what I'm gonna shoot, and this surfer walks up and walks right by. By the time I could get my long lens on to actually get a picture of the surfer, they're too far gone into the water, where as they were standing there in front of the water looking at the water, the cold water, and getting ready to go in, that would've been a really cool shot, but I missed it, and it's happened to me many, many times where I just missed that shot because I'm so focused on whatever's right in front of me and I forget to just look around. So I think when you sit with those five things and you kinda go through that checklist. You know, write 'em down, do whatever you have to do. But when you get to a location, run through those five things, and right there that should spark some ideas for ya and some ways and directions that you can start shooting. All right, so, Justin, does any of that make sense?
Absolutely, Matt. I think that's a really cool place to start.
One of the questions I had as I kinda look at where we are right now, I see a lot of birds going by, pelicans and seagulls and cormorants, stuff like that. And I'm curious how often you try and incorporate wildlife that's just kinda happens to be passing by into these scenes, and how do you think about that?
You know, I think a lot of it comes down, I think a lot of it, number one, comes down to personal taste. So it's funny, I mean, and you're a photographer, so you see this, too. I think our tastes change as time goes on. So I used to, if wildlife was there, and I would see it there, I didn't try to include it that much. And as time goes on, it's funny, like, I developed more an appreciation for not only the scenery, but the wildlife that's in that scenery. So I do try to include it now, you know? It's, as I'm looking at it, you know, what I would probably do is, like, I see these rocks here and I see the water hitting the rocks, and I see birds flying over, so I'm gonna wait, and every so often I've been noticing this, like, group of birds flies right over the rocks. So I'm gonna wait to where it's not just one bird, but I'm gonna wait till it's that group of birds that flies right over the rocks and see if I can get that shot. So in answer to your question, yes, that's, I think it's most certainly something we wanna look for. A lot of it is personal taste. You know, if you like wildlife, you wanna incorporate it. But I'd say, you know, if you're out here and the wildlife is part of it, put it into the photo.
Awesome. Sounds good.
Cool. So a couple of things. I got a photo up here. The five things... Inevitably what happens is I come up with five things and then the camera goes off, and I'm sitting there last night and I'm getting ready for class and I think of, like, seven more things. So the link I gave you at mattk.com/creativelive, that's one of those tip sheets. It's made for your phone, so it's made, like, it's made to actually just scroll through and, like, you're standing there, give me some ideas. What can I look for? And you can just scroll through and get some ideas. But I added some to it. The last question, I kinda just pulled this up at the last second. This is kinda what I was talking about. So this is what happened. You know, every few minutes, like, you'd see one bird fly by, and to me, one bird was, it was almost gonna look like a spot on the photo, a bit of sensor dust, whatever it happens to be. Which I have a lot of in my photos. But when the group of birds flew by, I think it was a little bit more compelling to include in the shot here. So I had a couple different ones. It was, they're kinda centered, but I kinda like the, liked how there was a little bit of light on that rock and whatnot, so... So I just thought I'd throw that up there as an idea of what Justin had asked about in that last one there. All right, let's jump back over to... Kind of a quick review with some photo examples. So light and clouds. That was the first thing that I was talking about. What am I looking for? It's, to me, that's one of the stars of the show, is when you have it, what's the light doing and what are the clouds doing? Landscape photograph, that is gonna be the star of the show. So this is a place in the Great Smoky Mountains at sunset, and, you know, imagine I'm standing here looking at this huge just panoramic view in front of me, and if I look this way, that's what I see, okay? If I simply take my camera and go like that, that's what I see. So it's just different, you know? Like, what got me... I mean, that's actually not a bad photo. It does showcase the color in the trees a little bit better, I think. There's a lotta nice color there. But, you know, when I get out there, it's like, man, how do you not point your camera when you see clouds like that, you know? And that's kinda how I weighted the photos. I saw the top two-thirds weight of the photo and made it include the sky. So, but that's, it's literally just shooting that way or shooting that way. So I kinda tend to point my camera toward where the light show is happening. And a lotta times, guys, that can carry your photo, all right? It might, it kills me. I posted on... I post a couple of times a week on Instagram, and, 'cause I don't post every photo I have in my, like, portfolio.com, you know? Like, I, so I just post photos that I like on Instagram. And I took this stinkin' photo with my iPhone at my kid's football game one night as the sun was setting, and all I did, like, basically what I had, if I went down any lower, you would've seen cars and lights and parents and coolers and all that stuff, and so I just tilted up so all you saw was a little bit of the treeline, but it was a magnificent sunset. And it is my most liked photo on my page. I'm like, are you kidding me? I just said, like, wow, pretty sunset, click, and it's... But sometimes that can carry your photo. I like to think of things, and I'll say this over and over again over the next couple days. I like to think of, for your outdoor photography, there's two key hooks. There's a great location and there's great light. In absence of one, the other better carry the photo. Does that make sense? So we want a great location or we want great light. So if you're not in a great location, AKA my kid's football game, the light carried the photo, and it really can. So that's a big one. Again, you know, so I'm in Colorado, and it's kinda cloudy, but the sun's poking through in certain places. There's really not much going on around. It's very, very flat 'cause it's an overcast day 'cause it just snowed. And that happens. So it's just being aware of where the light show is happening. And I'll say this one over and over again. It won't be the first time you hear it today. But when the light is just hitting part of something, shoot it. It's your formula for landscape photography. If you are ever out and about and the light is just hitting part of something, shoot it. Landscapes, outdoors, nature, architecture, whatever. If a beam of light is coming and lighting something, take a picture. Same thing. Just kinda looking around and where is the light show happening? This is, you know, 15 minutes from my house. I went to photograph a sunrise along the bay, and I'm walking back to the car, and there's all this moss hanging off these trees. If you saw what was around here, I mean, it's, there's houses, there's stores, there's a convenience store, like, if I just pan down, there's a parking lot. But the light carries the photo. Foreground. So if I had to pick top two things, this is the next one. Foreground. I'm constantly thinking about the foreground. When, I'd say when I arrive at a location, the light show is not too difficult to figure out, right? Look, where's it happening? There. The next thing that immediately, the next thing I go into is foreground mode. I just start looking around, like, what can I put in front of the camera? I think it's such a key element to taking your landscape photos to that next level. And as we get into some of the compositional things, you'll start to see, I think, what happens is when we start, we tend to, little bit of ground, lots of sky. So we're, you know, if we're thinking of pointing our camera somewhere, you know, it's like it's almost pointed like that. And I think as you get more into this stuff and you can really start to get foreground into your photos, the camera almost goes down, and you get close to something, and you bring people into the shot. Incidentally, I'll bring you back to... So, odd numbers. I don't know why. The human psyche likes odd numbers. So when you're positioning something in the foreground, threes, fives, just tend to work. So what you, what sometimes I'll actually do is, like, if there's four rocks, I'll tend to clone one out if I can, just to make it three. I don't really know how many rocks are in this one. I mean, technically I guess it's four, but I'm looking at the, I'm looking at that line in the middle that I see three, so we can contest this. Again, foreground, you know? I saw this, this is downtown Portland. I wanted to get on the other side and shoot toward the city. And so when I realized I wanted to get on the other side and shoot toward the city, when I realized there's very few places along the bank that you can go, I just went immediately into foreground mode. What can I put into the foreground? Death Valley, same thing. You have these sailing stones, you know? I wanna get one into the foreground. The sun. The sun's the other thing. So this is another one of those checklist things. I'm gonna look at the sun, and if I can use it in a shot, I will. I generally want the sun to be on the edge of something, all right? This is that sunrise, remember, with the mossy, the moss hanging down from the trees? This is actually the sunrise that I went to photograph that morning and was walking back. But I'm gonna try to use the sun, put it on the edge of something, 'cause, you know, you can get that little sun star. It doesn't happen as much when it's higher in the sky. You can still get it, but not quite as much. But when it's right on the edge of something, it can really make a nice impact in the photo. That's that same area with the mossy trees. So to me, you know, I mentioned it in the video. This isn't shooting into the sun, but it's still using it for effect in the photo. I very deliberately wanted that flarey, faded sun flare look. I think it helps with the flowers. It's not gonna help with every photo, but I think it helps make this photo. This photo was taken on an iPhone, by the way. But it does, I think it helps give you a sense of time for that photo. So much of it is stagnant, right? You look at a photo, could've been taken, I mean, I guess sunrise, sunset, whatever. But that sun, it's like, that point only happens once in a day, and that's what's cool about it to me. Water and timing. I think most of the time when we're shooting outdoors, we're gonna be near water of some sort, whether it's waterfall, lake, beach, whatever it happens to be. So I'm constantly thinking about what's the right way to capture this water? Sometimes it's to freeze it. Other times it's to let a little bit of motion happen in that water. You know, this isn't a super long shutter speed. This is probably, you know, this is probably half a second or so. It's not long exposure, but it's just letting a little bit of motion happen. And then this is the spot you've probably been photographed to death, the Bay Bridge, but that's, you know, super long exposure. That's 30, 60 seconds, to where you really let it smooth out, and even though there's not reflections, it actually creates reflections. And then finally, surroundings. So I'm gonna be totally honest with you on this one. I was drawing a blank on what my fifth one was. Right on scene, right on set when we were doing this on the beach, and I'm sitting there with Jim, and we're talking, and Jim said something about surroundings. And as soon, I swear this is exactly how it happened. He goes, "Well, what about the surroundings?" As soon as he said it, over his shoulder I see the surfer. And I'm like, dude, that's exactly it. Like, I can't count how many times I've missed something really cool 'cause I'm so focused on what I think I thought I was going there for. I don't know if that makes sense. What I think I thought that I thought that I did. But because I'm so focused on that that I've missed something. You know, I was in, a couple years ago I was in San Diego, and I was, I went to photograph these, this rocky coastline area. And I was down low, and I'm getting the water as it comes up over the rocks, and I'm just so focused on it, and the sun was just going down over the horizon line, and this paddleboarder comes right in front of me. And I have my, like, at the time, I think I had, like, the 14 to 24 lens or something on. There's no way, like, the guy is, you know, he's 20 yards off in the distance, so there's no way, if I capture it with this lens, he's gonna be this big. Paddleboarder comes right in front of me. And I saw him outta the corner of my eye and I was still focused on the shot, and then I see him coming in front of the sun and I'm like, oh crap. And I grab my bag and I go and I try to get my zoom lens on, and by the time, and he went right in front of me like this, like with, you know, great gesture with the paddleboard, and by the time I got my lens on, he's over there and I have the butt in my shot, you know? It's like... But you gotta look at that stuff, you know? There's, there was a really nice photo. It was foggy out the other day. A surfer stopped, stood in front of the water, but I didn't have the right lens on to shoot it, and I wasn't even thinking of that. I was just thinking about the water. So be aware of your surroundings. So this photo, right after this photo was that. It's just up the beach, there was a little, this is my nephew, or my cousin's son. But, you know, we're just up the beach a little bit, and it's like, you know, I'm in beach mode, I'm in water mode, I'm this and that, and then there's this cute little kid sitting there holding, and I'm just like, I'm like, come on, buddy, just give me a good smile, and he gives me a good smile. But you got the gorgeous light coming in on the side of him. But, you know, it's something that you could miss if you get too much into beach mode. Same thing here. This is the Steens Mountains in Oregon, and I'm pointed in one direction, and when I look over, and I'm just trying to shoot, and I, like, I have, I'm locked into my composition, I'm locked into what I want, but as soon as I look over, you know, I see that, and it's like, that's a way more compelling shot to me than the other one is. Same thing. This was a buddy of mine. We were shooting, this was on top of the mountains we were shooting one morning for sunrise, and I'm closer to that edge and I'm fixated, I'm trying to get the snow in the shot to make it look like there was, you know, it was the foreground was the snow and it went out into the distance, and it's like, I look over and I see the sun coming up, you know, basically right between, or right behind him, you know? And that's a cool shot. That's a, I mean, that's a, you know... Other, if you're shooting with other people, it's like, who wouldn't love to have a shot of themself like that, you know? So it's... Just to be aware. And that's my buddy Hudson. We're kinda walking back from the shoot, and I look over at him. He's such a, just an interesting, cool, fun guy. And we're walking back from the shoot, and he, we're joking around about something, and I look back, and his hair, he's, you know, got the Jesus hair, and his, it's, and it's lit up by the sun. I'm like, dude, pretend you're a model. Let me take a shot of you. And he just starts laughing, and I grab a shot, you know? But your surroundings, you know? It's that... You know, what's Joe McNally say? He says don't put your camera away until... Don't put your camera away until you leave the shoot. So had I put my camera in the bag and we were hiking back, I never would've got that shot of Hudson. This is the desert in Oregon, and I was busy shooting... There was a really nice glow in the sky, and I'm busy shooting, and I'm trying to look for, I'm doing what I said. I'm looking for foreground. I see these cracks in the ground and everything like that. And I walk by one of my buddies, I walk by this reflection. 'Cause I didn't really like the reflection 'cause it was actually kinda brown and muddy. So I walked by it, and then I stopped, and I'm like... How do you not take a shot of that?