How to improve your landscape photography

Objective, dispassionate, honest self-criticism is the only way to improve your landscape photography. You know how easy it is to point out flaws in someone else’s shots? You need to start doing that to your own shots.

But you wouldn’t wade in without warning and give someone else a list of 15 things that are wrong with their shot, so don’t start doing that to yourself. You would wait to be asked before you critique’d someone else’s shot, and you’d be sure to point out some things you like about it first. Do the same for your own critiques. Get yourself in a frame of mind where you are ready to receive a critique, and then do it politely and from a place of positivity.

If that’s a bit vague, here are some thoughts to help you:

1. You will never arrive

I guarantee that whoever just won Landscape Photographer of the Year will be going out straight away and trying to do better. So wherever you are on your own landscape photography journey, recognise now that it really is a journey - you will never take a photograph and decide that’s it, you’re done, there’s nothing more to do. You are not trying to take the best photograph ever, you are simply trying to improve your craft, your ideas, and your execution.

2. Self critique

This is incredibly difficult to do. You already know you did your best. You are working at the limits of what you know. So how can you be expected to do better?

Tell yourself this: you weren’t expected to do better in that shot. What you can do though is do better in your next shot. You don’t even have to make a huge leap forwards next time. You just need to find one thing to work on.

3. Small steps

If you make a pact with yourself to be honest about one thing in every shot you review, then very gradually over the course of the next year, your landscape photography will improve. You aren’t looking to “arrive” in the next shot you take. Where would you go after that? You are just looking to try different things, move out of your comfort zone a bit, and take small steps towards better photography.

It took me two years to get from the shot on the left, taken in Glen Coe, to the one on the right, shot in Iceland:

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I could not have made the leap in skill overnight. I probably could have done it in less than two years if I had done nothing else, but I was still working as a commercial floral photographer so I did it in my spare time. I took copious notes on my journey, and turned the step by step things I learnt into my new book, Beginner’s Landscape Photography (and I used that last shot, the one I am most proud of, as the cover image).

4. Make mistakes

The journey is not a straight road from here to there. You will have to go backwards, take some wrong turns, climb some steep hills and wander without a map from time to time. Enjoy these moments. You will learn more from trying something that doesn’t work, than reading about how to take the perfect shot. Get out there. Use your phone if you don’t have anything else, but try something, review it, and then try it again.

5. One thing at a time

Don’t try and fix your composition, your lighting, your depth of field and your storytelling all at once. Pick one thing, work on it and then move on. The most common things that can be improved are:

  • too much foreground

  • uninteresting light

  • no clear focal point

  • not being able to shoot confidently on manual mode

  • thinking new kit will fix your problems

  • spending too much time on YouTube and not enough time out shooting

If you really don’t know where to start, one thing that is very helpful is the tracing paper exercise. Take a piece of tracing paper and trace over the main elements of your shot. Then turn the original photo over, and just review the marks on the tracing paper. What do they tell you about your composition? If you were a painter, would you have chosen that composition? Could you improve the composition by moving your viewpoint?

Give yourself permission to take your time over your photography journey. To remember it should be fun, not incredibly stressful. And try and find a friend to make progress with.

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LandscapeEmma Davies