FINDING a Landscape to Photograph

posted on 6th of november, 2010

There are tons of resources for photographing the landscape, but how do you FIND a landscape? And what do you do with it once you find it?

I enjoy photographing rural scenes. In the beginning, I would drive down back country roads, randomly turning onto different roads; essentially, I would get lost of purpose just to see what I could find. One problem I had with this strategy was I would find a location, move on, but would never be able to find it again if I wanted to go back. Or I would waste time going to places that I had already covered.

Another problem is you can't snap a picture and expect it to be worthy of hanging on the wall. You can stand in the exact same spot day after day and experience a completely different set of variables each time. Sun, clouds, time of day, weather, they all factor into the equation.

When you're on the hunt for a landscape, a basic tool you should have is paper, pencil, and a map. When you find an unknown treasure, write down where it is located. Put down necessary details such as distance from an intersection, which side of the road it is on, etc. Also, and this is very important, write down the best time of the day you should photograph the scene. If a scene is on the west side of the road, the best time is probably in the morning when the sun is in the east and behind you. Some locations may be down low or blocked by other obstacles and may have a window for when the sun will light the scene.

You may also want to have additional notes for what is in the background. Would it be a good idea to come back in the fall when the woods are in full color? If you're in the area when a spring storm is moving through, you may want to jump in the car and run over and hope you can get a dramtic sky in the background.

Keeping notes such as this should make one thing obvious: You will be going back to the same locations more than once. Patience and dedication is required for capturing a specific landscape in a way that is stunning compared to just stopping and sticking your camera out the car window.

There are locations I have gone to over a dozen times over several years and have yet to get one good photograph. The image I am showing here, it took me two years and almost a dozen trips before I captured what you see. The sun is setting behind me and the remains of a storm are in the distance, giving the sky some drama and color. The sun lights the scene extremely well and helps to bring out the color in the trees and grass.

It is a great photograph compared to all the others I have of the scene. Yet, it is still not what I would call a stunning photograph. However, not long after I took this picture the two silos were torn down. It is unusual to find a silo made out of tile and very rare to find an old silo made out of wood, so to capture two of them together is a one of a kind situation. In that respect, the photograph is perhaps more important in terms of historical documentation as the agriculture business continues its rapid changes in my part of the world.

As I said, the photograph itself is not the greatest when compared to similar scenes, but a point to make is this: Even an average photograph such as this, a lot of time and effort and patience went into capturing the scene under the best conditions possible.

(1) You have to find scenes like this on your own, travel books will only tell you how to find places like ther Grand Canyon or Yosemite

(2) When you discover a location, you need to keep notes on how to find it again

(3) Your notes should tell you the best time of year and time of day to return to a location

(4) Be aware of the weather or other factors; sometimes you can tell when it's going to be a colorful sunset, be ready to jump in the car

One of my pet peeves in the art world is photographs of barns and rural scenes are many times considered to be "low brow" stuff. Landscape photography requires more talent and dedication to the craft than one could ever realize. But it all begins with FINDING the landscape and I hope this blog will help you in doing that. Even a scene in the city or down the block, finding the right spot and going back when the conditions are right, that is one of the differences between snapshots and true art.

Comments (18)

Posted by Melonstone on January 14, 2011
Nice blog, enjoyed it. Landscaping is so frustrating - many is the time I've taken shots that, once processed, lacked any zing or which failed to capture the view as it appears to the eye....that's the hardest I find, replicating the view, what you see ain't always what you get!
Posted by Gwhitton on January 07, 2011
I often wonder how the landscape photographers that do it are successful. Like someone said below, there is alot of work that goes into being at a specific spot at the right moment. And once you throw in the hours spent, and the gasoline/airfare consumed getting to that spot, you've really got to know your market well for that kind of image, or you are going to go broke in a hurry, unless you've got another job.
Posted by Anhong on November 21, 2010
Very good suggestion! I like nature.
Posted by Bevanward on November 08, 2010
great advice - thanks for sharing your thoughts and process!
Posted by Sobek85 on November 08, 2010
great information
Posted by Egomezta on November 08, 2010
Great article, thanks for sharing your experience.
Posted by Secmaster on November 08, 2010
Great article on finding ways of finding landscapes. I use a lot of those techniques myself as for the most part I've specialized in landscapes and seascapes for many years and long before I joined DT a little over a year ago. I do it all pretty much the same way you do with the exception of taking a lot of notes as I have a bit of a photographic memory when it comes to topography, times of day, locations, roads etc. I've added you as a favorite and I would much like to check out my portfolio and give me you opinion on it and don't worry I can take critique. My wife and I live in St John's Newfoundland in Canada and if you know of the province at all you also know there is an abundance of spectacular landscapes and seascapes to photograph.
Posted by Psalm113v9 on November 08, 2010
Great advice! We often travel to the same places looking for the perfect shot and perfect weather conditions.
Posted by Plaincrazy on November 08, 2010
writing these articals is a good form of artistic expression as well you always write a good artical , you do that as well as you photograph.
Posted by Plaincrazy on November 08, 2010
good artical thanks
Posted by Williamardrey on November 08, 2010
I like the photo. good advice
Posted by Rosedarc on November 07, 2010
Great advice, thanks
Posted by Adeliepenguin on November 07, 2010
I am bad when it comes to taking notes:) But I sure got a giggle over your barn comment. It is a big joke with my friends and family --whoever I am travelling with on a "road trip". I am always looking for the "perfect" barn to take a photo of and can never find it. Placement, lighting, environment, sky, color, shape, etc. I am never satisfied, and do I ever get "teased".
Posted by Driley on November 07, 2010
nice thoughts....although saving the location on your GPS will make sure you don't lose your notes :o)
Posted by Davidwatmough on November 07, 2010
This makes the point which I made in my blog [ Eureka ] 2 or 3 days ago that you'd never do this for the money........... the petrol and wear and tear on the car would far exceed any possible income from the image even if it sells which it might not. That omits the cost of camera, lenses, tripod, computer storage media, broadband costs ............. you can only really do this sort of thing for love of it unless you in business yourself making and selling books and calendars etc David.
Posted by Mariaam on November 07, 2010
Very interesting article and useful tips! Thanks
Posted by Unteroffizier on November 07, 2010
Some useful tips for landscape and nature photography. Don't forget the GPS, compass and maps :)
Posted by Digitalreflections on November 06, 2010
very good advice.

Comments (18)

This article has been read 1319 times. 6 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

About me

My greatest passion is landscape and fine art photography. However, stock does provide a challenge in itself. I enjoy coming up with new ideas and concepts and learning new techniques. In the end, each compliments the other. The things you learn from one can apply for another and you grow with the craft. I have over 30 years experience with different kinds of art and freelance endeavors and have yet to become tired or bored with finding new ways to exercise the creative side of me. Thank you for visiting my profile and I hope your time here will be a reward in itself. I am located in Wisconsin... [Read more]

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