How to work a location to get the most out of your landscape shoots

How to work a location to get the most out of your landscape shoots

All images by James Abbott

Capture more landscape images in a single location by experimenting with the different ways of approaching the scene

We’ve all done it at one point or another, and while some locations realistically offer just one or two potential compositions, the vast majority have so much more potential if you’re willing to experiment, take risks and shoot variations of the same subject.

"...while some locations realistically offer just one or two potential compositions, the vast majority have so much more potential..."

For landscape photographers aiming to get the most out of every shoot, there’s no point in setting up your camera and tripod and leaving it in the same spot waiting for the peak of the golden hour to take your shot. And whether you’re visiting a well-known honeypot location or one that’s completely unknown and off the beaten track, it’s always worth exploring the area visually to find unique compositions by ‘working’ the location to capture a variety of images rather than just the main scene that catches your eye.

Let the light guide you


It doesn’t matter what time of day you’re shooting, always let the light guide you and use this as one of the determining factors as to whether you shoot or not, rather than heading out only within the confines of golden hour.

"Some of the most dramatic light occurs before or after rain when clouds open up, and this can happen at any time of the day."

The image below wouldn’t have worked without the cloud obscuring the sun, but by waiting for the sun to drop behind the clouds, it was possible to shoot directly towards the light for a dramatic and high contrast result without any loss of highlight detail.

Some of the most dramatic light occurs before or after rain when clouds open up, and this can happen at any time of the day. So, while we all like to be out shooting at the two extreme ends of the day, don’t forget that the weather can provide visually exciting results at any time of day and to take advantage of the opportunity you simply have to be out shooting; think of those times where the sun is bright behind you while the sky in front is filled with dark and moody clouds – if you’re in the right place when this happens, the results can be sublime.

The best landscape shots are about being at the right place at the right time, so let the light be determining factor as to whether you shoot or not
f/11 | 1/8s | ISO 100

Experiment with viewpoint


When shooting landscapes and seascapes it’s common to shoot with the tripod at head height or the lowest leg setting with varying degrees of height in between.

"To mix things up and capture more unique viewpoints, try shooting with the camera almost touching the ground..."

And while this provides a huge amount of scope for the images you’re shooting, it’s safe to say that this height range is what we’ve come to expect from this type of photography.

To mix things up and capture more unique viewpoints, try shooting with the camera almost touching the ground using a tripod with an articulating centre column or a standard tripod with the centre column inserted upside down. This puts a much greater emphasis on the ground or a small subject close to the ground so the scene will need to provide a suitable point of interest, but if it has one you may be able to capture much more unique images.

Another way of capturing a more unique view is to use a drone if you have one. But rather than sending it up to a high altitude to capture a grand vista, try shooting at an altitude between 2-5 metres. This will create an image that doesn’t scream out ‘drone shot’ but the resulting image will exhibit subtle clues it was taken beyond the normal reach of a tripod. Alternatively, attach your camera to a monopod and use a shutter remote for a similar effect.

To find some unique and alternative angles, get as low down as you can
f/11 | 6s | ISO 100

Capture portrait and landscape images


Having worked for photography magazines for well over a decade, I can’t count the number of times in the early days where I took a shoot the magazine designer loved but would then ask, “you don’t happen to have a landscape/portrait version to you?”

"Providing images of a single location in both formats could open up the possibility of making more sales because you’ll be catering to twice as many potential customers."

So now, whenever I shoot a landscape or seascape, I always shoot it in both formats if the scene works both ways so that I can provide both options later.

For other photographers, this approach can work well too because you never know how the scenic shots you’ve taken might be used by clients in the future, so having both formats creates the potential for more uses. Also, if you’re selling your images, such as on Picfair Stores, providing images of a single location in both formats could open up the possibility of making more sales because you’ll be catering to twice as many potential customers.

When shooting landscape format, always take an alternative image in portrait format too
f/16 | 2.5s | ISO 100
Shooting in both portrait and landscape formats will provide buyers with more choice and may help you get more sales
f/16 | 15s | ISO 100

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Shoot the same subject from different angles


When you identify foreground interest for your landscape or seascape shot while the sun is rising or setting, the most obvious approach is to shoot into the light to capture the most dramatic results possible.

"...it’s always worth moving around the subject to find different angles to shoot from alongside your main shot."

It’s a tried and tested approach that we all know works extremely well, but for the sake of a minute or two, it’s always worth moving around the subject to find different angles to shoot from alongside your main shot. It’s always easier to shoot multiple shots while you’re on location when the light is perfect, rather than deciding later that you’d like to capture a different angle but then have to wait for all the variables to align once again.

These two images were taken just a few metres apart but the change in the angle of light in relation to the camera has completely altered the look and feel of the two images. The two shots are equally interesting, but it’s the overall mood in the scene, colour temperature and the way the light catches the texture in the foreground that differentiates the results of shooting from slightly different angles.

When you've found a subject that interests you, shoot it from different angles
f/11 | 1/3s | ISO 100
When switching angles the overall feel of the subject can change entirely
f/11 | 1/8s | ISO 100

Focus on details


When you’re in a place where the wider scene is nothing short of perfect, it can be difficult to pull your attention away from the most exciting composition. But while a great view may be most likely to become your main image of the shoot, that doesn’t mean that you should let other potential images be lost or forgotten. Get down low to the ground, point the camera straight down and see what you can find within the more intimate details within the wider scene.

Detail images, whether taken with a macro lens, wide-angle or standard zoom, can help to tell the story of the location by elevating the smaller and seemingly less important elements within the scene to become the main subject of your images. Textures, rocks, flowers, drystone walls, seaweed, and even close-up images of water flowing over rocks etc. can all provide a great deal of visual interest. The details available will, of course, vary between different locations based on what type of place it is, but there are nearly always interesting details to focus on.

As well as photographing the wider scene focus in on some of the smaller details too to find something more unusual
f5.6 | 1/40s | ISO 400

Arrive early leave late


When shooting a sunrise or sunset, it’s always best to be on location and ready to shoot 45 minutes to an hour before the sun is due to rise above or drop below the horizon.

"...it’s always best to be on location and ready to shoot 45 minutes to an hour before the sun is due to rise above or drop below the horizon."

Not to mention, if you’re early or late enough depending on which end of the day you’re shooting, hang around for blue hour because the cool tones and remaining colour in the sky can combine to show the location in a completely new light – literally.

Not only will being on location before, during and after the sunrise or sunset provide you with ample time to explore the area and find compositions before colour begins to erupt in the sky, it will also mean you’re not rushing around and potentially missing shots. Plus, being on location for longer means that you’ll be ready to react to the light as it changes with the potential to shoot beyond that short period of time where the sun crosses the horizon.

Always make sure you arrive as early as you can to make the most of the golden hour - f/11 | 25s | ISO 160

Bonus tip:


While working the location is a great way to capture a wide variety of images, there is one other approach that you can take to further expand the photographic potential of any location, and that’s to shoot the same compositions using multiple techniques; try capturing what you’d call a standard exposure first and then another with a 10-stop ND filter attached to the lens to creatively lengthen exposure time.

You could even try shooting the scene with the aperture wide open to create a shallow depth-of-field that purposefully blurs the foreground while focusing on the focal point in the scene to ensure it’s sharp or any other technique that works for the location.

It may sound excessive now but once you get back home and have a large number of varied image options to choose from, it’ll all make sense.

All images in this series were photographed at Snettisham Beach, Norfolk, England.