How to become a better landscape photographer without spending money

It goes without saying that when we have something that we are passionate about we want to do more of it or do it better. Shooting landscapes is no different.

Sooner or later all of us plateau. Our photos start looking the same. They’re bland and boring. Why?

Often times it’s because we get into a rut of how we see and how we do things. We frame the same. Compose the same. Shoot the same subject matter. Like struggling in deep mud, we try really hard without going anywhere. You can remedy that.

I usually shoot close to home.  After a time, things get boring. I see the same scenery and shoot the same places. I see great shots of the rockies or the Pacific northwest. Should I go there to change things up? Hardly!

I love the challenge of shooting seemingly normal and boring places and making them mine. There is no mystery to how I do it and it isn’t difficult. Let me share with you how I get my inspiration, my ideas and my motivation. I never want to stand still. Being creative is moving forward.

The internet is one of the greatest resources a beginner and an old, long in the tooth photographer can have.

There are many photographers much better than I and I seek them out. Their work inspires me.

Maybe I’m not shooting some exotic waterfall in Iceland or a glaciers in Antarctica like they are but that’s no reason that I can’t aspire to create beauty in my small corner of the world.

Truly, most of the magical landscapes that you see on the internet don’t exist the way that they are portrayed.  Oh sure, all the elements, the trees and the frost and the snow and the mountains and whatever else you see exist somewhere on earth but they don’t look like that or at least not for 99.9% of the day.

Those magical places existed in the mind of the photographer and they brought their vision to the screen.

My most favorite of all landscape photographers manipulates his images heavily. Very seldom are they ever straight shots. With him spending over three hundred days of the year outdoors and shooting, he still needs to add color to skies, darken them, etc. It’s one morning or evening in a few dozen that occur where no additional processing is needed to deliver the vision. By studying other’s photos you can also gain insight into how they process their landscapes. You take a little from this person, a little from that person and put it together in your own unique way. It’s like finding a great chile recipe and by modifying it, making it both better and making it yours.

Seek out who you consider to be the very best landscape photographers today and pore through their websites. Bookmark them and revisit them every few months. Some of the better websites are and Flickr. There’s millions of photos on Flickr so if you go there instead of just browsing willy nilly, do a search for landscape groups. When you get to one, browse the galleries. Click on the photographs that catch your eye. Look at their gallery. It doesn’t stop there. Go to their profile and look at their favorites, that is, favorite photos from other photographers. Those places are usually gold mines for hundreds and thousands of excellent images.

It’s by browsing these hundreds and thousands of photos that you like that you’ll broaden your artistic sensibilities. Things will start to click with you. Rule of thirds. Eye going to the light area of the photo, etc. You don’t need to know those rules but by being exposed hundreds of times to them they will start to resonate with you. You’ll find that when you compose images in your viewfinder that what you’ve seen will influence how you frame your photos. By seeing all the different ways good light presents itself in a landscape you’ll be more open to when you can and can’t shoot.

With the advent of digital photography it’s now affordable to expose two hundred frames, cull out the bad ones and keep the one or two or three that have potential. You have to shoot and shoot and shoot some more. You then have to ruthlessly edit your images. I never keep everything I shoot. Oft times, half of what I shoot in the morning is deleted in the camera before I even start my way home and then I edit again when the images are on the computer, deleting the images that have either bad light or bad composition.

You are always learning when you’re shooting. Always. I hope to keep improving to the point that my work in a few years looks completely different than it does now.

I don’t believe that you need to take art lessons or classes. We’re not talking nuclear physics here. We’re talking about organizing things in a viewfinder and recognizing it when you’ve got it. It’s definitely not rocket science.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on April 3, 2012.

13 Responses to “How to become a better landscape photographer without spending money”

  1. Thanks for your common sense and instruction. It’s much appreciated.

  2. I fully understand that examples do not benefit your message and I kind of get why you never mention names but I would love to hear who inspires you and see some of the links to the photographers you reference in a positive way.

  3. @ Satnavandcider, it’s really all about common sense. There’s no mystery to doing it.

  4. Seems I’m already obsessively doing the right thing then ;)

  5. @ Stephen, the reason I seldom mention photogs that I like is that by doing so, people might think that this is the “right” way to shoot landscapes. There is no right or wrong way to shoot landscapes. I think that it encourages us to be different. It’s the difference that I celebrate. For as much as I might admire a photographer’s body of work, I don’t want my photos to look like theirs.

  6. @ Helen, the pre-visualization is the part that comes naturally. It’s being able to transform what you’ve photographed into what you saw that is more difficult and takes more time. There really is no substitute for spending time in Photoshop and making the program second nature to you. For me, it’s a huge part of the process. Shooting is only a small part of that.

  7. :( I have photoshop 7 ( a present) but find the whole thing rather mind boggling.. though do use the rather simple ViewNX2 from Nikon which is a start!
    I do love to get the subject in my viewfinder and to play around with it afterwards.. guess I will have to persevere with photoshop !! Have discovered the healing brush!! very handy..

  8. Dan you have not lost any of the thinking that keeps me coming back to this blog …. you continually remind me it is not where but when ..nothing special needed …. just your head and vision and you willingly share this with us

    Thanks !!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Nice article and image. Here’s my $0.02…

    The art of seeing in photography is really more than the make of camera you own, the type of lens, or whether you are shooting JPEG or RAW. Without learning the rules of photography any image you shoot may not work the way you envision it.

    As you point out, these rules are the critical difference between a professional and an amateur when viewing their images against your own. The art of seeing is really the photography rules of composition. They are time tested and provide a good guideline to work from. Yes, the rules can be broken, to a degree.

  10. I like the shot you chose for this article. For me, a big part of photography is looking at other people’s pictures. I get a small feeling of accomplishment when I discover a new artist whose work inspires me. Good topic.

  11. @ Vincent, snowing down there yet? :) One of the greatest influences on how I shoot is seeing the work of others. Your work has influenced me. You gotta shoot more though. LOL

  12. Very Nice article.. Thank you

  13. Thanks for sharing this post with us,its really very use full information.good work.

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