4 Common Landscape Photography Myths BUSTED

Greetings, my excellent friends, Josh Cripps here. Now we are living in strange times. We’re living in an era of unprecedented access to information. And yet ironically, there’s a ton of bad information floating around out there. And the landscape photography community is no exception. So in today’s video, I wanted to tackle four of the most common myths I see lingering around in landscape photography.

Myth #1: A Wide Angle Lens is The BEST/ONLY Lens for Landscape Photography

Right now, without any hesitation, let’s jump into the first one, which is that if you ask what the best lens is for landscape photography, 99 out of a hundred photographers are going to tell you

Look, wide angle lenses can be incredible for shooting landscapes, but the thing that they are the best or the only lens that you should be using is an incredibly limiting belief. In fact, my personal favorite lens for shooting landscapes is my 70 to 200. And there are a bunch of reasons why that is. I think telephoto lenses oftentimes allow you to create more personally expressive photographs than a wide angle. Does you see wide angles are cool because they show you this big grand Vista. They show you the whole scene, but that’s kind of the downfall too. They lose any sense of mystery because you’re like, here’s the whole scene. Here’s everything I was looking at. Whereas with a telephoto lens, you can zoom in and isolate just certain parts of the photograph. And that creates a lot more opportunities to draw your viewer into the image, by forcing them to ask questions.

If I show you a photo like this, which is a single shot, this is not a composite going on here. You have the reflection and the thing above the reflection that are totally different from each other. It forces the viewer to ask, well, what the heck is going on here? Draws them into the scene a little bit more. Whereas if I had shot this same scene with a wide angle, yeah, it’s cool. It’s beautiful. It’s nice. But it shows you everything. It completely removes the sense of the mysterious from the scene and the viewer can easily say, Oh, I get it. That’s what’s going on telephoto lenses. They allow you to look at the landscape in front of you and say, you know what? Out of this whole situation that’s going on here, what I’m really interested in is just this little part right here.

So if I show you a big grand wide shot like this, yeah. As cool as dad, some nice clouds there’s reflection. That’s freaking great, but there’s not a whole lot going on here in terms of overall interest. When I was there in the moment in the scene, what was interesting to me were those mountains way in the background that are scrunched up the tiny little dots because of my wide angle shot. Whereas if I get out the telephoto and I zoom in, I can really tell the viewer what was important to me. And when you do that, when you start to pull out these little vignettes from the overall scene, you’re able to tell a story in tiny parts of the scene. So check this out. This is a photo from the Eastern Sierra. Here’s a wide angle shot. There’s actually not a lot going on in this photo, but way in the background here above this mountain called Mountaineer. I noticed that there are all these beams of light coming out just to net one tiny little spot as the sun was setting. So I threw on my super telephoto lens, my 200 to 500, I zoomed into 380 millimeters. And I was able to take this photo, which is full of color and drama and story and interest at the wide angle shot just
can’t convey.

Myth #2: A Landscape Photo Has to Be Sharp From Front to Back

All right, for our second myth, we’re looking at the idea that every landscape photo has to be sharp from front to back. And in order to understand a little bit more about this, you need to realize that what depth of field and focus and sharpness and all of that are doing is allowing you to tell your viewer exactly what they should look at within your photograph. In other words, if you want to leave your viewers on a visual journey through the photo, from the front to the back then, yes, everything should be in focus like in this photo. For example, I freaking loved these sun cups here in the foreground. They’re an integral part of the story that I wanted to tell at this place. And I wanted my viewer’s eyes to go from there to the mid ground, to the mountains in the background.

But you can see if my foreground is out of focus, the viewers, I just kind of slides over and lands on the background and it really hurts the story that I’m trying to tell. So this is the tool that we have as photographers is to tell our viewers eyes what they should look at within the photograph. But somehow this has been translated into the idea that every landscape photo has to be sharp from front to back all the time. But what if, what if there’s something in your photograph that you don’t want the viewer to look at, then it actually benefits you to make sure that it is out of focus. Take a look at this photo of a Wanaka tree. You can see that the foreground is completely blurred out. In fact, I shot this at F four, in order to deliberately throw these foreground rocks out of focus and push your attention to the tree in the back of the frame.

And the reason that I wanted to do that is because those rocks in the moment were ugly as crap. This is what the scene looked like from eye level. You can see that there’s just random chaos of rocks and puddles. And I wanted to diminish the importance of that within the frame. Now I know that I can’t just cut off the bottom of the frame because that’s going to make the tree feel like it’s not anchored to anything. So I need to include some foreground, but I really don’t want you the viewer to linger on that. I don’t want your attention to stick to those rocks. So what I decided to do in this case, like I said, open the aperture all the way up, focus on the tree, throw the foreground rocks out of focus. And in this case, what it does is it provides that grounding for the tree. It gives the composition balance, but it forces your eyes to sneak right past those rocks hit the tree in the background. So bear this in mind when it doesn’t suit you or your composition to have everything in focus, it’s totally okay to have some things soft in your frame.

Myth #3: The Best Light and Photos ALWAYS Happen at Sunrise or Sunset

All right, for our third myth, we’re going over a biggie, which is the idea that you can only shoot photos around sunrise or sunset. And that it’s impossible to take banger landscape shots outside of those magic hours. Now I may ruffle some feathers by saying this, but in my opinion, good light is a crutch. And the sign of a truly creative, truly unique photographer is what they do when they’re confronted with challenges such as quote unquote bad light. And in my opinion, there’s actually really no such thing as bad light. There might be light that doesn’t work for the scene that you want to shoot, but in situations like that, it’s more a case of you just need to get rid of those expectations and understand what the light is actually giving you and create photographs that go in line with that. And if you are shooting, say in the middle of the day, there are a couple of things that I found can really, really help you create fantastic imagery.

Now, of course, anytime you have an atmosphere that helps a lot, it breaks up the direct sun. It gives your photos, depth and dimension. And in fact, a lot of times photos like this are only possible during the middle of the day, when you have the combination of the sun high in the sky and cool atmosphere down below, take a look at these photos. For example, these were shot in the Alabama Hills at about two 30 in the afternoon on an absolutely blisteringly clear, harsh, bright day, but there was fresh snow on the mountains. And there was a wicked wind whipping off the tops of creating all of this Spindrift and the combination of that high sun angle and the backlit Spindrift created this incredible atmosphere that showcased all of the fantastic shapes and geometries and graphical elements of these mountains. And this photo wouldn’t have been possible at sunrise or sunset.

The other thing you can do when you’re shooting outside, the typical magic hour is to be thinking about black and white. A lot of times, these high contrast black and white photos work best when you have strong light on the landscape, creating these bright highlights and deep shadows. But don’t think that the only way to shoot in the middle of the day is to somehow cope with the light or adjust for the light, because there are scenes that actually work best with this kind of bright sunlight, such as backlit trees. When the fall color is popping or small intimate scenes, when you have bright sunlight striking just one part of the scene. And another thing you can do when you’re shooting in the middle of the day is just shoot in the shade, find somewhere where the sun isn’t shining and use that to your advantage. This photo for example, was taken about 1130 in the morning, but in the shade of a cliff. So I actually had all of this beautiful uniform even light.

So whenever you’re shooting outside of magic hour, it really is all about getting rid of your expectations, seeing what the scene is actually presenting you with and then taking advantage of those actual conditions to photograph what’s there in the moment. And I just want to take a quick commercial break. Now, if you guys enjoy this video, would you please do me a favor and do all the YouTube stuff like, and comment and subscribe and share it with your friends? It really helps me out a ton. It helps me grow the channel helps me creating more videos. 

Myth #4: You Should Always Use a Tripod for Best Results

Now tripods are great. I’m a huge proponent of shooting with a tripod. And I probably do at 90 or 95% of the time, what they let you do aside from all the normal stuff that people talk about, like getting the maximum detail and sharpness and removing any handshake and doing long exposures, all that right,

Good stuff is it allows you to be meticulous and systematic and make small adjustments

Spins to your settings and your composition so that you can fine tune things as you go. You can make the best composition. You can make the best choice for your camera settings. Tripods are wonderful for that sort of thing, but sometimes they get in the way, right. They’re kind of annoying to use. And if you’re ever in a situation where you have to really react fast to the moment shooting going to, tripod’s probably going to get in the way of that. This photo. For example, I was giving a talk at an Instagram meet way back in 2016, and I could see the people looking over my shoulder, looking behind my head, something going on behind me, which was the sun setting and shining all of these crazy beams down through the minarets here in the town of mammoth lakes, where I live. And as I turned around, I didn’t have time to get my tripod out from my backpack.

I just had to grab my camera and whip around and take shots because I had to be opportunistic about grabbing this shot before the conditions changed. And there are other situations when a tripod is completely useless like this, for example, I was shooting these photos from a fricking plane. How the heck are you going to use a tripod? When you’re in this tiny little plane that’s bouncing around and it’s moving and it’s pitching and rolling. Now, you just have to crank up your ISO, crank up your shutter speed, turn on your VR, stick your camera out the window and shoot a bunch, trying to get the sharpest shot that you can. And now that I think about it, it seems to me that whenever I’m shooting with my telephoto lens, I’m less likely to use a tripod because a lot of the scenes that I come across, I simply have to be opportunistic and ready to shoot like this photo.

For example, from Columbia, my buddy, Joe and I were on a hike. We just walked out of the forest and we saw these amazing light beam striking the ground. There wasn’t time to get a tripod out. I just had to bring the camera up and start shooting. The same is true here. Right? It’s not like I could go up these horses and be like, okay, just hold on a second. You guys, if you could just stay there, that would be great. Cause I got to get my tripod up. So I’m gonna undo the leg locks. And now I just got to get my camera and put it on top and think, Oh, you’re like 50 feet down the road now. Dang it. No, you just gotta be ready sometimes to shoot or in this image, there’s absolutely no way a tripod would have helped me take this because what I was doing was focusing on these comments of water that were coming down from the top of Yosemite falls.

And I was tracking them with my lens as they were falling. And I had to complete freedom of movement with my body and my camera in order to create this photograph or like this image, for example, it’s a 30 minute exposure at about 200 millimeters and I just tucked my elbows in and I just held that shutter button down and I didn’t breathe the entire 30 minutes. I’m just kidding. Of course, I saw that one on a tripod. I’m just messing with you guys. And on top of all of that, the truth is our technology is changing all the time now, right? I’m shooting with a mirrorless camera that has in-body stabilization plus stabilization with the lens. And this thing can hold the scene. Rock steady up to a surprisingly long shutter speed. And there are certain situations that’s incredibly advantageous. Like when I was shooting this beach in New Zealand, for example, these ways are powerful and they’re pounding.

And I just couldn’t stand there in the surf with my tripod, getting smashed by these things. And so what I would do there was that actually led away have come up the beach and as it would retreat, I would run down along the beach, wait for these patterns to appear. I would take a deep breath hunker down on my haunches, tuck the camera in. And I would shoot these photos at a sixth or an eighth of a second to get completely sharp results. Even though I wasn’t using a tripod. And that way, when the next wave came in, I could stand up and run back up the beach before I got obliterated. So don’t think that you always have to use a tripod. Your photos always have to be sharp and run the back. You always have to use a wide angle lens and you always have to shoot at sunrise or sunset. There’s so much opportunity for creative photography outside of those myths. Okay. And now that’s going to do it for this video.

Bonus Myth: You Have To Be A Photoshop Expert

What, bonus myth? Yeah, sure. Let’s do it. 

Now I couldn’t let this video go by without addressing the idea that you have to be a Photoshop expert in order to create beautiful landscape photos. This idea is so prevalent within our community and culture right now. In fact, there are photographers who have built their entire careers on perpetuating this myth either directly or indirectly, right? You see this all the time, the photographers who are like, all right, you guys. So here’s my rough file. And then I’m just going to add a little bit of focus, stacking some lens, blending, a little bit of time, mixing mountain warping, light painting and sky replacement. And I get something like this. And that’s how I create these incredible images. And if you want to learn how to do that too, you can for the low, low price buy in my tutorial right now. Look, I got nothing against post-processing.

I think it’s an amazing tool to achieve your artistic vision, but it’s not the only way. It’s not the only path that you can take that leads to creating awesome photos. There are many, many different paths and extensive post-processing is just one of them. You don’t have to do that to create beautiful photography. The truth is if you have some amazing moment, all you have to do is set up a strong composition that shows that off and intelligently apply your camera settings. And you’re good to go. All the post-processing. The backend is just icing on the cake. So let me show you exactly what I mean. This is one of my favorite photos here. Now you might think that it took a ton of post-processing to get to this final result, but you guys here’s the raw file. All I did was add a little bit of contrast and saturation.

I brightened up the water streets and wallah. I got that final result. I didn’t have to do any crazy luminosity masking or exposure, blending or warping or painting in new elements or clone stamping or anything like that. The moment itself was magic and I was able to capture in a way that required minimal post-processing here’s. Another example is photo from Tahoe. And this one I spent about 17 hours in posts and I was compositing in the sky and creating the reflection and warping this in luminosity dodging that no, just getting, I didn’t do any of that stuff. You guys, I was a little bit of contrast saturation again, maybe an exposure adjustment to get this final result. And for one final example, here’s my eclipse photo. And for me, this truly represents the epitome of a magical moment. This was captured in camera. Here’s the raw file.

All I had to do to get the final image was fine. Tune the exposure to a level that I like had a little bit of saturation to bring out the warm and that’s it. The craziness was in the moment, not in the post-processing. So if you’ve been feeling like you’re never going to be an amazing landscape photographer because you don’t know Photoshop, all these tools are too complicated. You don’t understand about luminosity masking and focal length, blending and compositing. That’s okay. You don’t need to. All right. That really is going to do it for this video. Thanks for watching. And I’ll catch you in the next one until then have fun and happy shooting!

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