Education

5 Pro-Tips For Creating Stunning Landscape Photos Wherever You Are

By Guest Author - 4 min read

We caught up with pro-photographer Stefan Schäfer about his essential tips for capturing and editing breathtaking landscape photographs even when the conditions aren't perfect. Now you can make the most of your existing travel content that you already have, or get yourself ready to go out and shoot better next time!

From the very first minute landscape photography has always fascinated me as a photographer. When I was 18 I started my own business as a graphic designer and knew that I wanted to work in the creative field.

I came to photography through a friend who took me to a photoshoot. I was fascinated by the technology of the cameras right from the start, and finally got stuck in the landscape and cityscape photography. It’s in these pictures that I can always lose myself and enjoy the beauty of nature.

At some point I wanted to pass on my knowledge myself and give something back to people who are starting out in photography. And so, on a whim, I opened my own YouTube channel. Now I have my own online store where I sell video training on image processing in various programs and offer my photo trips and workshops. Several times a year I take a small group to Dubai, New York or the Faroe Islands.

How to Make Sure Nothing Stops You Creating Stunning Photos

Water Tree Lake

As a landscape and travel photographer you go to many exciting places, with some places so remote that you can only visit them once in a lifetime. There are a number of factors that will influence my work, and is one of them. Infact, it can end up being what makes the image an eye-catcher! With a dramatic sky, where the clouds are illuminated by the sun, you have a nice result. That should always be the result and goal of a true landscape photographer. But what can you do if the weather is not as good as you want it to be? Just go home and stop using the very expensive trip? That is out of the question for me!

With Luminar 4, Skylum has developed a software that supports me as a photographer in exchanging a grey and boring sky for something unique. In this article I would like to show you how you can optimally use the sky in different scenes to get the most out of your photo.

Tip 1: Mountains

When I go to the mountains, I often have to deal with colder temperatures. Therefore good preparation is particularly important as well as equipment. I especially try to carry my batteries close to my body to increase the battery life. A stable tripod is just as important to me, particularly in windy situations.

Many are probably wondering how I use filters on mountains, as there are no straight horizon and a gradient filter would darken the mountains. Of course that’s correct, but it depends on the situation. If the mountains are illuminated by the sun, they can be darkened with a gradient filter to balance the image more from the exposure and to get more drama in the upper half of the image.

But what do you do when the sky is just gray and cloudless? You have several options:

  • Even a grey sky can work well in some photos if you adjust some things in the image look or maybe even make a black and white picture out of it.
  • Less sky, more foreground! Try to keep the sky in your frame as far as possible from the photo
  • Change the sky with your editing: Luminar 4’s Sky Replacement: allows you to change the sky afterwards. Luminar 4 is the perfect tool for this. A new sky is set in a few seconds and you don’t need hours like it used to be in Photoshop. I recommend that you only use your own sky! Create a well-stocked library of self-photographed skies that you can use in such situations.
  • The nice thing about a mountain landscape is that you can work particularly well with low- hanging clouds that get stuck in the mountain peaks. This gives you a lot of drama in the photo and the mountain comes into its own. I was in Patagonia a few weeks ago, one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The “Torres del Paine” mountain group is the center of the national park of the same name. An absolute dream for any landscape photographer that I can only recommend! There you get the most beautiful mountainscapes you can imagine!

    Tip 2: City Skylines

    Cityscape photography is actually a completely different genre, which has its own charms. For me, big cities with impressive skylines are my favorite destinations. A city that never sleeps such as New York, the modern metropolis of Dubai, or a city steeped in history like Berlin… Each one has its own charm, but what unites them all: the moment it gets dark and the lights start to shine - that’s these cities look the most beautiful.

    The colors come into their own, you can play with the light trails from cars, and the slower shutter speed means that you don’t see any disturbing tourists in the photos. The special attraction is a view of the city from above. If you have the opportunity to take photos from a skyscraper, you get a view that very few people have seen before. That can make a photo so exciting and attractive for the viewer, because they get to see something new.

    However, when I have a choice I don’t go to the top but rather the middle floor. If you just take pictures from above the city doesn’t look as huge as if some skyscrapers soar higher. But how do you get into such high-rise buildings? This is the most difficult question for many - and the answer is no less simple…You have to make good contacts with property managers or know someone who lives in the house in question. Therefore good contacts therefore play an important role.

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    Of course, the sky also plays an important role in cityscape photography. The most beautiful light can be found at sunrise, sunset, or at the ‘blue hour’ as it’s at these times that you find the perfect mix of beautiful colors in the sky and the lights of the city. If the lights come on too late and the sky is already dark, you can also work with a ‘time blending.’ This is where several photos of exactly the same image section can be combined in Luminar via Luminosity mask or different blend modes.

    Tip 3: Lakes

    Lakes have the great advantage that you can work with water. Obviously. If the water is calm enough, you can create a symmetry shot naturally. This not only simplifies the composition, but such images are also extremely attractive. It’s best to check the weather report to see if there’s a chance of no wind. For me, the most beautiful scenery is a combination of a lake in the foreground and a mountain in the background. For example, in the German region of Bavaria has some very photogenic lakes - some of which are well known and overcrowded, whereas others are quiet and lonely spots. It usually helps to set off a few hours earlier and explore the area on foot. If you walk around the world with your eyes open, you will also find new, unknown photo spots.

    Yet when it comes to photographing lakes, the sky usually makes up more than 50% of the photo. That’s why you should try to return to a place more than once in an attempt to catch the perfect sky. However, if you’re somewhere where you can not get back so quickly, then Sky Replacement can help.

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    This becomes all the more difficult if you work with reflection. After the simple sky replacement, you create another layer with the sky that you mirror once. Then try experimenting with different layer blending methods, such as ‘Soft Light’. Now you mask out the sky where it does not reflect, i.e. anywhere outside the water. This is something that I find is always better taught using visuals - that’s why I set up a video tutorial all about how to replace the sky and the reflection.

    Tip 4: Forests & Woodland

    Tree Forest

    Photography in forests has its own character. Often the sky in forests aren’t or only barely visible. Therefore, this type of landscape photography is particularly suitable for “bad” weather when the sky is grey. But you can often achieve a great moody look with the help of fog or moisture - so be sure to take advantage of any form of weather.

    If you go straight into the forest, there are some challenges with the composition. A forest often looks very “messy” due to the many trees and so it can be tricky to find a nice and clean scene. Therefore, detailed shots can sometimes help. But when the sun is shining do take advantage of it as it shines through the trees and creates a great spectacle of light that illuminates the scene. One way in which I do that is by increasing or even building the sun’s effect with the ‘Sunray Filter’ in Luminar 4. Simply adjust the position, the strength of the sun and it’s rays, as well as the temperature to create an even more powerful image!

    As I live in Germany, I mainly photograph the forests here in the region. I was particularly impressed by the Devils bridge in Kromlau. The bridge is currently being extensively restored, but you soon you’ll be able to take amazing photos there.

    Tip 5: Night Sky

    Night Star -

    Although I have already mentioned that my favorite time to take pictures is at sunrise or sunset, of course it is also possible to take great landscape photos at night. Anyone who has ever photographed the starry sky knows the beauty that can be seen. For me, an outstanding night photo is a strong composition with a good foreground instead of the sky only.

    My advice would always be to head to your intended photo point during the day and prepare yourself. It can get cold pretty quickly overnight so I try to take pictures of the landscape at the blue hour with a low ISO number. If you later photograph the night sky, you have to turn the ISO up further so that the shutter speed does not become too slow, otherwise the stars will blur.

    My technique is the same with aurora lights. When editing I try to saturate the shades of green a little more and turn down the luminance so that the colors come into their own even better. Northern lights can be photographed particularly well in the northern countries at winter time. I can only recommend trying it. And if you can see them with the naked eye, you know what I’m talking about…

    So, What’s Most Important in Landscape Photograhy?

    Light! Light is the biggest factor that makes a good picture. That is why most landscape photographers prefer to take pictures outdoors at sunrise or sunset because the sun shines a beautiful soft and golden light on the landscape. Use any form of the presented landscapes and look at the weather forecast beforehand because the more you head out and shoot, you more you’ll see that there really is a landscape scene for every season.

    As I said, sometimes things aren’t set up perfectly - there might not be the great light you’re looking for or another chance to go back to the scene for a second shoot - that’s when the possibilities of post production come into play! Photography is art, so everything is permitted!

    Looking to make the most of your existing travel content? Skylum is offering all EyeEm users an exclusive extended 90-day free trial for Luminar 4 plus a complimentary Creators Look Pack!!

    If you want to discover more pro-editing tips take a look at our recent feature with Kate Phellini, our Photographer of The year, where she takes us through her eseential editing tips and techniques!