How to Overcome Unrealistic Expectations in Landscape Photography

I am sure some or some of you had a bad experience during a photography trip. I am talking about when you visit your dream location but nothing looks like as you pictured.

It happened to me countless times and it was not a good feeling. I was expecting something amazing would happen in that location and I can shoot the image of my life. The truth is it rarely happened.

So today I’ll share my thoughts on how to face unexpected situations during a photography journey.

It’s not the camera that makes a fantastic image so basically it does not even matter what kind of gear you have. I shot amazing pictures with my cell phone.

So, It is the photographer behind the camera who has gathered many years of experience and knows every little trick to make an outstanding photo.

In many cases, it takes a long and rough hike to get to distant areas and sometimes all for nothing: the picture just isn’t there.  

They might hike all day, get to the exact same location where the photographer snapped its photo. They get disappointed straight away, as the lights, the composition, basically nothing looks the same. It looked much nicer on that photographer’s photo. That’s when they probably realize it’s going to be a bit harder than they had thought.

avoid landscape photography expectations
My first visit in the High Tatras

When I started landscape photography I fell into these situations many times. I often went home one picture worse than the other. It made me feel bad and I wanted to quit because I couldn’t produce great shots.

After three years I learned from my mistakes,  and I gathered more knowledge of location scouting, weather conditions, and picture compositions. We had to wait 2 hours for the fog to appear on this lake at the High-Tatras. We only had a couple of seconds to capture this image before the fog covered the mountains completely.

avoid landscape photography expectations
Same location – 3 years later

What is the solution and how to overcome these mistakes?

First, you need to avoid expectations, I cannot emphasize this enough.

You can’t control the lights, it is not as easy as a turning a lamp into the right direction. You need to wait for specific moments, sometimes for hours, to get those elements align perfectly.

90% of the time the sky won’t turn into that amazing color you’re looking for. Well, at least you should be very lucky to have that all the time. The key here is patience and knowledge; to be aware of the light, terrain, weather conditions, and of course: your gear.

How come some photographers always have fantastic conditions and compositions?

Well, they gained a lot of experience; they failed many times and learned from their mistakes, just like we do.

Most importantly, they are visiting the exact same spot many times to capture and squeeze every great detail of that location. Waiting for things to align perfectly for that specific frame. They already have a good composition in mind, and they let nature do the rest: bring the light. This is what makes an image profound. It could be rising fog dispersing the light, clouds floating in an orange hue, a meadow spotted with bright gleams of light, etc.

Probably these photographers know that particular area very well and they are aware of the weather. For example, a passing storm could always deliver enchanting light conditions, as the clouds open up and the sun shines through some dramatic cloud formations.  

Go with the flow

Most of the time we have got no ability to visit that same location a dozen times. But what should we do then to create great images?

Well, we all should go with the flow, and simply avoid having landscape photography expectations. Be prepared and have backup plans, adapt new ideas to the always changing conditions.

I often went to the field and wanted to capture an awesome sunset, but it was an overcast day. I had a backup plan and instead of waiting for the Sun to break through the sky or let the situation ruin my mood, I went into the forest and took pictures of waterfalls. Overcast days are perfect for taking this kind of subjects in the woods.

Ysperklamm Waterfalls
Ysperklamm Waterfalls

It was needless to wait for that magical sunset, I knew it wouldn’t happen due to the weather forecast.  

The other day was full of thunderstorms and we were staying in our hotel for the rest of the day. Then I quickly realized the best lights occur before or after the storms. It doesn’t matter if the Sun is way above your head, the light will probably be very pleasing during a stormy day, due to the high contrast of the dark clouds and vivid lights. That’s when we need to get out to hike and use these atmospheric occasions.

My #1276 failure – Glowing haze

Here’s a short story, in which I made mistakes and I’ll tell you how I overcame my failure. This changed the way of my thinking and helped me to avoid my dreamy assumptions.

It happened in the Dolomites when we had to wake up early to visit one of the famous locations, Alpe di Siusi. Unfortunately, I haven’t gathered enough information about the area and it was our first visit. Of course, the sunrise was a bad choice for this particular location. The direction of the light wasn’t the best, the source was in front of us and lit up the haze strongly. We couldn’t even see our subject: the mountain.

avoid landscape photography expectations
Flowing haze lit up by the sunrise

I’m not saying this location is always wrong with the rising Sun. I just try to highlight it probably would have worked much better at sunset.

It was an unpleasant experience and I was very disappointed that time. I couldn’t snap the picture of my lifetime, and the same time I was exhausted from the early wake-up and the hiking. We needed a break and some sleep during the day to gain more energy and shoot at the next location.

Magic happens when you least expect it

On the way back to our base we stopped by at Passo di Giau to snap some pictures. By the time we got there, the sky got really angry, and a strong hailstorm struck the pass. We were trapped in our car and waited patiently for the batter to die down.

The rain stopped, and I knew there will be possibly great lights would shine through the stormy clouds. I went to scout the location and found some compositions straightaway. This rock formation delivered a great foreground for my image. When the sun was breaking through the sky, it immediately warmed up the valley and made the rising haze quickly into flowing clouds. They were perfect elements for my composition. As I wished, the lights broke through the storm and had sweet sun rays over the valley. In that time everything aligned for the composition perfectly. If I would let my morning failure ruin my mood, I would probably never have observed and captured this moment.

avoid landscape photography expectations
Passo di Giau – by Gabor Boszormenyi

If you want to read more about the Dolomites, then check my article about our landscape photography journey.

I came to this spot without any hope and I overcome my morning failure and bad mood. Suddenly nature gave me amazing conditions and I took advantage of them.

Cinque Torri

This is one of the most photographed locations in the Dolomites, and we have also visited it one time. The hiking trail was very pleasant and we walked in beautiful sunny weather. Unfortunately, at the time we arrived, some rough clouds appeared and covered the area in a flat gray color.

We couldn’t capture any decent images of the Five Towers, although there were interesting things taking place on a distant mountain. We grabbed our gear and waited until the sky became clear over those peaks. The magic happened again! We couldn’t photograph the famous Cinque Torri, but we changed our plans and have been patient and adapt to the changing conditions.

avoid landscape photography expectations
The view from Cinque Torri

To Wrap it Up

Gather all the necessary information along our learning process to be aware of all conditions.

You could always have a brief idea of a particular location but never assume perfect lights. Instead of dreaming of your greatest picture, try to adapt your ideas to the current weather conditions.

Do location scouting to have knowledge of what you can expect on location. In this article, I share my thoughts on how I do it before my journeys.

Most importantly, just relax and shoot as much as you can along the way. Enjoy the surrounding nature, not just make a rush to the one desired location. Be on time and have some rest and explore the area calmly.

Always try different compositions, look for leading lines and memorable foreground objects and shapes. In this case, you can avoid landscape photography over-expectations and actually enjoy your photography journey.

We all have our ups and downs and it’s not easy to have a positive attitude all the time. The key is to enjoy the journey and get along with the surrounding nature. Enjoy yourself at your particular location and try to make the best out of what you get.

What was your hardest photographic moment, and how did you solve your problem? Tell your story in the comments.

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Gabor Boszormenyi is a landscape photographer and founder of Shutterture. His goal is to help photographers create better images.

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