Landscape photography requires the use of proper technique and attention to detail in order to capture spaces and nature. A photographer can share an experience and set the stage of a scene with one wide shot that captures a location. Landscape photographers aim to capture a location with little interruption to reveal the complexity and simplicity of nature.
How does one work as a landscape photographer? Working as a landscape photographer is both easy to break into with many opportunities to showcase and sell work, but also challenging as it is a competitive industry. To work as a landscape photographer, you must:
- Learn the necessary techniques and skills of the craft
- Obtain the proper equipment
- Capture unique and interesting shots
- Develop a business strategy for selling your work and services
As you've seen, a career in photography can be lucrative if you are able to successfully market yourself to sell work. You'll notice a reoccurring set of requirements in each of the photography jobs – that is network, connections, gear, skill, and hustle.
Landscape photography is similar to other competitive spaces due to the abundance of photographers, so you must set yourself apart with captivating images and a platform to sell. This article guides you through the process of becoming a landscape photographer and how to translate that into revenue.
Preparing to Work as a Landscape Photographer
Before you can begin making money as a landscape photographer, it is necessary that you have the skills and equipment necessary to take pictures that clients or publications will be interested in purchasing. Because the market is competitive, you must take great photos with unique or interesting compositions. This will lead to booking paying jobs.
Types of Landscape Photography
There are many types of landscapes to choose from in landscape photography. Having knowledge of the types will allow you to specialize or learn about the specifics associated with each.
There are three main categories of landscape photography:
- Representational: This type of landscape photography often appears the most realistic or “natural.” The image looks as it appears naturally, and no special effects or additions are included. Lighting, framing, and composition must be focused on to ensure the quality is high when editing is not done.
- Impressionistic: This style of photography relies more on effects and editing for a landscape that is more “unreal” than what is simply present in the image. The photographer gives the viewer an impression of the landscape rather than its true nature. The sense of reality is blurred in this type of landscape photography.
- Abstract: Focuses on components of a landscape that are viewed in a new way. Often items or focal points that are generally not emphasized in typical landscape photography are centered on through lighting techniques or more specific views.
These are the typical categories that landscape photography falls within as they capture the different levels of creativity a landscape photographer can employ.
There are more specific categories and subject matter that are divided into “types” as well. These include:
- Sunrise/Sunset: Both of these subjects are very light-dependent, making weather an important consideration. Try to arrive an hour early for both so that you do not miss anything. You should also allow for long-exposure shots that take more time to complete. Sunrises may be more difficult to wake up for but also have fewer people around.
- Coastline/Seascape: Coastlines can be trickier as you are photographing water that moves. They can be difficult to compose, and lighting can make an image appear flat. The elements can also be tough on your camera (try to avoid salt spray when you can). Morning and evening tend to capture the landscape of the water best.
- Forest: Morning and nighttime make for interesting shots as the light juxtaposes against the many trees in the foreground. During the day, overcast and cloudy conditions are best for photographing the details of trees. Sunlight can create a harsh contrast that is difficult to photograph. Great photos can focus on something detailed up close, or some detail but also reveal its surroundings.
- Black and white: Ansel Adams is one of the most famous photographers in black and white, showing landscapes for their simplicity and timelessness. Higher contrasts and texture are important to emphasize details.
- Desert: Follows many rules of other landscape photography settings, allowing you to capture many of the unique objects found in the desert. It is one of the best venues for texture and patterns to stand out. Lighting in the desert can also be very attractive, especially in the wintertime.
- Long-exposure: This technique creates blur in motion, adding depth and life to photographs. This is captured with a slower lens shutter speed, allowing more light into the camera and capturing greater motion.
- Nighttime: Need to use long-exposure to capture stars as they move. It can be difficult to capture really dark nighttime shots with increased light pollution.
- Architectural: Landscape shots do not just have to be of nature, they can be of buildings and towns as well. High resolution and good lighting are key for great photos.
Having an idea of what kinds of landscape photographs you wish to take will impact the additional equipment you buy as well as the settings and best plan for capturing these different shots.
There are many avenues you can take in gaining skills and training for landscape photography. While you can play around with a camera, taking a class or workshop may be helpful in working with people who have more experience. You can take landscape photography classes at local colleges or art schools. Many cities and private organizations offer workshops.
There are also plenty of resources online to work on your skills. These can be written articles or videos that help you select settings on your camera, give you tips, and show you what to focus on in taking the shots. For example, this is one of my favorite landscape photography videos:
This independent style of learning may work better for some groups, while others may learn better in a classroom environment.
Skills and Training
Knowing how to operate your camera is very important in successfully taking landscape photographs and gaining work. There are different settings on a camera that will lead to the most optimal outcomes to capture the detail and expansiveness of a landscape photo.
Different settings will apply to different kinds of shots, such as sunrises, sunsets, showing motion, and emphasizing depth.
These are the main functions you should become familiar with and play with for different styles of shots:
- White balance: Makes photos appear more natural to their true color when light sources give a colored tint. The sun and indoor lights can make white colors appear warm or cool.
- Exposure mode: There are different settings that allow the photographer to control the amount of light that is let into the camera. This can be on an automatic setting where the camera chooses ideal settings, control shutter speed, control aperture (size of the shutter), or manual for most control and creativity.
- Drive mode: Dictates how many photos are taken when you hold down the shutter release to take the photo.
- Shutter speed: The amount of time the lens is exposed to light when taking a photo. This controls the appearance of motion in photos. Faster shutter speeds will make a subject appear frozen in time, while longer shutter speeds convey motion.
- Aperture: Controls the amount of light that enters a lens and controls depth. This allows for greater sharpness in an image.
- ISO: Controls your image sensor’s sensitivity to light. Lower settings mean lower sensitivity and sharpens an image. Higher settings are best for darker locations, but increased graininess will appear.
Composition is how a photographer organizes and draws attention to all the subjects and details within the frame of a photo. There are different strategies that are commonplace in landscape photography to capture unique shots.
These rules are good to keep in mind for variety in your shots:
- Rule of thirds: The subject of the frame does not need to be in the center of the shot, but slight off-centered. It gives more balance and a natural look to photos.
- Triangles: Referred to as the “Golden Triangle Rule,” try picturing your shot with one large triangle and two smaller ones across the frame. The main subject of your photo should stay within one of these triangles.
- Horizontal lines: Try to avoid keeping horizons or horizontal lines in the middle of your photo. It will draw more attention and lose the details of the other components included in the image.
- Depth: Variety in depth makes photos more interesting. Changing the foreground versus background emphasis will create for a greater perception of depth.
- Simplicity: Too much clutter can be distracting in a photo. Keeping it simple and only focusing on what needs to be included will lead to a more powerful image.
There are many different rules that landscape photographers try to stick to, but these are some of the main ones that working landscape photographers always keep in mind.
Landscape Photography Equipment
Landscape photography requires equipment that can be easily transported and do well in many outdoor environments. You will have to take the equipment to many odd or difficult to reach locations, making use of a few but effective pieces of equipment ideal.
Having the proper equipment is key to working as a landscape photographer. While you do not need much, there are some major items you should have.
You want a camera that can capture detail and has high resolution settings. Using a camera with a DSLR sensor (digital single-lens reflex) often works best. These cameras give you more dynamic ranges for more variety and options in camera settings. Landscape photographers want to use cameras that offer as many megapixels as possible for higher detail and quality.
Most digital cameras will offer the features necessary to take great landscape photographs. Look for a camera that offers a long-battery life since you are usually far from a charging source and one that can handle tough conditions. Some of the best photographs occur in harsh weather and near the ocean, which is subject to ocean spray.
High quality lenses with different features have the ability to draw attention to different aspects in a shot. A standard lens will make an image appear most similarly to how the human eye views a shot. This would emulate the representational type of landscape photography best.
Wide-angle lenses are one of the most popular for landscape photography because they offer a larger view into the frame of the photo. This eliminates the need to crop photos to capture the entire image and provides great details for a larger area.
A telephoto lens is a long focus lens that allows you to zoom effectively in a landscape shot to focus on a particular element. You can get closer to certain subjects without losing quality or detail. They allow for cool blurred background effects and make the subject and background sign appear more connected.
Unlike many other types of photography, landscape photography really benefits from the use of a tripod. It not only makes it easier to capture full scenes, but it allows you to maintain the quality and clarity in a photo. Tripods keep a camera still, which is nearly impossible to achieve with a human holding a camera.
Long-exposure shots take a long amount of time to complete with slower shutter speeds as they require complete stillness to avoid blurry images. Holding your camera will not allow for accurate long-exposure.
Tripods also help you to keep a shot set up while waiting for the light and proper conditions. You don’t want to change your location or view at all once you’ve found it while waiting for the sun to move its position. A tripod fixes this! The best tripods are sturdy to handle all ground types and lightweight for easy transportation to all locations.
While a camera, lens, and tripod are the most important pieces of equipment for landscape photography, you can make your experience easier and more satisfactory with a couple of extra items.
Landscape photographers benefit from:
- Extra batteries
- A strong and weatherproof backpack
- A remote trigger to avoid any movement from pressing on camera
- Filters for enhanced shots: neutral density, graduated neutral, polarized
- Comfortable shoes
These equipment details may be minor individually but they add up to make a real difference. If you plan to work as a professional landscape photographer, having all the equipment to make your life easier and enhance the photographs will pay off.
Now that you know the preparation that landscape photography entails, including education and equipment, you can now start to form a business strategy. Having a long-term goal in mind is always a good place to start. Your overall goal should influence and dictate all the smaller decisions you make.
Many landscape photographers work as freelancers and independent contractors. This gives you flexibility in setting your own prices, availability, and direction of your business. It also requires a lot of work as you are in charge of every aspect of the business. Everything you do (and don’t do) impacts your success.
Marketing and Exposure
While you can take photos and try to sell them right off the bat, gaining some exposure (not the light in the lens) and marketing yourself can go a long way. Getting your name and work out to more people will allow you to gain the interest and possible business from more people. There are multiple ways you can do this.
Website or Blog
Having a place to showcase your portfolio and work is important for potential clients and buyers to see what you bring to the table. Setting up a website or blog is an easy way to showcase your work as well as provide information about your business.
Make sure you provide contact information, the types of landscape photography you do or specialize in, and any other relevant info related to your skills or business. It may be helpful to share your education if you have any and links to your social media accounts.
A website is a great place to sell your work directly if you have a product available for purchase. Even if you don't have a product or photos ready to sell, don't skimp out on doing a website. This is one of the most important parts of representing yourself properly to potential clients.
Social media is one of the best and most affordable ways to showcase your skills and work. Using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can allow your photos to be shared and circulate to new audiences. Gaining a following on social media can lead to more visits to your website and translate into business.
Accounts that gain a lot of followers are also more likely to establish relationships and partnerships with businesses. Companies may want to be featured or mentioned in your posts to market their products or services to your audience. This can be a lucrative way to post engaging content and make money in the process.
Social Media Tips
- Choose between niche or diversity: You can appeal to specific audiences with your style of work or present different types of work to showcase all the skills you possess. You may captivate certain audiences with your specific style in a niche market, but also run the risk of losing clients who want different looks.
- Follower interaction: You can gain more engaged followers when you interact with them on social media. Asking them to share their stories or contribute can boost engagement and gives you insight into their tastes. You can modify strategies and content to reflect potential client interests.
- Introduce yourself: Let your audience get to know you. You can form a deeper connection with your audiences if you are relatable. Share behind the scenes content or include captions that are personable.
- Use hashtags: Depending on the platform, using trending hashtags can bring more viewers and potential followers to your pages. Instagram is a great place to use these.
Collaborations with other photography pages or accounts with large followings can also be a way to garner a larger audience. Showcasing your work to other relevant consumer bases can drive more traffic to your pages. Getting featured on pages dedicated to the locations of your shots can be a great way to reach a localized fan base.
Social media strategy is very different from business to business. For photographers, it is one of the easiest ways to showcase your work. Posting high quality and engaging content consistently can help you gain a following as well as drive traffic to your website for business opportunities.
You can also showcase your work physically in many locations. Contacting museums, galleries, libraries, community centers, and local businesses can be an effective way to show your work in person and garner interest.
Your work can be featured in these locations to help you gain exposure and notoriety as well as interest in your work for commissioned pieces or purchasing inquiries. Make sure your contact information and/or name is located nearby the work or known by the establishment if a person asks about them!
Making your work seen and available in as many locations as possible will only allow your work to gain more attention and exposure!
Avenues for Making Money
Showing off your work is one thing, but converting this into revenue is another. There are many paths you can take to make money off of your landscape photography work. Many photographers use multiple avenues as streams of income. It may be difficult to only sell your work in one way, making diversity in strategies more lucrative.
Selling Your Work
Landscape photography may be a competitive market, but there are many ways to sell your work if it garners a demand. Having a high quality product is important for people to want to buy or commission your work in the first place.
These are some strategies that landscape photographers have used for selling their work:
- Online prints: If you have images that you feel will sell to a large audience, printing them and offering them for online sale can be an easy way to sell your work. Marketing these prints on your social media can convert to online sales on your website.
- Stock photography: You can also make money by selling your photos to stock photography services. This is significantly less lucrative than selling photos yourself but can make some money for widespread use.
- Travel and nature publications: You can pitch your photographs to established publications for income. Photo editors may select your photo and pay you to feature it in their magazine or on their website. This will also increase your exposure.
- Commissioned work: Companies and private clients who enjoy your work can hire you to work on landscapes that are specifically catered to their needs. This personalized work is a great way to gain clientele.
- Trade shows and fairs: Online traffic to your prints and work may be successful, but there are other ways to sell your work in person. Going to trade shows and art fairs can give you access to art-centric clientele who may gravitate towards your work. Presenting your work in an attractive way (framed or matted) can increase your revenues.
Experienced landscape photographers may generate revenue streams when they are not behind the camera as well. We mentioned that taking classes can be an effective way to learn the ins and outs of landscape photography. Teaching these classes is a great way to share your knowledge and skills, as well as bring in income.
Teaching can be in the form of physical classrooms with hands-on experience, or you can offer your services online. Students can sign up for online classes to gain the same knowledge but from the convenience of their homes. This can be an even more lucrative stream of income as lessons are recorded once and can be distributed to a more geographically-diverse group.
The final form of teaching can also be through writing. Writing articles about your experience and offering advice for landscape photographers can generate income through freelance writing opportunities. Selling your content to photography-centric websites can generate income for you as well as include some of your work for more eyeballs.
Becoming a Professional Landscape Photographer
Landscape photography is a unique and captivating art form enjoyed by amateurs, professionals, and audiences around the world. The beauty of the world around us can be captured in such vivid detail using the proper equipment, transporting us to the place.
Working as a landscape photographer presents its challenges with competition, but it offers great rewards if you are able to gain lots of experience, successfully market your work to desired audiences, and covert these views into purchases. With many potential streams of income, landscape photographers have multiple ways to break in and make a good living.
Because of the market’s supply and demand for landscape photography, setting your work apart from other photographers will present the most opportunities for success. Sharpening your skills and focusing on styles that are unique to you can draw an audience that wants to buy your work specifically.
Working in any profession, including landscape photography, requires focus on your goals. Determining what you want to achieve as a photographer is the key to organizing your business and implementing the strategies you set. Overall direction will dictate the decisions you make in execution of your images as well as sharing them with the world.