Achieve Better Landscape Photography

One of the most basic photography techniques that I show to my students is something I've named the '20 in 2' method. By taking your camera off the tripod and shooting in (gulp) AUTO mode, you'll instantly be able to find the best compositions before the light becomes magical. Get familiar with this method and you'll achieve better landscape photography very quickly.

Sounds contradictory to getting the best image quality right? Well, of course I'm not for one second suggesting that you should keep any of these handheld AUTO mode shots, they're simply quick test shots that turbo charge your compositional ideas so that you have no doubt where you need to be when the light goes crazy.

Goblin Valley Landscape Photography with Gavin Hardcastle

The '20 in 2' Method in Action

The '20 in 2' Method of Test Shots

These atrocious test shots were made using the '20 in 2' method which led up to the creation of the Goblin Valley shot above. With the test shots I didn't even care if they were focused or properly exposed. All I cared about was the composition. See, I take crap pictures too 😉

By quickly reeling off 20 hand held compositions in 2 minutes you'll have discovered where the best shots are waiting to be had while other photographers are still faffing around with their tripods. Don't limit yourself to just 20 shots either, if you've got all afternoon work the scene while you work on your tan.

This is a technique I always use when I arrive at a new location that I'm not yet familiar with. Don't get me wrong, if you arrive late and have only time for one shot - it's time to get mounted on the tripod and give it your best, but if you have the luxury of time, the '20 in 2' method can be used to great advantage.

Milky Way Landscape Photography

Anticipate the Magic

When shooting sunsets, there's some gambling involved when it comes to figuring out where the clouds are going to light up.

If you arrive early, shoot your '20 in 2' shots and then study those ideas on the back of your camera. You should end up with a series of compositions that work when facing in different directions. So if the clouds ignite in the East - you've got an idea for that. If the clouds go crazy in the South - you'll know exactly what to put in front of it.

By anticipating where the magic might happen with your '20 in 2' (or more if you like), you won't be caught off guard and you'll always be improving your eye for composition by having the creative freedom you need by shooting hand held.

Canyonlands landscape photography with Gavin Hardcastle

Don't be a Slave to the Tripod

You absolutely MUST use a tripod for the utmost in image quality and sharpness when it comes to detailed landscapes, but man they're annoying to carry and setup!

I've got to the stage where the tripod has become an extension of my body so I no longer think about how much I hate it and I just accept the misery it causes. That being said, I take my camera off the tripod at every opportunity.

Gavin Hardcastle - Landscape Photography

When you need to get low to the ground or flip into vertical (portrait aspect) mode, the tripod will slow you down. If you don't have the patience for that, go handheld and test out multiple positions before committing the tripod to some complicated and finickity position.

I've witnessed many a student settle for a composition that would have been infinitely better had they gotten just a few inches lower and more to the right. The reason they settled - because readjusting the tripod seemed like an ordeal and let's face it - some tripods can test the patience of a Saint.

Use the '20 in 2' method and even if your tripod resembles an Elizabethan torture device, you'll only have to set it up once to get the best shot because you already know exactly where to be.

If you found this tip helpful please share this page or post a comment.

Published by Gavin Hardcastle

Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Calgary, Alberta. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials here at Fototripper.com.

4 Comments

  1. I’m new to landscape photography, and I find myself getting panicky when the golden hour approaches. I think the 20 in 2 method is going to help my anxiety levels

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  2. Gavin I love your approach to helping others, simple, add some humor and EVERYONE can relate to it, great job as always. For anyone looking at future workshops I highly recommend Gavin, I have been twice and always come away with more confidence from what I have learned

    Reply
  3. I love the ’20 in 2′ method! I am notorious at spending way too much time finding ‘the shot’. I’m excited to try it out and will report back how it went. I made a couple sticky-tabs one for my tripod and the other in an obvious place as a reminder to try your method….crazy how one can forget to do something so simple when caught in moment, LOL! Thanks Gavin!

    Reply

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