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6 Steps Towards Better Location Photography

written by: Cristel Wood•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 12/7/2010

Here are six steps to help you improve your location photography skills, including advice on choosing a location, lighting, perspective, camera functions, technique, as well as a few challenges to help you practice and improve your skills on a daily basis.

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    Location Photography: Patience and Practice

    Anyone can take a picture of a building or a landscape and call it location photography, but it takes patience and practice to produce truly great photographs. Although photography is about personal style and perspective, there are a few ways that every photographer can improve the quality of their work. Here are six steps to help you master location photography.

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    Above Central America.
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    1. Choose Your Location With Care

    Spontaneous photography can have wonderful results, but it's usually more luck than skill. Some of the best location photography out there is the best because the photographer took time and care in choosing their location. Don't be afraid to scope out different locations ahead of time. Look for locations that are unique and interesting to you, rather than typical postcard views. Visit your location at different times of the day and choose a time that enhances your location the most, such as just after sunrise or just before sunset. Some of the most beautiful landscapes require work to get to as well, so be prepared to walk or hike to the most splendid locations.

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    2. Position Yourself to Get the Most Out of Your Shot

    Location photography is not simply about the location, it's also about the position of the photographer at that location. Buildings, mountains, and other immobile features cannot be moved, so the photographer is the one that needs to move to take that perfect photograph. High vantage points generally work well for landscapes, but a photograph from a low vantage point can inspire a feeling of grandeur and awe. The subject of your photograph should always be clear and in the foreground, and then you should compose the rest of the photograph - the lines, contours, and even lighting - to lead a viewer's eye to that subject. Don't hesitate to use the location to your advantage. Experimentation is the key to finding the perfect positioning for a shot.

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    Lines, Color, and Perspective Can Make or Break a Photograph

    A colorful building in Lima, Peru.Lighthouse in Miraflores, Peru.
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    3. Utilize Available Lighting

    As mentioned above, take advantage of the time of day as it will affect the lighting available to you. Midday direct sunlight may or may not be what you're looking for, so try using the softer light of dawn or dusk, of even the light of a full moon. If you still don't have that perfect lighting, try reflecting natural lighting onto your subject with the use of reflectors or mirrors. The flash can be used, as well, and will be discussed a little later on.

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    Natural Lighting Can Add a Dramatic Effect to Your Photographs

    Sunset at Ocean Shores, Washington State, USA
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    Location photography doesn't depend solely on the location, but also on the technique of the photographer. Personal technique, camera functions, camera gear, and other factors all play a part in taking those perfect features, and this guide will cover the basics and provide valuable tips to help you along your way. Standard and non-standard techniques, details about commonly used camera functions, and recommendations as to camera gear such as filters are all included.
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    4. Develop Your Own Personal Techniques

    Technique is a combination of personal experience and standard accepted techniques and is especially important in location photography. Some examples include the rule of thirds, which recommends the sky of a landscape encompassing the top 1/3 of the photography, the 1/3 to 2/3 focus object rule, which recommends the focus object to be between 1/3 and 2/3 of your photograph's total distance, and the off-center rule, which recommends the focus, or subject, of your photograph to be slightly off-center in order to draw the eye of the viewer. Any of these 'rules' can be modified as the photographer sees fit, and there are a couple other techniques that are less well-defined, such as whether or not to use flash, whether or not to use zoom, what shutter speed to use, and whether to take a square framed picture or a panoramic shot. These last techniques are largely up to the photographer and depend heavily on the location itself. The best way to know just which one to use in a certain situation is to try them all and see which technique leaves you with the best results.

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    5. Know Your Camera and What It Has to Offer

    Whether you have an inexpensive camera or a very expensive camera, most have at least a few basic camera functions in common. Zoom, flash, sports mode, and adjustable shutter speeds are just a few of the features offered on most cameras. Experiment with these features and get to know them before you even attempt to produce quality location photography. Start by reading your camera's manual. Once you have a grasp on the features offered, use them every chance you get in order to get a feel for them. Combine the features of your camera with your own personal techniques and you will quickly see some fantastic results.

    A few things to remember about camera settings:

    - A high ISO, or shutter speed, will take better pictures of moving objects.

    - A flash can be used even when it's sunny to accent an object in the foreground.

    - The zoom function can leave your photograph grainy, so try to get as close to the focus of your photograph as possible before using it.

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    Woodard Bay in Washington State, USA
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    6. Compliment Your Camera's Features with Additional Gear

    A camera alone can take some amazing location photography images, but never underestimate the value of additional equipment such as tripods and filters. A tripod can steady your shot, reducing blur, not to mention easing the strain on your hand when you are taking photographs for extended periods of time. Filters can adjust lighting, softness, color, and help focus your picture where you want it focused. Polarizing or graduated filters can add focus to a dreary location, color correction filters can add color, such as sepia or rose hues, to a picture for an almost magical effect. Soft focus filters or flash diffusers can soften an otherwise harsh image. Hyper focal filters can reduce blurriness on foreground and focus objects. Each filter has its own benefits and you should practice with them all in order to best learn which works best for each situation.

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    Challenges for the aspiring location photography artist, along with a little important advice and encouragement. Photography takes patience and practice, but if you challenge yourself every day, you will see almost immediate results.
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    Don't Forget the Most Important Thing!

    The most effective way you can improve your location photography is to simply have fun with it. Don't take it too seriously, don't get discouraged if you don't get the perfect shot the first time, and never give up. Good photography takes patience, practice, and time. It can be vastly rewarding, however, and is well worth all the frustration and time spent when you see those beautiful, awe-inspiring pictures displayed in your home, in a magazine, or even in a gallery. Remember, practice, practice, practice.

    Some practice exercises that might help you:

    - Take pictures of moving objects, such as tree branches in the wind or the ocean. This will help you improve your use of ISO, or shutter speed.

    - Take pictures of the same location at different times of the day to get a feel for natural lighting and to practice your own lighting techniques.

    - Try different angles and perspectives at every location. You will quickly learn what works best for you.

    - Experiment with various camera features, filters, and techniques such as zoom, flash, and shutter speed. The more you practice, the more you will improve.

    - Make your own flash and color filters and don't be afraid to use them.

    - Most importantly, share your photographs with your friends and family for valuable input that will improve your future location photography.

    Location photography is not only an artistic endeavor, it's a way to express yourself, share your experiences with others, and even tell a story. The more you share your photographs with others, the more you will not only spread your art, but also get creative feedback, tips, advice, and even ideas for future photographs. Photography captures every moment, and every photograph tells a story, so don't be afraid to tell yours.

    Most of all, have fun!