Posted by: kerryl29 | February 6, 2014

Five of My Favorite Landscape Photography Fallacies

My apologies for the lack of postings over the course of the last month.  I’ve been dealing with multiple medical emergencies in my family that have required me to make numerous trips back and forth between Chicago and Indianapolis and I’ve had next to no opportunity to do any writing–let alone any photography.  Things are still a bit on the hairy side, but I hope that everything will at least begin to ease over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I managed to find a few moments to catch my breath and put together a breezy piece.

There are a great many misconceptions about most endeavors, but as this is a blog dedicated to the art and craft of landscape photography, that’s the subject I’ll focus upon in this entry.  Here are five (relatively) common fallacies:

1.  You’re a landscape photographer; goodness knows you don’t need a telephoto lens.

In the immortal words of Col. Sherman T. Potter:  Buffalo Bagels!  I would guess that at least 1/3 of my images are captured with a telephoto lens and something on the order of 10% of my images are captured using a telephoto lens in excess of 200 mm.

Swift Creek Overlook black & white, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Swift Creek Overlook black & white, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

I know that when most people think of landscape imagery they immediately conceive of wide, open vistas, but–particularly when I’m photographing from an overlook–I almost invariably reach for a telephoto lens, to capture details that would otherwise be lost amidst a vast view.

Autumnal Impressions, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Autumnal Impressions, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The value of a telephoto lens can’t be overstated in its ability to isolate intimate nearby scenes, eliminating unwanted distractions from a composition.

2.  You’re a landscape photographer; you certainly aren’t concerned about your camera’s high ISO performance.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now:  I fully realize that high ISO performance is more important to an action shooter, particularly one who works in low light, than it is to a landscape photographer like myself.  But even acknowledging that, the fact that it’s of greater relevance to someone else doesn’t make it irrelevant to me.

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

In fact, it never ceases to me amaze me how often I hear other landscape photographers say something along the lines of “I don’t care about high ISO performance; I never move the ISO off the base setting.”  I guess these folks never shoot subjects that include elements that move…like foliage or blossoms…in the wind, particularly in relatively low light situations.

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I find myself doing this sort of thing all the time, and the ability to raise the ISO level by (as much as) a few stops without worrying about excessive noise is not infrequently the difference between a sharp image and a candidate for the round file.

3.  It’s not the golden hour; I guess you’ll be off to the motel for a nap, huh?

Regardless of the light conditions, there’s almost always something that you can shoot; you may simply have to work a bit harder to find flattering subjects than you would during the “golden hour.”  The truth is, many subjects–particularly waterfalls, creeks, streams and forest intimates–often work better in overcast conditions (i.e. on days when there is no “golden hour” at all).

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Even in the middle of a harsh, sunlit day, you can almost always find subjects to shoot, be they intimates in deep shade or elements that simply work in mid-day light.

Summer Breeze, Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm, Washington

Summer Breeze, Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm, Washington

Reflection abstracts are another subject that will often work well in the light of mid-day.

Oconaluftee River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Oconaluftee River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Even if its just a scouting expedition, I’m pretty much always actively engaged as long as there’s light of any quality available to me.

4.  There’s no point in spending any time photographing landscapes east of the Mississippi River in North America.

(I hope the above images put the lie to that statement–all but one are of locations east of the Mississippi.)

Look, I love the western landscapes of North America as much as the next guy, and head out there as often as I can (which isn’t anywhere near as often as I would like).  And, there’s no question in my mind that eastern landscape photography is, on balance, considerably more challenging–in terms of composition and aesthetics–than it is out west.  But I’ve found it to be immensely rewarding.

Tunnel Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Tunnel Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

There are many, many wonderful spots in the eastern halves of the United States and Canada at which landscape photography is well worth the time and effort to investigate.  An added benefit is that many–though not all–of these spots are mostly overlooked by landscape photographers, making it possible to create your own iconic images.

Au Sable Channel, Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario

Au Sable Channel, Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario

5. Well, the sun’s gone down.  Time to pack up.

Oh for the love of Pete…the number of times I’ve heard something like this, even from supposedly experienced photographers…it’s shocking.  The very best evening sky shows I’ve ever seen have all taken place after the sun has set.  Sometimes, the best of the action is 30 minutes (or more) after sunset.  (The morning corollary applies–the best morning skies are pre-sunrise.)  Consider my experience on my trip to the UP last fall.

Miners Beach at Sunset (western sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset (western sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Whether it be the post-sunset western sky or the earthshadow effect to the east, resist the urge to break down your gear and leave when the sun goes down.

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Particularly if you have a nice arrangement of clouds to the west, you’re almost certainly setting yourself up to miss the best of the action if you don’t wait for the post-sunset sky show to begin.

Pacific Sunset, Port Orford Head State Park, Oregon

Pacific Sunset, Port Orford Head State Park, Oregon


  1. Sensational Photographs, excellent tips and myth busting. Could not agree more!

  2. Awesome photos that should certainly dispel those myths, which are ones that I’ve heard many times as well.

  3. Your photography is absolutely stunning. You and I think and shoot a lot alike. However, I have never gotten into the longer shutter speeds when photographing waterfalls. I guess I am just too much of a purist. But you certainly have a wonderful eye for nature’s glory.


    • Thanks very much, Bruce.

      I’ve always liked the silky water look, so I’ve been using slow shutter speeds to render waterfalls and rapids for as long as I can remember.

  4. I hope things get better soon with your family situation. Medical issues are never easy. But welcome back! I love your photography and it’s one of my favorites I follow. Just stunning and so informative. I’ve forgotten about my telephoto and I think I’ll bring it out for a challenge. Absolutely GORGEOUS images!

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

  5. Thank you for the tips! (Great shots) and I hope everything gets sorted out with your family. All the best 🙂

    • Thanks so much.

  6. Well said, great tips and it is brief enough that I can remember. Love the intimate landscapes.Wish you the best with the family medical issues, most importantly, take care of yourself.

    • Thanks Jane–very much appreciated.

  7. Great tips and photos. I too have heard all of these before. Makes ya wonder where folks come up with this stuff. I wish you and you family the best with whatever issues are at hand.

    • Thanks very much for the kind thoughts, David.

  8. Some of my favorite shots have been playing with a telephoto catching the surf up close and personal.
    Yes, hope the health issues are resolved for the best. Know the routine of flying from Oregon to Florida for family health problems all too well. It tends to take over your life.

  9. Great write up and well presented arguments. Particularly enjoyed earth shadow. All the best to you and your family and good health to you all!

    • Thanks very much, Denis.

  10. Beautiful, beautiful images and a great post.

  11. Great post and images! I agree with everything you say here … and I am usually not such an agreeable person!

    • Ha. 🙂 And thanks!

  12. Your posts are well worth waiting for, Kerry, and I’m sorry to hear that family medical problems were the cause of your absence. I hope everything continues to settle down back to normal and that we’ll soon be hearing more from you again. I really love your lavender and earthshadow images!

    • Thanks very much, Gary; I really appreciate it.

  13. And there it is! Very spot on and I will tell you that I sure hope this reaches the people that can benefit from it. I know that in my own shooting experiences I am slow to raise the ISO but not because I am afraid to. It just isn’t a thought that comes to me right away. The only time it is a natural thought for me is when the wind is blowing or when I am out shooting Friday night football. Yet when I work with some of my friends I am quick to remember that you can gain a few stops with the ISO and at that time I am quick to dispense that advice.

    The other one up there that I struggle with any time that I am working with other people is the “Golden Hour”. As you know since we worked together in the UP, I am a strong believer in getting something done no matter what the conditions. If it is so bad out that scouting is all you can do then scout away. Otherwise you will have to work it a little harder but the shots are out there.

    Now my favorite tip up and and one that I just never can understand other photographers not getting is the timing of the sunset/sunrise. I was at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with at least six or so photographers. All set up properly and all. While it was a nice show while the sun was setting, the evidence was in the sky that the light show was going to be something worthwhile. Minute by minute I watched each of them pack up and leave. Then a guy came pulling in and said “oh good, I made it”. He had just enough time to set up and we were treated to a very nice post sundown sky that I will always remember.

    Great tips Kerry!

    • Thanks, Terry. Definitely keep the ISO raising possibility in mind any time you’re out in the field and you need a faster shutter speed. The principle is exactly the same as shooting sports–keep the ISO as low as you can, but don’t eschew raising it if you have to.

  14. Very nice!

  15. Hi, Very nice work. I totally agree with your comments.

    • Thanks very much.

  16. As a non-photographer, I really enjoyed reading this post – mostly because these are things I *would* have thought were true about landscape photography! Always good to have the myths dispelled in advance of your perpetuating them.

    Some of these images are so stunning they don’t even look real: earth shadow, river reflections in particular. I love the ones taken with the telephoto lens most of all.

    Hope the situation with your family improves soon.

    • Glad to have interrupted a myth in the making. 🙂

      Thanks very much for the kind words and good wishes.

  17. Beautiful images. While the western parts of this nation hold beautiful vistas…I prefer east of the Mississippi…I find it more rewarding to capture beauty when you have to look for it! Thank you for sharing and hope your life calms down soon

    • All my shooting in 2013 was east of the Mississippi. I can’t say that I actually prefer shooting in the eastern half of North America, but it’s pretty close to a coin toss for me. I know many, many people who live out west who would never even think to come east to shoot landscapes…perhaps it’s just as well; things are crowded enough as it is. 🙂

      Thanks very much for the kind thoughts.

  18. I love that breeze 🙂 I’ve discovered your blog in Munch’s poll for best photo blogs 🙂

    • Thanks very much for stopping by and taking the time to post a comment–as well as letting me know how you discovered the blog.

  19. Great work ! landscape photographers will have a circular polarising filter in their kit bag. There are many uses for filters like this, but for the landscape photographer the two key characteristics are their ability to cut out reflections and nasty glare from a scene and the increased colour intensity, saturation and contrast they create. You’ll really notice the effect in clear blue skies.

    • Thanks and true enough re polarizing filter. A word of warning, however: when using a polarizer with a wide angle lens it’s important to be aware of the effect of uneven polarization across the frame. Once again, the effect is particularly obvious with a wide swath of sky. To some extent this can be dealt with in post-processing, but doing so requires some skill and experience. FWIW, I seldom use a polarizer when I’m photographing a landscape with a significant amount of sky using a wide angle lens.

  20. Ok, what? What to comment? Stunning. I wish I can copy-paste this to many more of your post because I am really stunned by your photography. Woooow…

    • Thanks very much, that’s very kind of you to say.

  21. magic!

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: