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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

5 key skills to improve your photos in 2024

As we enter a new year, it's always a good time to take stock of your photography aims for the year. So I thought for this week's tip, I would tell you what I think are the 5 key skills you need to learn to take your landscape photos to a new level. 

1. Composition, composition, composition!

I'm aware that I sound like a stuck record on this one, but mastering composition really is the best way to improve your landscape photography quickly, without needing to buy any new equipment or master any new technical skills! Mastering composition is the most important skill in making your photos less like snaps and more like real landscape photography! 

If you search the internet for 'composition rules' you will find hundreds, so to make things easier, below are the rules that I personally think are the most important:

- Make sure you have a focal point (see this blog)

- Use the rule of thirds

- Look for or create simplicity

- Keep your edges clean 

- Use foreground interest, especially for wide shots

- Look for lead-in lines

You can read in more detail about the rule of thirds, lead in lines, and foreground interest in this blog and more about simplicity in this blog.    

So, if there is one thing to master this year, it's composition, composition and composition! 

Choose the best light!

OK, so this is less of a skill, but it's no less critical in improving your landscape photos. The main mistake I made early on in my photography journey was thinking I could combine a nice walk on a sunny summer's day, with taking great photos! Sadly, these two things, although both enjoyable in their own right, don't go well together. If you only ever venture out on nice sunny summer days, with the sun high in the sky,  your photos  might be ok, but they are unlikely to be great landscape photos. The truth is that the best landscape photos need special light, as well as some atmosphere, and these come at last convenient times such as sunrise and sunset, or less enjoyable weather like stormy, snowy, or frosty days. 

For more details on how to start to understand light, see this blog.

I guarantee that if you start venturing out when the light is better, your landscape photos WILL be better. And even if you don't capture a great shot every time, getting out and watching a sunrise is good for the soul! 

Learn how to bracket

Our eyes are amazing; we can look out of a window and see all of the detail in the bright outside world, as well as all of the details in the darker interior of the room. 

Although modern sensors are fantastic, they are still nowhere near as good are your eyesight, and struggle to capture scenes with large dynamic range (very bright to very dark) particularly well.

So, one landscape photography technique that is essential to learn is how to take multiple photos with different exposures ('brackets') which can then be merged in software such as Adobe Lightroom to produce a photo which has a 'high dynamic range'. 

If you're going to shoot landscapes with the sun in the frame, then learning how to bracket is essential, so that you can produce images which capture all of the detail in the bright sky, as well as all of the detail in the foreground shadows (rather than just a bright orange splodge where the sun is!). An example of a photo which has been created in this way is shown below. 

You might be interested to know that when you point many camera phones at a high dynamic range scene such as a sunset, your phone will use exactly this technique and just show you the resultant high dynamic range result! However, you can get better results by taking control of the process and taking / merging the brackets yourself.

Learn how to shoot on Manual!

This is the more tricky skills to master, but it's essential to be able to unlock the full creative potential of both you and your camera. You don't have to shoot in manual mode all the time (even I don't since there are times when other modes will do just fine) but if you don't know how to, there will be times when shooting on automatic modes simply won't give you a good result. Just a few examples of the benefits of Manual mode include:

- It gives you full creative control

- It MAKES you properly understand exposure and how your camera works

- It gives you full control of shutter speed, allowing you to decide whether to freeze or blur motion

- It gives you full control of aperture, and allows you to decide what, if any background blur you require

Quite simply, there are some types of shot, such as long exposure water shots or shots of the night sky which are difficult, if not impossible to do unless you learn how to use Manual mode. 

This is one skill that is unfortunately difficult to learn from Youtube videos! I taught myself but it took me a very long time for it to become second nature. If you want to jump start your photography, I would highly recommend getting some proper training.

Shoot in Raw & learn how to edit

The final skill that I urge you to learn in 2024 is to shoot in Raw file format and learn how to edit your photos, rather than leaving the look and feel of your photos up to your camera software. When done well, editing can make a significant difference to your photos (but beware than done badly, it can make them look terrible too!). 

You can read more about photo editing here and I have also written a brief guide to getting started with Adobe Lightroom if that is your software of choice.

Final words

If you've made a new years resolution to learn, or improve your landscape photography, then these are the five key skills that you should concentrate on. So, why not focus a couple of months each trying to perfect each skill, then spend the last couple of months of 2024 trying to pull all of your new skills together. I guarantee that if you can improve all of these skills, you will be well on the way to taking great landscape photos.

Want to jump-start your learning?

Don't forget that if you want some direct help with your photography, I offer a range of 1-2-1 photography courses for Devon based folks. If you're not nearby then I also  offer residential weekends for beginners or intermediate photographers.

A student learning photography on a Devon beach, with Devon Photographer Gary Holpin Photography

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