How to Take Great Landscape Photos with Your iPhone

In this series I've talked about tripods, camera apps, post processing apps, filters (both software and hardware), even remote shutter releases. Now it's time to put some of stuff to good use. Let's talk about shooting landscapes.

You may ask what's so hard about shooting a landscape? You see a pretty scene, you point your camera and press the shutter, right?

Well, sometimes. If you get a good photo from that process then you got lucky and you have a decent camera.

Luck was with you because any photo you take, regardless of the subject, will have a ton of variables, any of which can make your shot look like crap. A good camera, set on auto, will do its best to reduce those troublesome variables down to a handful, but even those can cause grief and missed shots. So, the best thing to do is help your camera out and reduce those variables even more.

Devil in the Details

When shooting any photo, details are one of the key elements that'll make your shot sing. In these two photos of Playalinda Beach near Titusville, Florida you see a stretch of sand, surf and sky. The first one is ok if you're going for a minimalistic look.

Nice shot of Playalinda Beach near Titusville, FL. (All shots by Vern Seward taken on an iPhone)

The second shot is far more interesting, in my opinion. Why? Because not only do you see sand, surf and sky, you also see some kids playing, some great looking clouds in the background, reflections in the water in the foreground, all sorts of details. Yet, the photo isn't too busy. It looks like a great day at the beach (and it was!).

Better shot of Playalinda Beach near Titusville, FL

The point here is that you shouldn't try to get stuff out of your landscapes, look for details that are natural to what you are shooting and include them. People add wonderful interest to photos, as do birds and other wildlife. Of course, you can't depend on people or wildlife to be there and pause while you snap the shot, but if they are there don't chase after them. Wait a bit if you have to for a better position, but shoot the landscape, not the critters traipsing through it.

Weather the Weather

I like this shot and I would not have gotten it if I had been afraid of getting a little wet. Actually, I got a lot wet. In fact, that was one of the scariest moments I've had weather-wise.

Incoming storm, Playalinda Beach, Titusville, FL

The storm front in the photo was north of me, to the south was a dark bank of clouds. To the east, over the ocean was another bank of clouds, and all of them seemed to be converging on the beach I was on. Lightning strobed just west of the beach immediately followed by a peal of thunder that would have stopped the stoutest of hearts.

Of course I ran for my life, but not before snapping that photo and several others.

The point is that if you want really interesting landscapes shoot them when the weather is changing. For instance, this shot of Orlando's skyline after a storm is interesting because of the very odd angles of light and the variety of colors.

After the storm, downtown Orlando, FL

Next: Get Dirty to Compose

Page 2 - Get Dirty to Compose


Here's another shot of the San Xavier Mission outside of Tucson, AZ. It would have been merely an interesting shot if it were taken in typical Arizona weather, which is hot, sunny, and clear. I lucked out when I saw that storm rolling in.

San Xavier Mission, Tucson, AZ

If you have the luxury of being in an area for several days then plan your shot. Scout out good vistas and think about what your shot might look like from your vantage. For instance, I have two places in or near Orlando where I will go to take lightning photos.

Always keep your wits about you and be safe. Weather, especially severe weather, can make for eye popping photos, but they won't do you much good if you're too dead to enjoy them.

Getting Dirty

Whipping out a camera and snapping a shot can get you some fun pix, but if think about what the photo will look like in the end (the Discipline of Film) then you stand a better chance of getting the shot you want.

To get this shot of driftwood on the beach I must have walked around it several times before I ever snapped the shutter. I was trying to find the best angle given the position of the sun and where the wood was on the beach. As it happened it was on a slightly elevated dune. I got down in the wet sand (and ruined a good tripod) in order to get that angle. I think it was worth getting a little dirty.

Driftwood, Back Country, Merrit Island Wildlife Preserve, FL

To get this shot of a beach near Oceanside, CA I had to lean awaaaaay over a railing. It wasn't the smartest thing to do, but the shot is nice.

Oceanside, CA

The point here is that sometimes you need to do more than just stand there and press the shutter. Look for the odd angles even if it means getting dusty in the process. If you are shooting cityscapes find an elevated parking garage and go up on the roof (if allowed). Get off the main roads and to find views not enjoyed by most. Finding that cool view can worth a few scrapes and an extra laundry load, but as with shooting in bad weather, don't do anything that is unsafe or against any laws.

OK, that's a wrap for this week. Next week, light trails!!