Characteristics of the Best Landscape and Nature Photos

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I’m interested in making the best landscape and nature photos that I possibly can. With that in mind, I thought I would look at two outstanding sites where great photos are displayed and see what the best photos there all have in common. Here’s what I found…

The Statistics and Attributes of the Best Landscape and Nature Photos

The two sites I looked at were 500px and 1x. I could have just as easily looked at other sites (flickr, etc.), but I chose these two because they are well-established sites with lots of great looking photos from around the world. They also have landscape-only sections, and those are the sections I looked at. On each site I chose to sort by “best landscape photos” of all time (1x) or currently (500px).

from my spreadsheet

Each site had slightly different attributes that were considered important, but I averaged the two sites and then tabulated the results in a spreadsheet after looking at the top 40 photos on each site.

Here’s what I found were the best feature attributes (from most important (ranked 1) to least (ranked 11) for any photo to have in order to become one of the top 40 photos as ranked by members of both 500px and 1x:

  1. Golden Hour – The photo must be shot during the “golden hours” around sunrise or sunset.
  2. Fog – Fog or mist in the photo will elevate its ranking significantly.
  3. Water – Take photos near a lake, waterfall, shoreline or other bodies of water if possible.
  4. Mountain – A mountain or hill in the background will help.
  5. Silky Water – If water in the photo can not be completely still, try to shoot with long exposure to make it appear “silky”.
  6. Rocks – Having rocks in the foreground is a plus.
  7. Trees – Trees have universal appeal whether near or far and if they can be included a photo has greater appeal.
  8. Milky Way – If shot at night, make the Milky Way a feature of the photo.
  9. Sun – If shot during the Golden Hours, the sun can be in the photo.
  10. Night – Photos taken at night are liked by a lot of people.
  11. Flying – If you are flying in a hot air balloon, take a photo that shows it, and some people will like the photo.

And here are the best technical attributes I found:

  1. Wide – Use a wide angle lens to get a sweeping view.
  2. Composition – All photos must follow the accepted rules of good composition (rule of thirds, leading lines, etc.)
  3. Color – Highly-saturated, vibrant HDR-level colors or nearly so, are most liked (no B&W images).
  4. Filters – Polarizing and ND gradient filters are your friends.
  5. Detail – Sharp, well-focused images only please.
  6. Light – High dynamic range is a hallmark of a winning photo.
  7. Feel – Compose to draw the viewer into the photo and make them a part of it – not just a bystander.

Summary

I can now describe how to take great landscape and nature photos:

“To take a truly spectacular landscape or nature photograph, the photo should be well-composed, focused, tack sharp, and have vivid colors.  Use of polarizing or neutral density gradient filters may help achieve the colors and look you need.

Wide angle lenses work best and “sweeping” views can be made using them. When setting up the shot, try to “draw” the viewer into the photo using the rules of good composition.

Always shoot at dawn or dusk during the “golden hours.” The light will be best during these times. These are also the times of day when fog or mist can be possible and if you can include fog or mist as a part of your photo, it will be greatly improved. Strive for high dynamic range in your images.

Don’t worry if you have the sun as a part of the photo as it can be an appealing part of any photo and most people like seeing the sun. Try to limit it from taking over the photo by use of ND gradient filters or toning it down in your post-processing software. “Point items” such as the sun should be located at “power points” of the composition (intersection of lines, rule of thirds or golden rule lines). This greatly improves their effectiveness and is essential in particular for placement of the sun in the composition.

Location means everything and inclusion of water, mountains, foreground rocks and trees are essential. If any or all can be combined, they will add appeal to any composition.

Shorelines of oceans and lakes are ideal locations and inland waters should be photographed at times when the water is still and highly reflective. For locations with moving and flowing water, use long exposures to get that “silky water” effect. The silky “look” is liked by lots of people.

Rocky areas and mountains can be striking features to have in any photo and rocks themselves can be surprisingly beneficial if used correctly by placing them along leading lines or as foreground focus elements.

Trees and lush vegetation bring nature “home” to the viewer and whether as whole forests or as single trees, they are essential to include in any photo of the outdoors. Place them well in your composition and they will work wonders for it.

Night photos can also be quite good if done correctly, properly exposed and composed. If taking a photo at night, try to include the Milky Way as a part of the composition as people readily identify with it and it is an item generally too faint to be seen well, without the benefit of a camera’s long exposure. Use your camera to exploit its beauty.

Lastly, aerial shots from hot air balloons have wide appeal, but be sure to get the balloon itself in the shot or an overhead shot of another balloon. Either, or both if possible, will work to give your photo greater significance.”

You know what to do. Now get out there and start shooting the best landscape and nature photos the world has ever seen!

Thank you for reading what I wrote – I hope you enjoyed it!


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