Inside The Mind of a Landscape Photographer

I follow a number of very talented landscape photographers on social media and truth be told find the whole experience inspiring yet frustrating.

I’m inspired by the creativity of their shots yet frustrated that I didn’t think of that shot!  And then for those places I haven’t photographed wonder if I would have saw that same shot!

Following other photographers can definitely help you but what I have learnt is we all see things differently…and that’s ok!

If you sent a bunch of photographers to photograph the same building chances are you will have a wide variation of shots.

Inside Mind of Photographer 1

But for those shots I really like I try to understand what it is a like about the photograph – is it the composition, the light, the subject, as these are things I can think about the next time I’m out and about shooting.

There’s all lot goes on in my head when photographing, and it’s certainly not structured…an organized mess might describe it best!   But I want to try to explain my thought process when photographing landscapes….

Some people are blessed with a ‘good eye’ and find great shots naturally, whilst others have to be a little more structured and apply a few techniques to get a great shot.

Millisle Lagoon B&W-1

Having ‘a good eye’ helps however you can’t always rely on this and in those instances you need to be able to be creative to find that perfect shot.

This 5-week series focuses on ‘What goes on in a landscape photographers head?’ when photographing landscapes, and reveals five different approaches I use when photographing stunning landscapes – and the pros, cons & rewards of each.

Week 1: “You know what shot you want” approach

Deciding where to go & what to capture can sometimes be my biggest hurdle…to the point where it sometimes stops me going out!!! #shameful

So to prevent this happening to you here is my first approach to getting a good landscape photograph. We are going to focus on going out with a shot in mind – whether it be a sunset, a storm, an event (firework display) or landmark, it all starts with an idea.

Inside Mind ofd Landscape Photographer 2

Have you ever been out and seen a great shot but didn’t have your camera gear with you, or you were with the family and they were getting impatient waiting for you to set the tripod up.  Or perhaps you saw another photographer take a great photograph and you want to try that same shot.

Well more often than not I go out with some idea of what I want to capture.

For this shot I must have driven past a hundred times before I noticed this peculiar Scots Pine tree on top of the Craigantlet Hills.  It took me a few trips to find out where exactly it was, and how to reach it.  It turns out it happened to be on a farm, so I needed to get prior permission from the farmer to go on to his land.

Then all I needed was a good sunset to really make the tree stand out.  And being in Northern Ireland it took a few evenings for that to happen.

But when I got up there I knew the shot was going to be worth it.

Northern Ireland Landscapes by Ricky Parker Photography-1

Pros: Having an idea can be useful as it means no time wasted scouting locations. This can be key if you have a limited time window (i.e. light is fading fast). This approach will more often than not guarantee you coming home with a shot you’re happy with

Cons: Sometimes once you get there, it doesn’t look as good in camera – perhaps it’s a dull day, or the composition you had in mind doesn’t work. You can end up coming home disappointed. On the other hand, it did photograph well & you got the ‘shot’ you wanted but there were no real surprises!  Going out with a single shot in mind can kill the creativity, as you can be so focused on that one shot, you’re likely to miss other shots, often even better.

Rewards: A landscape photograph you wanted


– keep a list of locations that you want to photograph – it may not be the right weather or time to get the best shot but you can always go back to it when the time is right.

– bring a tripod: you want sharp images, especially when there’s little light.

– if you happen to be going on to someone’s land, be sure to ask permission first.  And maybe even send them a print of it after as a small thank-you!

Week 2: “Be open-minded…& open-eyed” approach

This week follows on from last weeks approach (see below) of going out with a shot in mind, however being flexible to other ideas and not forcing it if it’s not happening.

I wanted to try and photograph a river, blurring the water. So I decided to head out one evening to Crawfordsburn Country Park only to discover the river was barely a trickle. Ever the optimist I walked downstream hoping to see a significant rise in the water level, however quickly realized it wasn’t going to happen that night and started to scar the woods for other ideas. Nothing came so I decided to head towards the coast. This was the result and the reward from that night by being flexible and open to other ideas. I still got my blurred water…just in a different place! A far better place if you ask me!

Dusk over Belfast Lough-1

Pros: You have a far greater chance of coming home with a great shot if you stay open-minded….it may not be the shot you had planned but you’ve now got another great landscape shot and you can allows go back and get the original shot.


Cons: Challenging yourself to be creative and not settling for ‘that shot’ can be very rewarding…but can also be frustrating, and disappointing if you end up coming home with nothing. Perhaps the creative juices weren’t flowing that day, the weather turned or you felt rushed – it happens! Don’t beat yourself up.

Rewards: Well, you can see for yourself. I never would have imagined coming home with a shot like this – and I still got to photograph the river after it had rained!!


Tips: be flexible & open to altering your original shot, or if it’s just not working…move on

Crawfordsburn Country Park River-1

Week 3: Start with a blank canvas!

Going out with a blank canvas is exciting…not knowing what you’re going to photograph, being open to your trusty ‘good eye’ and trying out some of the techniques that professionals use (lead in lines/ rule of thirds etc).

You can come home with something totally different…and amazing, whilst feeling a real sense of achievement in the process.

Orlock Point Inside Mind of Landscape Photographer-1

And then you can come home with zilch…zero! I recently ventured up to Helen’s Tower and didn’t even take the camera out of the bag. You win some…you lose some!!!

But I believe by challenging yourself you will surprise yourself …and this can often have the biggest rewards.

It was a cracking late summers evening and I wanted to get out with the camera…but had no idea what I wanted to photograph. I’d recently photographed sunsets, & a few panoramics and I know I wanted to capture something different.

So I headed to Orlock Point – I hadn’t been there before so had no idea what to expect…

But before I reached Orlock Point I noticed a barley field overlooking the coast, and since the gate was open I thought why not.   At this point I quickly new I would photograph the tips of the barley against the backdrop of the sun going down over Belfast Lough.

Orlock Point by Ricky Parker Photography-1

Sorted….first photograph of the night done! That was easy….now on to Orlock Point. It’s quite an open expanse with some high rocks, and still water. But I just wasn’t seeing anything…this wasn’t so easy. I started to look for lead in lines, patterns, nice compositions, foreground interest….anything to start me off with. Then this rock grabbed my attention….a single rock sitting in the water’s edge. Not sure what I liked about it at the time…but I photographed it and it seemed to work.

Orlock Point Inside Mind of Landscape Photographer-2

Two very different shots….no set plan!

Pros: Having no plan or idea opens your eye & mind to seeing things differently, spotting things you may not have noticed if you had been focused on something else. You will surprise yourself….and it will be rewarding as chances are you may have just taken a shot no one else has or would have thought of.

Cons: There’s no guarantee….there have been times when I’ve come home with nothing…& confidence knocked slightly! But I move on. Scott Kelby, a fantastic photographer I follow, once said if you go out all day, take over 100 photos, and come back with 2/3 photos you love…then it’s been a successful outing!


Result: Very interesting, different & creative photographs…that chances are no one else has!!!

Tip: Once you see a shot you like, before you set the tripod up, move around with the camera to see if there is a better angle / position

Next weeks approach focuses on being in the right place at the right time!  You can keep up to date on the latest landscape shots and more via social media.  Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & Google+.

To view all the landscape photographs click here

Week 4: Right place….right time

If only it was this simple! This perhaps isn’t really an approach but it has happened to me on the rare occasion, and I just love it when it does. Mind you you have to be alert and ready for it.

A number of the shots I’ve taken of Portstewart strand have happened this way, and that’s because we as a family like to spend as much time as we can on the beach when we holiday on the North Coast. These shots were captured on a day when the weather was really unpredictable…we happened to be packing the car up when I noticed this huge hazy cloud rumble in….and luckily I had the camera with me!

Portstewart Strand by Ricky Parker Photography-1

Portstewart Strand by Ricky Parker Photography-2

And again with this sunset shot, I headed out to photograph the sunsetting over Belfast Lough and it just so happened a fisherman appeared adding a different dynamic to the shot.

Sunset by Ricky Parker Photography-1

Pros: It can be effortless…you spend very little time having to plan, explore etc

Cons: It happens once in a blue moon…and when it does you need to have a camera with you (worst case scenario use your phone – this shot of Liesl & Hollie again just happened – I didn’t have my camera with me, so out came the iphone!!)

right place right time

Result: A shot no-one else is likely going to have…and going home not regretting bringing the camera with you

Tip: you drastically increase your chances if you always take your camera out

Week 5: Why didn’t I see that before

Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Ricky Parker Photograhy-2

We become so familiar with our own surroundings we often take them for granted. Ever spotted a tourist in your area/town with their camera out and think “what are they photographing?”.  We only seem to put on own ‘tourist eye’ when we are some else, yet there is some much to capture on our own doorstep.

The shots above & below were taken on the coast between Bangor & Carnalea…it’s a stunning walk and on a sunny night is breathtaking. Yet, we so often just think of it as a nice walk!

I’ve walked and cycled past these spots many times and yet I never noticed the stunning scenery on this particular part of the coast.

Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Ricky Parker Photograhy-3

Sometimes we need to step back and appreciate what is in around us which is why I’m thrilled to be announcing the launch of my DOORSTEP PHOTOGRAPHY series next week.

This follow on series will encourage you to find out what’s on your doorstep. I’ll be sharing with you how I saw certain shots, and more importantly how I set the camera up to capture it – so keep following!

In the meantime I would encourage you get out, & go explore what’s on your doorstep…and please share your photographs with me, either on facebook or by email [email protected]

And be sure to check out the ‘Online Landscape Gallery’ for some ideas of what’s out there

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Thanks for reading…I hope you’ve found it useful, and please feel free to comment and share