August 22

4 comments

6 Tips for More Dramatic Photos in The Outdoors

By Dan

August 22, 2012


No matter if you’re shooting landscapes, people, airplanes, cityscapes, or faraway temples in exotic locations around the world, here are a few solid tips that will help you create more dramatic imagery and improve your outdoor photography. Even if you already know this stuff, review it anyway, because it’s always good to be reminded. And as always, be sure and like, share, plus, pin, tweet and stumble these tips to your own friends and followers.

1. Shoot At Magic Hour

It’s called magic hour for a reason. Shooting at sunrise and sunset is the number one way to improve your imagery. The long, warm rays and rich shadows of morning and evening light will make any subject look more dynamic and pleasing to the eye. Of course, this often means getting well before the crack of dawn, hiking in the dark, or being very late for dinner, but such inconveniences are quickly forgotten about when you get a killer shot.

2. Pay Close Attention To Your Composition

The viewfinder is your canvas. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that goes into it should be there for a reason. Each and every element that sits within your frame should help anchor the image down, or else somehow relate with the other subjects in the frame. Also, pay close attention to the subject matter in your scene that DOESN’T need to be in the frame. Exclude any subject matter that detracts from the overall impact of the image. When in doubt, edit on the spot and go for simplicity.

3. Tell A Story

A photograph is very much like a song. You have a very short time to introduce your subject matter with an interesting twist, tell a story that connects with your audience, color it with some appealing and unique flavor, and then wrap it all up and leave them with a fond memory. And, hopefully instill a desire to look at your photo again or share it with a friend. Think relationships, details, human interactions, expressions, action… the list goes ever on.

4. Use a Tripod

Everyone knows that a tripod holds your camera steady and allows you to shoot at lower shutter speeds and smaller apertures without incurring camera shake. However, the simple act of setting up and using a tripod forces you to slow down and contemplate your subject matter more thoroughly and methodically. It forces you to more carefully consider how to compose and capture your subject in the best way. Get a tripod. Use it. Even if it’s a small one. Remember, the best tripod is the one that’s with you.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Shoot In Bad Weather

Just because the sun goes away, doesn’t mean that you should put your camera away. Dramatic weather makes for dramatic imagery. In fact, some of my favorite adventure photos were made while shooting in storms, fog, snow and otherwise “bad” weather. Remember, though, weather isn’t “bad,” it’s just misbehaving.

6. Don’t Worry About Your Gear

I’ll say it again… It’s not about the gear. It’s about the image. It’s about the story you tell with your gear. It’s about the overall feel of the shot and the visual power that you communicate through your creative techniques and your personal vision. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if a great photo is created with your DSLR, your compact camera or your iPhone.

For more creative tips, check out my eBook, Making The Image- A Conceptual Guide to Creating Stronger Photographs.


About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.


As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

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  • Great tips and images Dan! #4 and #5 are key especially key for me. As you mention, the tripod forces you to slow down and apply more thought to your composition, and weather can create some of the most dramatic scenes of all.

  • Great post! The last one is perfect- ITS NOT ABOUT THE GEAR! I had a mentor put it another way, “the best piece of camera gear you will ever own is the 6 inches behind the camera.”

  • Dan,

    Such a great and honest post. I really liked what you talked about competitors. Thats a nice approach to select the items that have to be included in the photograph. Also I liked the story telling part. You are also right its not about the gear but it is very hard to believe.

    I have Sony RX 100 and as I get more interested in photography, I get this urge to buy a SLR. So, even though gear is not important, everyone thinks it is the most important part.

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    Terry Bourk

    I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

    Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.


    Roger Sinclair

    You have done it again! Another triumph.

    Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

    Thank you, Dan.