Landscapes have always been my favorite subject, here are four easy tips to help you come home with better landscape images.
1. Shoot during the golden hour
In my early days of photography I didn't know much of anything about light. I would just go out and find what I thought was a pretty landscape and shoot away. For the most part I was dissatisfied with my results.
This picture from the island of Palau could have been much better if I had shot it at a better time of day. Shooting during what is known as the golden hour will really improve the lighting in your images. The golden hour is the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. So there are really two golden hours in a day. When you are on vacation make good use of both of them.
When you shoot during the golden hours the light has a warm golden feel to it. The light is very diffuse because of the low angle of the sun so it eliminates harsh shadows. Look at this example of shooting during the golden hour.
Moulton Barn in Morning Light
If this image of the Moulton Barn had been made in the middle of the afternoon chances are I would have just deleted it. There would have been harsh shadows and there is a chance the sky would've been blown out (all white and void of detail). This image is what it is because of shooting during the golden hour.
2. Include Foreground Interest
I think this is one of the best things you can do for your landscape photography. It will make your images more interesting and will hold the viewers attention better. Place some prominent element or elements in the foreground of your composition. For example, look at the following photo that I cropped down to exclude the foreground elements.
It's pretty boring and uninteresting. Sure there was this beautiful mountain, but the image fails to hold the viewers attention
Now look at the original image with the foreground elements
The rocks add foreground interest and serve to hold the attention of the viewer.
3. Create Depth
The use of leading lines helps a two dimensional image seem more three dimensional. These will lead the viewer's eye into the image and hold his or her interest. Ideally the lines should lead to the focal point of the image.
In this image of Oxbow Bend the lines of the river lead the eye to the mountains. The concept of using lines in an image to lead the eye is something that will greatly improve your shots. When shooting landscapes look for slightly different angles to shoot from that will create stronger leading lines. Using a strong foreground element will also add depth to your image.
4. Use Basic Composition Rules
I will simplify this tip by saying, use the rule of thirds. There are other more complicated composition rules but learning the rule of thirds is the first rule that you should learn and master. Imagine the viewfinder or screen of your camera is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Then align objects in your frame with those divider lines.
Notice how in my Snake River Overlook picture the mountains coincide with the top third line. If this sounds too hard for you then simply put your subject slightly off center in the frame. Don't put the horizon in the center of the frame. Like all rules, the rule of thirds is meant to be broken sometimes, but more often than not it is an excellent starting place for composition.
These tips are an excellent starting place for improving your landscape photography. Now get out and practice.