a surreal photograph of trees taken at a tree farm in oregon

Top 7 Dreamlike Landscape Photography Tips

DustinWong Tutorial

Through my photography work I aim to convey a sense of wonder and respect for nature, and I was recently asked by ViewBug to provide some landscape photography tips on how to create dreamy landscape images. While I do often incorporate a sense of mystery or fantasy in my images, I prefer to stay grounded in reality while pushing the limits of creative post processing. Landscape photography has allowed me to explore the way nature evolves, grows, and adapts; I hope it is able to do that for you too. Without further adieu, here are the tips for creating dreamy landscape images:

1. Wait For The Light

Night photograph of barrel and cholla cactus in arizona superstition mountains
Fine-Art landscape photography is all about capturing beautiful light in a scenic location. Photographing a stunning landscape in harsh light will unlikely yield a dreamy looking shot no matter how much post processing one knows. The light during golden hour, blue hour, and twilight is best for this. Often this means getting there earlier and staying later when most people are not around.

2. Have Everything Tack Sharp

Photo of a river and mountains at smith rock oregon
This is a general tip for most landscape photography, but it’s worth including here because the details are what really makes the image stand out. Learn how to squeeze every bit of sharpness out of your equipment by learning basics such as shooting with a tripod, cable release, as well as advanced techniques such as maximizing depth of field using hyperfocal distance, and focus stacking.

3. Capture Periods of Time

night sky astrophotography photo of milky way and sea stacks along the oregon coast
One of the techniques I love is using long exposures to capture extended periods of time, and compress it into a single image. A long exposure is beyond what is seen by the normal eye, so it has a sense of mystery and fantasy. I shoot a lot with a circular polarizer to enhance colors and cut reflections, but also this cuts down some light, making longer exposures possible. When I need to cut more light out I use neutral density filters. I recommend at least a 3 stop ND filter. Be aware that a 10 stop ND filter will allow you to take long exposures during the brighter parts of the day, but you probably won’t be able to see enough to focus or compose your shot with it on. I will also shoot well after the sun has dropped below the horizon when light levels are low and exposures times are extended.

4. Use the Orton Effect

Photo of st. mary's falls, a waterfall in glacier national park montana
If you haven’t heard of the orton effect, you’ve probably seen in used in images and not known it. It’s a technique in post processing that blurs the image slightly and adds contrast. This has the effect of making things appear to glow. It is very handy to create a dreamy look. There are many resources out there on how to do this in post processing. If you do start using orton, remember, less is more. Stay classy.

5. Travel to Interesting Places

Photo of lofoten, norway, mountains, grass, stream water
This one is challenging but also a bit obvious. This planet has so many fascinating natural phenomenons that feel like they cannot exist, but they do. So go take a trip and experience them for yourself. One of the best things about being passionate about landscape photography is that it naturally leads one to amazing places. It’s easier to create a dreamy looking shot when you are standing in front of something that is simply unbelievable.

6. Shoot in Strange Weather Conditions

Dreams and fantasies are weird, strange and unusual, so why not shoot in strange conditions? The stranger and more unique the better. I seek out interesting weather conditions to photograph, and plan my trips around the weather for this reason. Check the forecasts often and plan accordingly. Don’t be afraid to go in “bad weather” just be prepared and stay safe.

7. Get In Touch With Your Imagination

Night sky astrophotography of a sea stack along the oregon coast
As we grow up we become conditioned by our society and culture, and for many of us this has the effect of stifling our creative imagination. A common theme is imagination is child-like, and to function (and succeed) in this world as adults, one must abandon imagination and instead get serious. This subtle social pressure over time erodes our ability to think wildly and creatively. I encourage you to get back in touch with your inner child and tap that youthful curiosity and playful imagination that all children have.

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