7 Tips for Photographing Dreamlike Landscapes

Luke Stackpoole, a landscape photographer based in London and Adobe Lightroom Ambassador, has traveled the globe looking for dramatic scenery. Stackpoole’s stunning portfolio shows some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, from the deserts of Namibia to Iceland’s frigid waters.

Although it may seem easy to Stackpoole, the reality is that his work is difficult. Stackpoole’s dramatic landscape photos are a result of patience, luck, and skilled editing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

The 29-year old visual artist is not a travel photographer who has traveled the world. Stackpoole worked as an accountant at Deloitte until four years ago. He believes his analytical and creative sides work together. He meticulously plans his photos, and then edits them in Lightroom to the pixel level.

He says, “I love creating dreamlike landscape images because that inspires viewers to travel and create photography work at these locations.”

Stackpoole explains the steps involved in creating stunning landscapes that look like a dream.

A Glance

  • Selecting a location
  • Deciding on the Weather and Time of Day
  • Deciding on the Composition
  • Add a sense of scale
  • How to edit landscape images to make dramatic final photos
    • Adobe Lightroom Base Preset
    • Global Edits:
    • Use the Spot and Healing Tool
    • Masks

Selecting a location

Stackpoole attributes much of his amazing portfolio to the incredible locations he photographed. Although it is possible to capture dreamlike images from any location, Stackpoole believes that being in a place with spectacular scenery gives you an immediate advantage. He recommends researching locations that have photogenic features such as jagged mountains or expansive deserts or moss-covered highlands.

Stackpoole explains how social media can help you locate the right place in an information-driven world.

Stackpoole states, “It’s often the case that even obscure locations have been photographed and filmed by someone,” “I use Instagram’s save feature to store all the videos and photos I find for locations that I feel would make great photos.”

Local guides who are experienced can be an invaluable resource for finding the best photogenic spots.

I will contact a photographer I know who has used a particular guide in a certain region to discuss a possible plan of a trip. Most often, they will be able to give me enough information to create a rough itinerary for the shooting locations I would visit when I get there. He adds that often the guide will take me to amazing places I didn’t know existed in my initial research.”

Stackpoole uses his analytical skills to obsessively search Google Earth for potential photography locations and best angles.

“When I was on my way to the Faroe Islands and Icelandic highlands, I used Google Earth to do a lot of map work before I started to search for cool aerial compositions. Stackpoole says that this extra research enabled me to capture incredible landscape photos that had not been taken by anyone else, if any at all.”

Stackpoole states, “When I go to the most popular photography spots, I am always searching for ways to make my photos unique.” “Sometimes this comes from creating original compositions. Other times it comes from an innovative approach to Lightroom editing to express my creative vision for the scene.

Deciding on the Weather and Time of Day

Photographing dreamlike landscape photos is crucial to capturing portfolio-worthy images. Photographers will find that each location has its own ideal conditions and shooting times, which will increase their chances of capturing landscape photographs worthy of publication.

Stackpoole says that clear skies are essential for desert scenes. The light adds a soft, ethereal glow and glow to the dunes. For a dramatic mood, a flat light on a cloudy day might work better. Photographing in Iceland’s highlands, I always hope for clouds to diffuse the light and not make the landscapes too dark. Bluebird skies would not be ideal for Iceland because of the vibrant colors.

Stackpoole, of course, emphasizes the importance and value of the golden hour.

Stackpoole states that the best shots are usually taken in the minutes just after sunset and before sunrise. It transforms the scene completely and gives it a dreamy, soft appearance. The landscape is lit up by the golden light from the sun, which might be visible through the cracks in the orange and pink clouds. If there is a storm, you’ll be able to capture some of the most stunning and beautiful photogenic conditions.

Stackpoole’s landscape photography does not end with the sun setting, however. The photographer’s favorite time to photograph is the blue hour, which is the period between sunrise and sunset.

He explains that you still have enough light and can use artificial light sources such as headlamps to create dreamlike scenes.

The artist will usually stay on the scene after the blue hour is over to capture some astrophotography.

Clear skies are essential for night sky photography. This is why having multiple locations and a vehicle can be very useful. A drive to the next location may yield better results if there are clouds at location 1.

A little moonlight is a must to capture the beauty of the landscapes. You might get a starry sky in your photograph if the moon is already setting or a new moon.

Deciding on the Composition

Landscape photography is no exception. A photograph’s composition can have a significant impact on how it is perceived by the viewer. The old rules of composition are often forgotten in this age where many photos can be viewed on social media via your phone.

Stackpoole states that he prefers to shoot vertically for social media so it is best to have a clear subject at the center of the frame. You can tell a story by allowing the viewer to see the subject. This allows you to focus the attention of the audience on the important things.

Stackpoole said that when he’s looking for composition options, he looks for things such as animals, small cabins, winding roads and even people. No matter the subject, the way a photographer frames the photograph is crucial.

“I love to use foreground elements like grass and flowers. I typically capture them from a lower angle. These foreground elements are useful when using the rule-of-thirds because they can guide the viewer from one side to the other. These foreground objects can be in focus or you can allow the soft blurred background of an out-offocus object to guide the viewer’s eyes through the frame.” he concluded.

Add a sense of scale

Stackpoole suggests adding a sense scale to a scene to create a dramatic effect. This is usually done by using a telephoto lenses, which adds compression to the background. It doesn’t matter what lens you use, it is useful to add a person or other object to scale the scene.

Luke Stackpoole is a London-based landscape photographer and Adobe Lightroom Ambassador who has traveled around the world in search of dramatic scenery. From the barren deserts of Namibia to the frigid seascapes of Iceland, Stackpoole has amassed a stunning portfolio that shows the world’s most dreamlike landscapes.

Stackpoole makes it look easy, but in reality, his work is anything but. Planning, patience, luck, and proficient editing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom are all critical for Stackpoole to create his dramatic landscape photographs.ND Filter: A Beginner’s Guide to Neutral-Density Lens Filters

The Highlands of Iceland

The 29-year-old visual artist hasn’t always been a globe-trotting travel photographer. Up until just four years ago, Stackpoole was working at a desk job, handling accounting for Deloitte. He believes that the analytical side of his mind works in conjunction with the creative side, as he meticulously plans his photos and edits his work down to the pixel level in Lightroom.

Mt. Bromo, Java, Indonesia

“I love to create dreamlike landscape images because it inspires viewers to want to travel and create photography work from these locations,” he says.

Stackpoole shares the process that goes into creating his stunning dreamlike landscape images.

At a Glance

  • Picking a Location
  • Deciding on Weather and Time of Day
  • Deciding on Composition
  • Include a Sense of Scale
  • How to Edit Landscape Images to Make Dramatic Final Photos
    • Using a Base Preset in Adobe Lightroom
    • Working with Global Edits
    • Using the Healing Tool and Spot Removal
    • Working with Masks

Picking a Location

Stackpoole credits much of his incredible portfolio to the locations he photographs. While he says that it is possible to create dreamlike photos from almost any location, being somewhere with dramatic scenery gives the photographer an immediate advantage. He suggests researching and identifying locations with photogenic features, such as jagged mountains, expansive deserts, or moss-covered highlands.

Mount Fuji, Japan

In an information-driven age, Stackpoole explains that social media can be your best friend when researching locations.

“It is often the case that even the most obscure locations have been photographed or filmed by somebody, so always be on the lookout for some cool spots when you are scrolling through social media,” Stackpoole says. “I use the save post feature on Instagram to house all of the videos and photos that I come across for a location that I think would make for some great photographs.”

Experienced local guides can also be a well of information for finding the most photogenic locations.

“If a photographer who I follow has used a specific guide in a region, I will reach out to them to talk about a potential plan for a visit. Usually, just telling them the types of images you are after will give them enough information to put together a rough itinerary of shooting locations that I would visit with them when I arrive. Often, the guide will bring me to incredible places that I didn’t even know existed from my initial research,” he adds.

Tumpak Sewu, Indonesia

Using his analytical skills, Stackpoole also obsessively scours Google Earth to identify potential photography locations and the best angles to shoot them from.

“When I was touring the Icelandic highlands and the Faroe Islands, I opened Google Earth and did a ton of map work beforehand to look for some cool aerial compositions. That extra research allowed me to capture some incredible landscape photos that hadn’t been shot much yet by others, if at all,” Stackpoole says.

Icelandic Highlands

“When I visit the more popular photography locations, I am always looking for ways to have my photos be unique,” Stackpoole says. “Sometimes that comes from finding original compositions, and other times, that comes from a unique approach to the way I edit the photo in Lightroom to express the creative vision I have for the scene.”

Deciding on Weather and Time of Day

When in search of capturing dreamlike landscape images, the weather and time of day are critical to coming away with portfolio-worthy images. Each location will have different ideal conditions and shooting times that will maximize a photographer’s chance of coming away with worthy landscape photos.

Namib Desert, Namibia

“For a desert scene, you will want some clear skies as the light is really important in adding a soft, ethereal glow to the dunes and sand,” Stackpoole states. “For a moody, dramatic vibe, however, you might be better off with some flat light on an overcast day. When I photograph in the Icelandic highlands I am always hoping for clouds so that the light isn’t too harsh on the black sand and mossy landscapes. The colors of Iceland pop in diffused light, so bluebird skies are not ideal in this environment.”

Vestrahorn, Iceland

Of course, Stackpoole emphasizes the importance of the golden hour.

“The minutes right after sunrise and just before sunset almost always lead to the best images,” Stackpoole says. “It completely transforms the scene and helps create that dreamy, soft look. You might have some light rays coming down through the breaks in the pink and orange clouds, and the entire landscape in front of you is lit up in this beautiful golden light. And if there is a storm clearing during this short window, you will be given some of the most dramatic and photogenic conditions possible”

Passo Giau, Italy

Stackpoole’s landscape photography doesn’t end when the sun sets, however. Blue hour, the time before sunrise and after sunset, is one of the photographer’s favorite times to shoot.

Deadvlei, Namibia

“You still have enough light to work with, and you can add in some artificial light sources like headlamps to create dreamlike scenes,” he explains.

After the blue hour has passed, the artist will typically stick around to capture some astrophotography.

Ilulissatt, Greenland

“For photos of the night sky, you want clear skies. This is where having multiple locations identified and a vehicle can come in handy. If there are clouds in location one, a drive to your next location might yield better results with a clearer sky.

Spitzkoppe, Namibia
Deadvlei, Namibia

“To capture the details of the landscapes in front of you, having a bit of moonlight is key. If the moon has already set, or it is a new moon, you might just get a starry sky in your photo, even though there is an incredible, yet pitch black, landscape in front of you.”

Deciding on Composition

Composition choices are important in any genre of photography, and capturing landscapes is no different. The choices made when composing an image will help lead the viewer’s eye through the scene, which can make or break a photograph. In the age of viewing photos on social media through your phone, the old composition rules often go out the window.

Slovenia

“I tend to shoot my images vertically for social media, so having a clear subject in the center of the frame often works best,” Stackpoole says. “Once the viewer can see this subject, you can help tell a story and create that dreamlike atmosphere as it allows you to center the audience’s attention on what is important.”

Namibia

Stackpoole says that when he is looking for composition options, he often searches for objects such as winding roads, a small cabin, an animal, or even people. Whatever the subject, how a photographer frames the photo is key.

Zhangjiajie, China
East Java, Indonesia

“I like to make use of foreground elements such as grass or flowers, which I usually capture from a lower angle. These foreground objects come in handy when using the rule of thirds, as you can lead the viewer from the front of the image to the back. You can either have these foreground objects in focus or allow the soft bokeh of an out-of-focus object to lead a viewer’s eye through the frame,” he concludes.

Include a Sense of Scale

To add even more dramatic effect to a scene, Stackpoole recommends adding a sense of scale. Usually, this works with using a telephoto lens, which will add compression to the background. No matter the lens, however, adding a person or another object to show the scale of the scene is helpful.

Sossusvlei, Namibia
Kvernufoss, Iceland

Stackpoole explains that having someone standing in the frame in front a waterfall or on a sand dune gives the viewer the feeling of being there. It also shows how vast the landscape is in comparison to the viewer.

He says, “Another way that I like to show scale is by including vehicles, especially when taking a drone photo.” I found this useful in the Icelandic Highlands because the vehicle showed how vast the landscape was and also told a story about adventure.

Sossusvlei, Namibia
Iceland

How to Edit Landscape Images to Make Dramatic Final Photos

Adobe Lightroom Base Preset

Stackpoole immediately imports his photos from a trip to photography into Lightroom, and then begins editing. RAW is the best way to capture photos and it will give you the best editing results.

Stackpoole explains, “One of my first actions when I find a photograph I want to edit is cycling through my custom-built presets in order to look for something that standsout to me and fits the scene.”

“For example, I made my own presets to capture the dramatic blues of Greenland or the earthy tones in a forest. Or to bring out the stars of my astrophotography. This is one of my favorite things about Lightroom. I have unlimited presets I can use for all future photos. Adobe offers a wide range of Premium Presets, which are not only presets I create but also presets created by Lightroom Ambassadors and other talented photographers. There are many options when choosing a base layer, and the Premium Presets collection has some great options.

“Before applying a preset layer, I adjust the white balance to suit the scene’s creative vision. He continues, “I hover my mouse over each preset in the preset panel to quickly scroll through them all to find the one that fits me best.”

“Rarely, I don’t start with a preset as sometimes none of them fits with the image,” Stackpoole states. “For example, when I took photos from Greenland I didn’t have any presets to match the icy blue tones so I edited one image and saved it as a preset. I was then able to quickly sync that preset with every Greenland image so that I had a base layer. This made editing much more efficient.”

Global Edits:

Stackpoole’s editing process begins with the application of a preset. But that’s just the beginning. Lightroom’s editing tools allow him to make fine adjustments for landscape photos.

Stackpoole explains that RAW files can be quite flat so I add vibrance to give the scene a little more color. I then increase the contrast slightly, but also reduce clarity a little. This clarity change is crucial as it gives the image a “painting-like” look.

He continued, “I will then reduce the blacks a bit with the tone curve, giving it a dreamy fade.” If the image requires it, I will add color grading. Often, this involves adding blue hues to the image and some vignette. This small adjustment can transform a fairly ordinary image into a dreamlike landscape with minimal effort.

Use the Spot and Healing Tool

Lightroom’s healing tool is often used by photographers to remove dust from photos. Stackpoole will however use this powerful tool in order to make subjects stand out.

“I find that using the Healing Tool is the best way to ensure the image is clear and free from distractions. On a lot of my photos, I use the keyboard shortcut “H” to access the Lightroom Desktop healing tool. I often remove distracting elements such as twigs, untidy fur on animals, people, or cars. He says that Adobe Photoshop was used years ago to remove such objects from his photos.

“Now, the AI in the Lightroom healing tool can clean up most objects or eliminate them by zooming in on an image and carefully ‘healing out’ any distractions.

Masks

Instead of using the Develop menu sliders to make changes to the entire image, the masking tool lets photographers edit a particular area of the photo. Masking is an essential tool that all photographers should know, whether it’s to change the brightness of the sky or soften the skin of someone’s face.

Adobe MAX saw photographers thrilled by the inclusion of AI to their masking tools. The update allows photographers to tell Lightroom to automatically select the sky or identify the subject in a photo. This helpful addition not only eliminated errors in masking brushes that might have painted over the edge of the horizon, but also saved photographers many minutes of manual labor.

Stackpoole states that masking is where Lightroom can really transform an image for her, giving it that dreamlike feel.

Adobe has many options, not only sky selection but also new tools. This is a huge advantage to me as I often darken the skies to create a moody and atmospheric feel in my images. The new sky selection tool eliminates the need to manually apply my mask layer. Lightroom automatically selects sky in just seconds. And, most importantly, it does so with zero errors. The mask is perfect every time. Once I have edited my sky mask, I can add directional lighting using the graduated filter to enhance the dreamlike effect.

He says, “I might then use the keyboard shortcut “B” on Lightroom Desktop and bring up the brush to finish the image with some dodge-and-burn.” To emphasize the contrast, I use this technique to brush on highlights and shadows of the photo. All of my masking adjustments are what give my photos that dreamlike feel. Although they are small and insignificant, these adjustments can have a significant impact on how viewers process the image’s story.

Stackpoole states that his dreamlike landscape photos leave viewers wanting more. I hope people are inspired to visit the places that I photograph and to share their travel stories with me by seeing a photo of mine.

Stackpoole is a photographer with only four years experience. He is busy photographing commercial shoots for companies such as Adobe, American Express and Talisker.

Stackpoole has almost every spare moment and is ready for his next adventure.

Planning a landscape photography trip is for me the most enjoyable part of my job. He says that he loves the thrill of the chase and trying to capture the perfect moment when everything is in place.

I am addicted to the feeling of euphoria that I get when I finish a Lightroom edit. I know that one image is worth all the effort. That feeling is something I won’t ever tire of.

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