Scenic Outlook – 3 Easy Ways to Not Look Like an Amateur

Amateur (noun) – a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity

I think we can all agree that the definition of amateur doesn’t exactly have the nicest ring to it. A lot of photographers out there do fit this description, which is perfectly fine or everyone with a camera would be doing this for a living. The trick is not letting other people know it. There are difficult methods for your images to look like a pro’s but also very easy ways to NOT look like an amateur. I have seen countless photographs of beautiful sweeping landscapes and majestic sunsets only to be ruined by the simplest (read: careless) mistake. The three things I am about to cover are major pet peeves of mine that will instantly drop an image from the ranks of great to mediocre. My goal is to have you think the same thing by the end of this article. Remember, our work doesn’t have to stand up to the likes of Ansel Adams, but it does have to be better than that guy snapping away with a disposable camera. These tips are easy and you CAN do this.

Straight horizons

Number one. Numero uno. The be all end all. I can probably go on for days how crucially important this is but I will spare you the diatribe. Just repeat after me: I will make sure my horizons are straight. Very good, you are already on the non-amateur path. My advice is simple; take your time composing and framing your shot. There is a simple approach I take every single time I compose a landscape image to make sure my horizon is straight. Get this right in camera and you won’t have to straighten and crop part of your scene later. If you are using a DSLR, place it in live view mode once it is secured to your tripod and enable grid lines if they aren’t already. Take your time adjusting the angle of the camera until the lines show a perfectly straight horizon. Remain in or cancel out of live view and snap your shot.

It was imperative that my horizon was straight for this image given that I was playing off of symmetrical reflections.

Dead center is dead boring

Being that we are already on the topic of straight horizons, lets keep the mojo going with another absolutely crucial non-amateurish tip: avoid centering your (now) perfectly straight horizon. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a centered horizon will work, but for the most part that isn’t the case. When there is equal space above and below a horizon line, your eye wanders looking for a place to focus on in the frame. Our eyes are followers and need to be told visually where to go. As a general rule of thumb, if you want to emphasize a really dramatic sky, lower your horizon. If the foreground is the main point of interest and you are faced with a so-so sky, raise the horizon to the upper third portion of the frame.

The only reason this image works and has any impact is because the sky is dominating the frame. Your eye is led by the reflection in the water, to the sun, then traverses around the dramatic sky.

Dust it off

Step 3 in the non-amateur program: dirty sensors. It happens to the best of us. Well, actually, it happens to all of us. Sensor dust is part of the game whenever you are changing lenses and for the most part, it’s unavoidable. Dust spots will be the most present in the under exposed areas of your image, but they are easily abolished. The first thing I do when processing a photograph is look for dust spots. Sometimes I will spend 5-10 minutes making sure I took care of every single one because to me, a single blemish can ruin a photograph. Inspect your shot from every viewing angle on your monitor. Some spots are only visible from the sides or straight on. Then use content aware fill or a healing brush to rid your image of those nasty specks.

In order to maintain all the detail in the sky and silhouette the distant boats, I under exposed this shot. With that, dust spots were present throughout.

Congratulations! You have now completed the 3 step program. With some simple care and attention to detail, you can avoid the amateur tag and start taking your work to the next level.


Jesse PafundiJesse Pafundi is a photographer hailing from Long Island, New York. A lover of all things photography, he enjoys traveling and capturing the world around him as much as possible. In addition to shooting landscapes, he has a major affection for New York City architecture and urban exploration. Whether it’s HDR, lens filters, or iPhoneography, he enjoys dabbling in and learning as many techniques as he can consume. Jesse believes strongly in the use of social media and blogging as a tool to further his knowledge and share his passion with anyone who wants to listen.

Photo Credit: © Jesse Pafundi

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