I shoot outdoors and that means I'm at the mercy of what light nature gives me. Often times the contrast is too much for film or digital sensors to handle hence my use of Graduated ND filters. HDR is also a solution if you're shooting digital; however I have extensive background in film so I'm still using filters to solve lighting problems. Landscape photography is one of the most challenging forms of photography. Why? Because there are too many elements outside of your control. Unlike other types of photography (portrait, glamour, commercial, etc.,) where you can set-up the background, lighting, strobes, and direct subjects in a fully controlled environment, you have little or no control on your atmosphere when outdoors. You can't for example, tell the Sun to move east and below the horizon, move a mountain close to the raging river just under a lenticular cloud, change the weather, or drag the moon below the shadow of the Earth to form a lunar eclipse. You are wholly at the mercy of your environment; the photographic process is accomplished by your eyes, feet, knowledge, and complete awareness of your surroundings.
Pigeon Point Light
Into the Sunrise
Eyes: You can train your eyes to compose photographically. First know that you're trying to communicate a message in two dimensions, so you have to learn to "see" two dimensionally * it is up to you to place subjects, foreground, and background to give the illusion of three dimensions. The tools for creating illusions of three dimensional space are overlapping, changing size and placement, linear perspective, relative hue and value, and atmospheric perspective (there is too much for me to cover here in detail, I will leave it up to you to pick up a book on basic painting techniques or simply visit your local art museum and study several paintings). Also, learn the basic rules that artists of old have used to make compositional arrangements that are pleasing to the eyes * rules of third, Golden Mean, Golden Triangles, and Golden Spiral; these are rules that the Ancient Greeks have used to make aesthetically pleasing compositions. Once you learn the rules, learn how and when to break it effectively so that you're not blindly limiting your own creativity through these sets of rules. **A quick trip to your local Google neighborhood will fetch several results pertaining to the rules.
Shasta Trinity Sunset
Feet: To capture those rare and fleeting moments when light, landscape, and the living combine to reveal a photographic composition, you have to be quick on your feet. In the wild your compositional photograph doesn't come to you, you come to it. Your mobility combined with your eyes help you find the moment when everything in the landscape is in perfect harmony ready for you to make a still image that can be shared with everyone.
Technical knowledge: Your technical knowledge of the camera is of paramount importance when you finally have your composition to capture. You have to know things such as: diffraction, depth of field, hyper-focal distance, shutter speed, aperture, scheimpflug rule (for large format), etc., This knowledge comes with time and use with the camera set your camera on manual mode sometime, don't just blindly set everything on auto because you want full-control of the exposure process not what the exposure computer (and it's a sophisticated one) on your camera wants. In outdoor photography, your knowledge of the area you're working is significant to your success. Scout out the location first and then return when the light is "appropriate" for your subject. Your knowledge of light and its properties comes into play in determining what is appropriate for what subject. One of the most important books to read has nothing to do with photography: "Color and Light in Nature", by David K. Lynch and William Livingston and "Clouds in a Glass of Beer: Simple Experiments in Atmospheric Physics", by Craig F. Bohren.
Lake Tahoe Spring Sunset
Awareness of your surroundings: You ceaselessly must be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where the Sun/Moon rises and sets can make or break an image * you could have easily found an excellent photographic subject and wait around for a sunset only to find out that the mountain range behind you is covering the Golden Light. There could be herd of rare Tule Elk slowly migrating towards the rising moon creating a unique silhouette or a field of flowers just over the hills * you must constantly be aware because fleeting moments in nature changes in just mere minutes and seconds. An alpenglow for example, last no more than a span of 5 minutes * I don't know how many times I've missed a shot because I could not find an interesting subject to place in such an amazing display of light and color.