Landscape Photography Should be a Contact Sport
Stop at a roadside pull-off, lean out the window or maybe get out and stand next to the car. Point your camera where the sign says to and you're done. You've taken a landscape photo. But unless you put a bit more into it than that you'll be unlikely to get truly memorable images — the ones that mean something to you and to other viewers.
Get out of the car. Take your time. Go for a walk. Maybe that scenic viewpoint was only there because the road was. On foot, you can go places cars can't, even if that's only a hundred yards down a trail. The point is, you need to be willing to do at least a bit of exploring to be sure you really are in the best location.
If all your shots are taken from the marked location they are bound to end up looking like everyone else's shot taken there. Go to the visitors center in a national park if want to see what I mean. Look at the post card rack as well as the covers of the books they have for sale. I bet you'll find quite a few similar images. If you've already been to some of those locations you've probably shot similar images yourself. Trying to duplicate famous images can be fun but will never be as satisfying as finding great but less well known shots.
This isn't always true, but as a general rule the more work you are willing to put into getting an image the more potential satisfaction there is to be had in the accomplishment. That doesn't mean you should risk life and limb, but I do want to encourage you to put some effort into your shooting. In my book, landscape photography should be undertaken as a contact sport. If you're not willing to get dirty, you're not doing it right.
Some ecosystems are more fragile than others so don't go tromping all over the place without regard for your surroundings. But with a bit of care and attention you generally can get at least close to where you aim for. After studying the possible options, you can often improve your position by walking the long way around, or by stepping on rocks instead of soil or plants.
But terrain permitting, don't be hesitant to crawl around on searching for that illusive vantage point. Mud can be washed off. Dress accordingly and make provisions for getting dirty. Crossing a small stream on slippery rocks one time I lost my footing. I held my camera high knowing that the worst that was going to happen is I'd get wet and maybe get a few bruises. If I had dropped my camera, it likely would have fared far worse. Granted I'd prefer neither I nor my camera take the plunge, but within reason I'm willing to take one for the cause.
It's a calculated risk. Don't go doing anything stupid, but don't always take the easy and safe way out either. You have to pay more attention to what you're doing when you shoot on the edge (an apt figure of speech if ever there was one), but it can be done. Be careful, be safe, but at the same time be a bit daring.
Shooting in Northwest tide pools can serve as a perfect example. If you stand on the shore and shoot only what you can see while safe and dry, you limit your options. If you put on waders and walk into the surf you can reach locations in much deeper waters where the common beachcomber can't.
"Contact" doesn't have to purely physical either. Getting in touch with your surroundings can start with nothing more than slowing down. If you rush your shooting, you may miss what's right there in front of you. Work an area methodically and think about what you are doing. And this brings me full circle back to paying attention to what you're doing.
All this takes some preparation of course — some planning before you go out shooting. But that's all part of the process too.