Assertions of a 'naughty world' (Kennedy, 1979) point to the importance of place-based knowledge in informing landscape interpretations and management applications. Building upon conceptual and theoretical insights into the geomorphic character, behaviour and evolution of rivers, this paper outlines an approach to the practice of fluvial geomorphology: 'reading the landscape'. This scaffolded framework of field-based interpretations explicitly recognizes the contingent nature of biophysical interactions within any given landscape. A bottom-up, constructivist approach is applied to identify landforms, assess their morphodynamics, and interpret the interaction and evolution of these features at reach and catchment scales. Reading the landscape is framed as an open-ended and generic set of questions that inform process-form interpretations of river landscapes. Rather than relying unduly on conceptual or theoretical representations of landscapes that suggest how the world 'should' ideally look and behave, appropriately contextualized, place-based understandings can be used to detect where local differences matter, thereby addressing concerns for the transferability of insights between locations and the representativeness of sample or reference sites. The approach provides a basis for scientifically informed management efforts that respect and work with the inherent diversity and dynamics of any given river system.