These days most of us are taking our cameras just about anywhere we go and landscape photos are a dime a dozen, but if want your landscape photos to stand out from the crowd there are a few key things you’ll have to keep in mind:
1. Take a Moment to Let Yourself Fully Enter the Scene
One of the primary purposes to landscape photos is to capture the magic of a place, to encapsulate its essence in a moment of time. The best way to find that magic is to give yourself a few moments to connect with the scene, before setting up. You can even use this time to explore the scene from different perspectives – sitting, kneeling, climbing up on a rock, etc. Relax and find the spot where the most amazingness hits you – this will be what you want to communicate to the viewer. Unless you’re quickly losing the light, there isn’t really a lot of reason to rush.
2. Use a Tripod
A lot of amateurs forgo this step thinking it’s too much trouble, but really, this step can really make or break a set of photos. Using a tripod will not only ensure your photos avoid unintentional blur, they’ll also allow you to experiment with different settings on the exact same scene (vital for HDR photography). They’re also essential for any photography that needs a longer shutter time (like getting a softer texture on water). Taking the time to set-up a tripod also give you the added impetus to think in terms of composition and perspective.
3. Pay Attention to Your Composition
Composition is also one of those features that set apart amateurs from accomplished photographers. As with most photography, placing key elements on the ‘thirds’ in the frame (otherwise known as the ‘rule of thirds’) will usually yield far better results than using the center of the frame. Also, including leading lines and interesting foreground elements will help to add depth to your photos.
4. Shoot with an aperture no smaller than f16
You’ve probably been told that you need a smaller aperture (higher f-stop) in landscape photography to get the maximum depth of field, but with most lenses there’s a maximum point beyond which things begin getting slightly softer. That being said, every lens is sharpest at a different aperture and knowing the qualities of your lenses can make a big difference, but either way, sticking between f7.1 and f16 will give you the best results.
5. Use ISO 100 or 200
Always aim for the lowest ISO your lighting and camera can handle (another reason to use a tripod). Low ISO’s will give you rich, high-quality landscapes free from noise.
6. Focus a third of the way into a scene
Focusing a third of the way into a scene will maximize your depth of field (i.e. get more of your scene in focus). If you’re using a fairly modern camera, you can use Live View to make sure you nail the focus you’re looking for.
7. Shoot in RAW (or RAW+JPG)
Shooting in RAW will give the maximum amount of wiggle room when it comes to post-processing your photos. RAW photos contain much more tonal and color information that JPEGS, allowing you far more control over the final output of your photo.
8. Work with the Golden Hours
Lighting is one of the most important parts of any photography and with landscapes this usually translates into shooting during the “golden hour” – the hour right before sunrise and after sunset. This is when the lighting can really make your landscapes come alive. Times to avoid are when the sun is highest (i.e. afternoon), when the intensity and angle of the light creates hard shadows and washed out colors.
9. Level Your Horizon
This may seem obvious, but it’s a step that many amateurs and even some pros neglect. Human perception is hard-wired to see everything level, even if what we’re looking at isn’t. By leveling the horizon for us, you keep our brains from spending that extra effort on keeping things straight (which is slightly uncomfortable).