The Best Camera Settings for Landscape Photography

camera settings for landscape photography.

The process of capturing landscape photography is different for everyone and because of that, there are a lot of different ways to approach your shot. This style of photography has exploded in recent years thanks to the convenience of smartphones, the lure of social media, and easily accessed vistas.

It’s the special places that get the most attention, though. The places where you need to get up early in the morning and hike out to your location. The places where leaving behind any part of your kit can spell the end of the session.

Just as important are your camera settings. There are so many options and functions to remember that it can be daunting to navigate in the heat of the moment. Think of landscape photography as being split into two parts, the creative and the technical aspects.

This guide is going to show you the best landscape photography settings and how to easily implement them to get the highest quality landscape photos possible.

Finding a balance between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed is integral to the shooting process. If you’re just here to check out the technical specs for landscape photography, then here is a quick rundown of the ideal camera settings for your shot.

  • Aperture priority mode is great for beginners to get great shots without the aperture being changed on them. Manual mode is the ideal setting for landscape scenes.
  • Your aperture should fall within the “sweet spot” where everything is in focus, and there is no diffraction. This would make your settings fall between f/10 and f/16.
  • Keep your ISO set to the default value. Since you are more than likely using a tripod, this can stay at ISO 100-200
  • Adjust the shutter speed until it is a properly exposed photo. The slower shutter speed might give you an instant of camera shake if not on a tripod. If you are using a tripod, ensure that you set a timer to stop the camera from swaying after you press the shutter.
  • Matrix metering mode is the best for landscape photography as it surveys the entire scene but use the one you are most comfortable with.
  • If you’re shooting sunsets or sunrises, use exposure compensation to tell the camera’s computer that it should adjust its parameters for measuring the light of whatever it’s pointing at.

The Different File Types

raw and jpeg file formats.

A novice landscape photographer may not think about the different file types and their impacts on compression and available information. This directly impacts post-processing capabilities and should be one of the first settings you need to tweak. Luckily, there is a camera setting that can be changed quickly on the fly.

RAW Photos or JPEG?

Everyone knows what a JPEG is, and it’s the default setting on a lot of cameras. But did you know it might not be the best file format for your photos? Sure, JPEGS look great on the camera’s LCD screen or your computer monitor, but what happens when you try to edit them?

JPEGs are the standard file format for photos, and a lot of people use them with no issues. There is nothing wrong with shooting in this format until you get to editing. Compression plays a large role in a JPEG shot as the software will adjust settings and transform the photo into a nice small package, easy to share.

The RAW file format is just as it sounds, raw information directly from the camera sensor. This is why landscape photographers love capturing in RAW. You have access to way more information within the photo as a RAW file than a JPEG. The file sizes are much bigger since there is no compression added to the file, but that’s a small price to pay.

When editing a JPEG, you can only bring back so much detail in things like the highlights or shadows since a lot of it has been deleted to save storage space. A raw file captures all of the information of the shot, and this includes all exposures and editing possibilities.

Speaking of compression, JPEGS aren’t the best option for editing and saving photos multiple times. Every time you open a JPEG and save it again, the compression increases. This might be okay for the first few saves, but over time the compression will become so great that the detail will start to become affected. Detail is the most important aspect of landscape photography, and trying to preserve it starts to become a mission.

Read more about Raw vs Jpeg in our detailed guide.

Bit Depth

Bit depth is not an option available to everyone as it can be considered an advanced feature, depending on who you ask. There are 3 settings which include 8-bit, 12-bit, and 14-bit images.

While this doesn’t make a huge difference in your landscape shots, the higher the bit, the more detail in the shot. This can be important when bringing out the details of your scene in landscape photography.

Camera Modes For Landscape Photography

Your camera more than likely has the ability to automate a lot of the settings in manual mode. It takes a lot of the guesswork and histogram checking out of your landscape shots. These camera modes can include shutter priority, aperture priority, auto ISO and even a fully automatic camera mode.

Don’t feel bad for using any of these assisted camera modes, as they work very well in a punch and can help teach how each mode interacts with the other. Here is a breakdown of what the different camera modes can do for you.

setting different modes on digital camera.

Fully Auto and Semi Auto Modes

Technology has come a long way, and cameras have some decent automatic settings for novice and experienced photographers alike. Fully auto is as it sounds; the camera gauges the environment and then adjusts the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to produce a good exposure.

Semi-automatic modes are broken down into categories such as aperture priority, shutter priority, and programmed auto. These are great tools for beginners to ease themselves into shooting with their cameras as they aren’t bombarded by a variety of different settings to twist and monitor.

Aperture-priority mode lets you choose the depth of field, and the camera will handle the rest, while shutter-priority mode lets you control the shutter speed of your camera while it takes care of the other settings.

Most photographers will use aperture priority for landscape photography as they can control the depth of field. Shutter priority is better suited for wildlife photography or subjects that are moving quickly across the frame.

Manual Mode

Considered by many to be a rite of passage, manual mode gives you control over every aspect of the shot that you’re taking. Adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO individually can give you creative artistic control over the shot that you want. Many professional landscape photographers choose to shoot in manual mode.

Manual mode is perfect if you don’t want your camera to throw you off because it thinks a setting should be different. Image quality can suffer if the exposure triangle isn’t balanced.

A good example would be nighttime photography and how erratic automatic settings can act on a camera.

The Exposure Triangle and Landscape Photography

The exposure triangle is a visual representation of how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO interact with each other as you adjust settings for each. The idea is that if you change one of the three, then the other two will be changed.

exposure triangle illustration.

Light is measured in stops, and increasing your settings by one stop will double the amount of light coming in. Decreasing it by one stop halves the amount of light entering the sensor. 

A perfect balance of all three aspects will give you good exposure from whites to shadows. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of each piece of a properly exposed shot.

ISO

ISO is a measure of the sensitivity of your camera image sensor. The lowest setting for most cameras is between ISO 100-200, and the highest can be upwards of ISO 25,000 and beyond.

The lower the ISO number, the clearer your photo will be. This is because ISO 100 has far less noise than the higher numbers.

As you increase your ISO, you are bumping up the sensitivity of the image sensor. Raising it too much can introduce noise into the image and negatively affect the final image quality.

The best ISO settings for landscape photography will be the lowest number you can get without the image becoming too dark. If you have a tripod, then you should be able to achieve a lower ISO pretty easily. Auto ISO settings are on pretty much every camera, and the sensor will adjust itself based on the ambient lighting.

Here is a handy chart to help you identify what ISO your camera should be set at based on the environment and if you don’t have a tripod with you.

ConditionsISO
Sunny100-200
Overcast400-1200
Twilight (sunrise, sunset)400-1200

Aperture

Aperture settings for landscape photography are one of the most important to focus on since it changes the depth of field and the overall exposure of the image. The trick with aperture is to get the most amount of depth of field without the presence of diffraction, where the photo loses sharpness at smaller apertures.

Landscape photos benefit from what many call the “sweet spot” on a lens. It is a specific F-stop that provides a sharp focus from the foreground all through to the background. Most lenses have their sweet spot lying somewhere in between F 9-F 13 (Full-frame).

If you shoot landscapes at night, then you’ll need a tripod, and your aperture will have to be opened a lot to get enough light.

Landscapes vary, and so will your aperture settings. Just remember, lots of depth of field use a small aperture (f/10-f/12), and if you need to let more light in, then drop it down to the lowest value, something like f/1.8.

Aperture adjusts the depth of field in landscape photography shots.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is another part of the exposure triangle and is just as important as the aperture setting. One of the first questions you should ask yourself as a photographer is whether or not your subject is in motion or standing still. This will give you the basis on which to adjust your shutter speed to the correct settings.

A faster shutter speed will let very little light in but will be able to capture fast-moving images. Slow shutter speeds act the opposite and let a lot of light in, making them ideal for nighttime scenes or low-light environments.

Longer shutter speeds are great for long-exposure shots. If your scene has a flowing river going through it, then a slow shutter speed will be able to capture the movement in the water, smoothing it out and giving it some motion blur.

A slow shutter speed is essential for nighttime landscape photography.

Exposure Compensation

Here’s a handy function for landscape photographers where you can tell your camera’s light meter to adjust the exposure higher or lower based on a predetermined value in the form of a stop of light.

For example, shooting a beach sunset sometimes confuses the light meter, and it will overexpose your shot. If you entered a value of -0.5 stops, then your light meter will change based on that number.

Metering

metering modes setting.

Your camera has a built-in light meter that adjusts various settings and information to tell you the exposure of your shot using the lights, darks, and mid tones. There are a few different modes that help evaluate the amount of light in a scene; these include:

Matrix/Evaluating Meter Mode

The sensor takes in a lot of information from your screen, which the computer uses to determine the right exposure. This is the default mode on most camera models.

Center-Weighted Metering Mode

The sensor takes the majority of the information from the middle of the scene rather than the entire image. On average, it reads between 60-80 percent of the screen.

Spot Metering Mode

When you need to get precise, then spot metering is your best bet as it only reads between 1-5 percent of your scene. A spot metering system is good for portraits or when you have a concentrated light source, like a studio lamp.

Professional photographers will even carry around a portable light meter to compare the results to what their camera settings are reading.

When it comes to landscape photography camera settings, you’ll be hard-pressed to move from Matrix mode. Since you are evaluating an entire scene, you want your camera to give you the proper exposure for all of it and not a small portion.

What Should Your Focus Settings be?

Finding a focus point in your image is vital in getting a good shot with crisp detail. All cameras come with a built-in feature that helps automatically determine what your subject is.

While this may not be the best option since a lot of sensors have an issue focusing on their own, it’s always easy to change the focus on your own.

Manual Focus vs. Autofocus

manual and auto focus switch.

Every modular lens will have a ring that spins around the lens. This is your manual focus ring, and it’s used to help select a focus point in your scene. Using the viewfinder, you can clearly see different parts of the image come into focus.

Mirrorless digital cameras have electronic viewfinders, so the focus ring will actually highlight parts of the image for you in real-time, making it easier to see where your camera is focusing.

Autofocus gives you a lot of flexibility since you can use it with live view or other optimal electronic viewfinders. Autofocus tends to work well with objects that are stationary, although it might take a little longer to adjust than doing it manually.

Focus Selection Points

A lot of advanced cameras have multiple focus points to better aid with accuracy, but if you are too close to your subject, it might still have trouble focusing on your subject.

Single-servo autofocus cameras will only let you or the computer choose the focus. Continuous-servo autofocus has additional features, including advanced tracking and dynamic autofocus. A lot of these features you won’t be using in your landscape photos.

Don’t Forget About The Color Settings

Landscape photographs are all about showing the environment, be it through natural formations or incredible color. This is why it’s important to help your camera be as accurate as it can be when determining white balance and color saturation.

Of course, if you’re shooting in RAW, then you can always change these settings in post-processing.

White Balance and Picture Style Settings

Modern cameras do a great job adjusting the white balance based on the scene in front of them. It’s one of the few settings you can leave on auto and then change later if needed. Sometimes the camera settings won’t get it quite right, so going into your settings to adjust it might be necessary to capture images correctly.

white balance settings.

The white balance that you shoot in your camera will transfer over to your computer as the default value. Ensuring your white balance is correct before loading your pictures just saves you an extra step.

You may also find some preset styles on your camera that will apply to your current shots. It is quite common for a photographer to remember to adjust this particular setting from previous shoots, so keep it in mind as you review your camera settings for landscape photography.

The perfect balance of settings can get you great landscape photograpy photos.

Some of the different styles you can find are:

Natural – Displays the colors as neutral as possible on display. To some, this can look dull, much like a RAW image straight from the camera.

Vivid – The ambient colors are brightened and enhanced to produce a stronger effect. Colors will appear more saturated, and their luminance values will be increased. Some photographers think this look to be a little overdone and stay away from it.

B&W – Also called monotone, the camera doesn’t display any color values. Most cameras have a couple of different ways to change the colors to B&W. If you’re shooting in RAW, then this setting will only be an aesthetic on the LCD since the back and white aspect can be brought out in post-processing.

For the most part, you can keep these settings as their defaults since the camera does a good job of picking out the white balance on its own. Most photographers keep their displays set to natural to keep the image as true to the eye as they can.

Final Thoughts

Much like landscape photography, your camera settings will change depending on a variety of factors. It’s important to understand the concepts behind the settings in order for you to be able to adjust according to the situation.

What camera settings do you use for landscape photography? 

Responses

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  1. Thank you for Adding the Details to the Triangle. This Really Added a Depth and perspective and made it easier for me to understand where things need to be.

    1. I found it was always the best way to learn about the connection between exposure and your camera!

      It really shows the different metrics in play and how they work off of each other.

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