These days most of us take our cameras just about anywhere we go, and landscape photos are a dime a dozen, but if you want your landscape photos to stand out from the crowd, there are certain landscape photography tips and techniques you’ll have to keep in mind.
Planning for Landscape Photography
When it comes to landscape photography, there needs to be some planning that goes into location and gear selection. If you are traveling specifically to capture photos natural world, take some time to learn everything you can about the location. You may stumble across some beautiful views by chance.
However, you’ll maximize your own efforts by checking things like weather forecasts, parking locations, vantage points, sunset or sunrise time, etc. It’s also good to remember that bad weather may not always be a deal-breaker for many photographers. However, you’ll want to make sure you have your rainproof cover packed for the trip. The menacing clouds of an overcast day can add a level of drama to your images that can really make them stand out to the viewer. And that brings us to plan out what gear to pack.
Camera Equipment and Accessories for Landscape Photography
A very popular question indeed. What photography gear and equipment does a landscape photographer have in their camera bag to capture stunning landscape photos? Opinions will vary, and specific gear will change based on your needs. I will mention the items that are great to have on hand.
Digital Camera and Lenses
To start off, a digital camera that can shoot in RAW and can capture a bigger dynamic range makes for a good camera for shooting landscape pictures.
As for the camera lens, a wide-angle lens makes for an ideal combination. A 16-35mm lens, for one, is a good choice if you are shooting with a full-frame camera.
Tripod or Monopod
Tripods and monopods can be essential to many situations. Every landscape photographer would use one because it more or less cuts out the element of image shake while exposure is made. Taking longer exposure shots is nearly impossible without having some stabilization device. Personally, I really like shooting and traveling with my Dolica Proline tripod since it only weighs about 2.5 lbs and packs into a fairly compact space.
For those with even tighter weight or size restrictions, a Gorillapod can be a great option. Some models even support up to 11 pounds, which can be great when you have a heavier telephoto lens on your camera.
Using a tripod will not only ensure your photos avoid unintentional blur, but they’ll also allow you to experiment with different settings on the exact same scene (vital for HDR photography).
Taking the time to set up a tripod also gives you the added impetus to think in terms of composition and perspective.
No landscape photographer would leave home without his trusted set of filters. Filters give you the option to tweak the light further.
ND filters are like putting a pair of sunglasses over your lens. They reduce the amount of light that hits the sensor, allowing you to take long exposure shots in brighter lighting conditions. ND filters come with a varying amount of light-stopping power and are interchangeable depending on your needs.
Neutral density suggests that the filter stops all wavelengths of light equally and does not render any color cast. ND filters come in different light stopping powers. An ND 2 is the same thing as a 0.3 ND (there are two terminologies in use). They will both reduce one stop of light, allowing you to balance an exposure where there is about one stop of difference in light between the foreground and the sky. Similarly, an ND 4 is the same thing as an ND 0.6, both reducing two stops of light.
Graduated ND Filter
A graduated neutral density filter (Grad ND) e.g. helps you to balance the exposure. A typical sunrise scene will have a blown-out sky and a dark foreground. With a Grad ND filter, you would be able to hold back the bright sky and therefore balance the exposure.
A circular polarizer is yet another trusty piece of glass filter that helps you to cut down glare and haze, making colors look more saturated. These filters can be compared with your polarizing sunglasses except that you put them on your lenses. They are useful when you are shooting brooks, waterfalls, lush green vegetation drenched in dew, sweeping vistas against a backdrop of sky, and so on.
Remote Shutter Release
Use an intervalometer or a remote to trigger the camera shutter. An inbuilt camera timer can also be used, but it’s a little frustrating. Wait for 2 – 5 seconds before pressing the button on the remote or intervalometer, which gives some time for the camera to settle, which avoids camera shake.
Remote shutter releases are available in wired and remote versions and are very cheap. They prevent accidentally shaking your camera when you press the shutter release. Most cable releases include a locking feature that keeps the button or plunger depressed during extremely long exposure photography.
Camera Settings for Landscape Photos
Using simple camera settings will ensure you capture a beautiful, sharp landscape photograph. What’s the point of spending considerable time and effort to travel to a remote site, investing in high-tech cameras, several super-sharp lenses, a stout tripod, and countless gadgets to capture stunning landscapes, and then getting blurry images through a lack of proper shooting techniques?
With landscape photography, a few extra moments will ensure you capture an image you’ll enjoy for many years. However, there is no single camera setting that will work in all situations for making great landscape photographs.
Use Higher Apertures
Use an aperture of f/8 or higher for everything to be in focus. Use an aperture of f/11 or above when shooting sun or lights directly. It creates a nice start burst effect, and the starburst effect depends upon the number of blades used to construct the lens. This can be found in the lens specification. Do not go to the extreme end of the aperture above f/16 to f/22 as the lens starts diffracting. The larger your f-stop (e.g. f/22), the smaller your aperture will be, allowing less light to enter the camera.
Usually, a smaller aperture (higher f-stop) is used 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.
Some professional photographers prefer to shoot at the smallest aperture they can get away with without inducing lens diffraction. It is recommended because the smaller the aperture, the more of the frame is in focus.
A smaller ISO (100 or 200) is ideal. Higher ISO numbers will induce digital noise and additional work in terms of cleaning the image up.
Always aim for the lowest ISO your lighting and camera can handle (another reason to use a tripod). Low ISO will give you rich and high image quality landscapes free from noise. You can go with ISO 100 for the least amount of noise.
If you find yourself in a situation where using a tripod isn’t possible, try increasing ISO to 400 or more. This will reduce the camera shake for handheld shots. Adjust the ISO settings based on your desired result and available light.
Shutter speed depends on the effect that you want. Some creative results warrant that you use a longer exposure to get some motion blur going, using a slow shutter speed.
Maximize the Depth of Field
The depth of field should be maximized in an effort to ensure that both the foreground and background of the photo are in focus. It may become more difficult in dimmer lighting conditions as your final images appear too dark. Shooting during a beautiful sunset may require a longer shutter speed as the natural lighting fades away. Again, this is where camera stabilization is going to come in handy.
Shoot Landscapes in RAW
Shooting in RAW will give the maximum amount of wiggle room when it comes to post-processing your photos. RAW files contain much more tonal and color information than JPEGS, allowing you far more control over the final output of your photo.
Always focus on the more interesting foreground element, which is a third distance away in the frame, so that everything will be in focus when using autofocus. Use of lens manual exposure is recommended using the live view so that you can see what is in focus.
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 ensure you nail the focus you’re looking for.
With DSLR cameras, the image is captured when the mirror flips up out of the light’s path just before the shutter opens then it flips back down after the shutter closes. This causes minute vibrations that can destroy an image’s sharpness. Sharpness can be improved by locking up the mirror prior to taking the exposure.
Mirror lock-up involves flipping the mirror up well before the shutter opens, allowing the vibrations to die down before exposing the sensor. This requires an extra push of the shutter button, the second push resulting in the actual opening of the shutter. Use a cable release to eliminate vibrations introduced by your finger pressing the shutter release button.
Your camera’s self-timer gives a delay between pressing the shutter release and the shutter’s firing. The self-timer is also used to reduce camera shake when taking photographs in low light or with long telephoto lenses. The timer’s delay gives the photographer time to steady the camera before the shutter fires.
It’s an inescapable reality of digital photography that dust will eventually plague your images. Although it’s easy to remove these spots with Photoshop, it is much better to avoid them when the image is created.
To see if you have dust spots, simply attach a relatively long lens to the camera, focus the lens manually to infinity, stop it down to its smallest aperture, then take a shot of a featureless sky. Dust will show on your images as fuzzy spots.
The camera sensor which records the image is protected by a low-pass filter. This is where the dust accumulates. In-camera cleaning is performed by vibrating this low-pass filter by selecting the Clean Image Sensor option in the Setup menu. The filter can be cleaned at any time using the Clean Now option, or cleaning can be performed automatically when the camera is turned on or off. If dust cannot be fully removed using the menu-based option, it must be cleaned manually.
Techniques for Capturing Tack Sharp Landscape Images
- Use a solid tripod. Your tripod can be made even more stable against wind gusts by hanging a weighted pouch between the legs.
- Turn off vibration reduction features within the camera or lens. Your tripod will stabilize the camera, but the image will be degraded because the VR feature continues to look for vibrations.
- All lenses have a “sweet spot” which produces the sharpest image. This usually is one or two stops from the maximum aperture. So instead of shooting with your lens wide open, pull it back a stop or two, and you will get a little more clarity. If in doubt, shoot landscapes at f/16.
- If you’re using a zoom lens, don’t use its longest length.
- Smoothly trigger the shutter. Any vibration which takes place just prior to or during the time the shutter is open will degrade the image. Using a cable release, locking up the mirror, or using the camera’s built-in self-timer will help reduce camera vibration.
12 Pro Tips for Better Landscape Photography
Landscape photography is one of the toughest genres of all types of photography. Once the moment is passed, it can’t be faked and re-created, unlike portrait photography, so paying attention to the changing light and drama in your landscape and nature photography is very important.
Here are a few tips that can significantly improve your landscape photography.
1. Choosing a Location
Need ideas for locations to visit and photograph? Take up hiking, visit local parks, state forests, and other natural areas. Join hiking clubs and naturalist groups to take frequent field trips to observe nature. You may discover new locations for photography close to home by participating in one of these groups.
2. Consider Photographing Your Favorite Landscape During Different Seasons
Spring scenery provides the perfect opportunity to photograph many shades of green and pastels from fresh flowers while everything is still new and unblemished.
Summer is a great time to photograph the scenery of botanical gardens, dramatic sunsets, and sunrises. With longer hours of daylight during summer months, you have plenty of time to compose a variety of compositions and angles.
Fall or autumn scenery is all about color. Bright sunlight reflects light off leaves and reduces vibrancy, but photographing fall foliage on a partly cloudy or overcast day will make those fall colors pop.
Winter scenery is best photographed right after it snows.
3. Shoot During the Right Time of the Day
Shoot an hour before and after the sunset or sunrise, which is usually the best time of the day. These hours are considered the golden hours of photography. Don’t pack the bags right after sunset when there are 30 to 70% clouds in the sky.
At sunrise and sunset, the longer wavelengths of red and yellow colors of the sun will use the clouds as a canvas to paint a vibrant pink glow on the clouds which creates a dramatic look on the landscape photo.
Landscapes are constantly changing. Weather, light, seasons, plants, and trees change every day. Scout areas close to home. Visit the same locations multiple times during different hours each day. You might be surprised by what you find. Look for water, ponds, lakes, and creeks. Reflections of scenery on the water make interesting landscape photographs.
4. Take a Moment to Let Yourself Fully Enter the Landscape Scene
One of the primary purposes of good landscape photos is to capture the magic of a place, to encapsulate its essence in a moment. The best way to find that magic in a landscape image is to give yourself a few moments to connect with the scene before setting it 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.
5. Horizon Placement
Never place the horizon in the center of the image. Try to move it above or below the center of the picture, depending on the composition. If there is not much drama in the sky, try to include only ⅓ or below the sky and include interesting elements in the ground.
Also, 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).
6. Pay Attention to Your Composition
Composition is also one of those features that set apart amateurs from accomplished landscape 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.
Composition depends on the eyes that are behind the camera. Some other compositional elements include using shapes and curves. These rules can be broken if you think you can get a better picture by breaking those rules of composition. Go beyond the rules!
7. Shoot Different Exposures
If you are shooting at sunset/sunrise, it’s difficult to capture the entire dynamic range in a single picture, so try to bracket the exposures to get a proper exposure. Usually, an exposure setting of -2 (underexposed), 0 (correct exposure) 2 (overexposure) will work.
Do not use third-party HDR plug-ins for creating HDR images by inputting the differently exposed images. Use the Lightroom CC’s Merge -> HDR feature for better results to begin with. Luminosity masks are much more advanced and give outstanding results.
8. Long Exposures
Use long exposures to show the motion in the clouds or water. A neutral density filter can do the magic. At the same time, tripods are also essential for any photography that needs a longer shutter time (like getting a softer texture on water).
9. It’s All About the Light
If you ask a landscape photographer – what is the key element that can help you make prize-winning and stunning landscape photos, the answer, most certainly, would be – “Get out of bed early.” Landscape photography isn’t as simple as you think it is.
There’s a lot more to it than just getting out of bed pretty early. You need to have a good understanding of light outdoors and know how it behaves at different times of the day. You will need to know why a professional landscape photographer hardly ever shoots when the sun is in the middle of the sky.
Your understanding of light will also help you to make better judgments in terms of exposure. You will be able to use the light better and create astonishing images that can win photo competitions, the kind you see in national geographic magazines.
10. Work with the Golden Hours
Lighting is one of the most important parts of any
Times to avoid are when the sun is highest (i.e. afternoon), when the intensity and angle of the light create hard shadows and washed-out colors in landscape scenes. This also allows you to capture incredible scenes as the light is scattered through the clouds.
11. Shoot Landscape Photos in Black and White
Many famous and legendary landscape photographers have shot masterpieces of landscape photos in black and white, which includes Ansel Adams, Michael Kenna, and Brett Weston.
For the best results and exciting images, you can photograph winter landscapes, trees, grass, beach, and mountains.
12. Enhance Your Photos in Post
You will need to have a post-processing workflow to ensure that the final image is close to what you envisioned. Adjusting the white balance, doing a bit of dodging and burning, adjusting the exposure, and working with the curves will give you the final image that you were after.
Keep things as simple as possible. Doing manipulative image edits is never recommended. Having said that, it should not make you over-dependent on post processing. Try to get the image right as much as possible in the camera.
Sometimes your photos aren’t completely finished until you edit and retouch your photos. There are many photo editing software programs out there to help you improve your photos. We recommend editing in Lightroom and also applying our presets for landscape photos, specially created to highlight and enhance your scenic landscape shots. Using these Lightroom presets can help you control the areas of your photos that just need that extra oomph of contrast or light.
Shooting landscapes is sometimes very challenging, considering the varying light, weather conditions, and other things a photographer confronts. If you want to get more of our tips for photographing nature and landscapes, take a look at our free landscape photography course.