Landscape and Travel Photography
Bringing you the best resources to help you become a Better Photographer
You can take an adequate landscape photo with any camera, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that your smartphone won’t give you the best results you can get.
The ideal camera for landscape photography is one that can detect as much detail as possible.
Pick a camera with a high resolution sensor. This will give you more leeway when you process your images because high resolution sensors capture more detail, so you won’t compromise the quality of your images if you need to crop them or print them in a large format.
Speaking of sensors, if you’re willing to spend the extra money it may be worth buying a full frame camera. The bigger the sensor, the more information you can capture.
The more control you have when you process your images, the better. That’s why you should also get a camera that can shoot in RAW.
Saving your images as RAW files allows you to preserve all of the unrefined data captured by your sensor, so you will have more to work with when you process them.
An expansive dynamic range is also a must for landscape photographers; an advanced dynamic range will be better able to pick up detail found in the darkest blacks and the lightest whites in an image.
When you are shooting landscapes, you don’t have to look through the optical viewfinder. In fact, it can be better not to; using a camera’s live view function can dramatically improve the sharpness of your image because you can zoom into the areas of the scene that you want to be clear.
There is so much more to landscape photography than actually capturing images, so you have factors to consider beyond the quality of your images.
If you’re going to be doing a considerable amount of trekking by foot then you should definitely make sure your camera equipment isn’t too heavy to carry. Keep this in mind when you’re trying out cameras, lenses and other photography accessories before buying them.
Weather conditions are often unpredictable. Furthermore, many picturesque landscapes are located in moist areas. Getting a camera with proper weather sealing prevents the risk of losing money, image quality and your temper.
We have covered in details the features to consider when choosing a camera for landscape photography here.
For landscape photography a wide angle lens is a must-have. These types of lenses are the most popular among landscape photographers because they can capture scenes to a as wide and wider than the human eye can.
This is because of their short focal length. Each type of lens has a different focal length. The focal length of a lens refers to the distance between the camera’s sensor and converging light, which impacts the magnification and width of a captured scene.
A telephoto lens has a focal length of at 75mm or larger, meaning that light rays converge 75mm from the camera’s sensor. The higher the focal length, the more ‘zoomed in’ an image will appear.
If a lens has a focal length of 35mm or less, it is typically considered to be a wide angle; the smaller the focal length, the larger the field of view.
Imagine looking at a bed of roses through an empty picture frame.
If you were holding the frame one foot away from your face, you would see more roses than you would if you were holding it two feet away from your face. In this example, the closer the frame is to your face, the shorter the focal length and the wider the field of view.
Similarly, if you were facing a mountain equipped with a telephoto and a wide angle lens, your telephoto lens would be able to capture close-ups of the mountain goats, and your wide angle would be able to capture the whole mountain scene as a whole with the goats speckled in the distance.
The most common focal lengths of wide angle lenses are 35mm, 25m and 18mm. Fisheye lenses are ultra-wide, between 8mm and 16mm for full frame and half frame camera sensors respectively.
Keep in mind that the distortion created by a fisheye lens can sometimes apply to non-ultra wide angle lenses, though on a much smaller scale; the wider the lens, the larger an object in the front center of an image will appear in relation to its surroundings.
Wide angle lenses add much depth to photos by exaggerating the relative size of subjects in the front center of an image while exaggerating the distance in the background.
Wide angle and telephoto lenses are covered in more depth in this post.
To get the most out of a wide angle lens, include some interesting details in the foreground of the images you take. Since objects that are further away from the camera will appear smaller, using leading lines in your compositions will add a beautiful dimension to your photographs.
If you’ve ever taken photos of a landscape, or structure with a lot of contrast, you are probably aware of how difficult it can be to capture the details within the dark and bright areas of a scene. This issue stems from a camera’s lack of dynamic range.
A camera’s dynamic range refers to its ability to simultaneously process the lightest whites and darkest blacks in a scene.
HDR stands for high dynamic range, and it’s a method used by photographers (and some smart phone users) to capture details that are masked by contrast. It is a way of manipulating an image to more closely resemble what we see with the naked eye.
HDR photography is more or less a processing technique. Simply put, it involves taking the exact same image several times using different shutter speeds and aperture combinations for each frame, and then stacking them on top of each other using HDR processing software.
The bracket of images should include at least one underexposed, one over exposed, and one properly exposed image.
Since each photo must be perfectly aligned with the next, it’s imperative to avoid the moving your camera in the slightest.
This means it won’t work if you’re trying to take a picture of a flower on a windy day. This also means that you will need to put your camera on a tripod or another stable object.
Photographers who shoot HDR images typically use a camera with an auto exposure bracketing function so that they don’t risk compromising the image’s outcome by manually changing the exposure settings for each image.
Alternatively, you can make several copies of a RAW image and change the exposure settings using Lightroom or Photoshop, and then stack them. The results won’t be as good as they would be if you bracket RAW files, but this technique can be used if you are shooting moving subject.
HDR photography is a great way to add vibrance and details to your landscape images, but it can also cause a few problems. You will have surely seen some over processed HDR images around the web. I am not a fan of them. Be mindful not to over process the image and end up with total crazy HDR effects.
ND filters, or neutral-density filters are used to form a balance between the extremities of lighting in a bright scene.
Neutral-density filters main purpose is to restrict the amount of light that reaches your camera sensor through your lens so that you can see more unmasked detail.
Neutral-density filters work in a similar way to sunglasses. It’s really difficult to look at a bright sky with no sunglasses on, but if you do put on some sunglasses you are not only able to look more directly towards the sun without needing to squint, but you are also able to see more details, such as sun rays.
An ND filter also allows photographers to use slower shutter speeds without completely overexposing an image.
This gives the photographer several abilities, such as using a lower depth of field and capturing motion trails and blurs, all while using a shutter speed so slow that it would otherwise white out your image.
A typical example, is the use of ND filters to use a slow shutter speed and shallow depth of field to capture the soft motion of running water in the bright sunlight.
Neutral-Density filters are most useful in bright settings; in fact, some would consider them useless when used indoors or in low light. Who wears sunglasses indoors anyway?
You have the option between a graduated ND filter (GND) or a solid ND filter (SND).
GND filters allow you to block out the light in one part of the image while keeping the other part normal. This is good for photographing the horizon. SND filters apply to the whole image.
There are a number different strengths, but most people settle for 1-3 stops.
You can get ND filters that screw onto your lens (screw in ND filter), or you can get a slot in holder neutral density filter, which sits at the end of your lens so you can slide a rectangular ND filter into it.
Using a filter housing is particularly useful because they make it easy to swiftly add any type of filter to your lens.
If you want to go deeper on this topic, check out this post where we go in all details of how to choose and use ND Filters
Moon photography can be tough, but don’t worry, it isn’t rocket science. All you need is the right equipment and a bit of preparation.
The moon is more than 238,855 miles away, so you’re going to need a lens that can reach that distance. Astronomers use telescopes, astrophotographers use telephoto lenses — go out and get a 300mm lens if you can.
The goal is to catch the detail of the moon, so make sure you’re shooting with a high resolution sensor and saving the images as RAW files.
You will need to use manual settings. For best results, shoot with a large aperture, such as f/11. This will allow you to catch more detail. Likewise, use a low ISO so that your camera is less sensitive to light surrounding the moon. Keep your shutter speed at around 1/125.
However, those settings are only suggestions; play around with your settings to get the results you desire.
Use your live view function to zoom further into the moon to make sure it’s focused as crisply as possible. Using a tripod will be extremely useful for accurately focusing on the moon and preventing any shaking.
You will need to familiarize yourself with moon phases, the climate and geography of your location.
The best time to photograph the moon is when the sky is as dark as possible. The ideal time to photograph the moon will be specific to your location; even just a hundred miles can make a difference, so make sure you know all about the longitude and latitude of your location, etc.
Location: Go as far away from city lights as you possibly can so that they don’t interfere with the clarity of your photo.
Using a calculator like this one will help you determine the best time to shoot the moon. Just enter your location, and with the click of a button you will know when the sky will be its darkest at any given night.
The calculator also describes the moon phases. Understanding when and how the sun’s light shines on the moon is incredibly helpful for moon photography.
Since temperatures tend to drop at night time, keep in mind that your lens could potentially fog up if you introduce it to cold air too soon. If it is chilly outside, make sure you allow some time for your lens to adjust to the air after leaving your home or car.
Remember that the moon and earth are always moving. It can take just a matter of minutes for the moon to move out of your frame. Don’t stress, but make sure you do everything swiftly and use a fast shutter speed so that your image stays crisp.
If you are going to give Moon Photography a try, check out this post where we cover all you need to know to photograph the moon from A to Z.
When it comes to finding the right lenses for landscape photography, the wider the focal length, the better. You will want the image to include at least as much scenery as your naked eye can.
The average human eye has a focal length of 17mm with a nearly 180 degree angle of view. It’s best to get a lens with a similar or wider focal length in order to capture the full dynamics of the scene.
Most cameras come with an 18-55mm lens; this means that the focal length can be switched between the range of a wide 18mm, and a standard 55mm depending on which setting the photographer chooses.
You can even get lenses with focal lengths that span between wide angle and telephoto, such as an 18-300mm lens.
Zoom lenses can be pretty heavy, and as a landscape photographer, you will probably be carrying your equipment on your person while walking any amount of distance.
Furthermore, using a long lens can make it difficult to balance your camera while taking a picture, and stabilization is crucial if you want a crisp image.
Since you’ll most likely be shooting with a wide field of view, a prime lens may be a more practical option, although a telephoto lens is a must have anyway.
Prime lenses are fixed to a specific focal length, so the photographer is responsible for zooming with his or her feet. The prime lens’s lack of superfluous zoom features allow them to produce sharper images than zoom lenses do.
If you are planning to shoot in a variety of different landscapes then you should be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Definitely make sure that your camera lens is sealed so that water cannot seep through it and destroy it.
Check out the detailed buying guide for landscape lenses here
There is so much beautiful detail to capture in a landscape scene, so knowing where to focus is crucial if you’re going to produce a crisp image.
The goal is to create a large depth of field so that the parts of the image that are further away and closer to the foreground are more or less in focus. A shallow depth of field would more starkly isolate focus points.
To create a large depth of field, use a small aperture (f/big number). However, it is likely that there will still be some areas that are a bit softer than others, even if you’re using a wide angle lens with a small aperture setting.
When you compose your photograph, decide which areas of the scene are the most important to the image. Is there any particular area of the photograph that you want to draw the viewer to?
If capturing the scene as a whole is more important to you than isolating a specific area or object, consider applying the focus at the rule of thirds. Look at the scene you want to capture as if it’s a two dimensional image, and separate it in to three sections.
Focus somewhere near the border between the first and second parts of the image. This way, you’re choosing somewhat of a middle ground so that there aren’t any particularly soft areas of the photo.
Another rule is hyperlocal distance. Hyperlocal distance refers to the distance between the lens and the first object that is in focus when the lens is set to infinity.
Basically, you will use a small aperture and set your focus to an appropriate distance so that everything from one point onwards is in focus.
You can use a depth of field calculator like this one to determine the hyperlocal distance of your camera and lens.
The data that you capture with a digital camera is saved to your memory card as either a compressed JPEG file or an unprocessed RAW file (or both). You can shoot with either file type, but RAW images will definitely give you better results.
There are several factors that differentiate these file types, but it all boils down to compression. If you save a file as a JPEG, your camera compresses it; if you save a file in RAW form, you are retaining all your camera’s raw sensor data.
If you shoot in JPEG, your camera processes the data and turns it into an image for you. If you shoot in RAW, your camera simply transfers the data to a file for the photographer to process using a computer and RAW-compatible software such as Lightroom or Photoshop.
RAW files are often more than twice the size of high quality JPEGs because they contain so much data, but that also gives the photographer much more control over the editing process. In fact, JPEGs lose data every time you edit them.
JPEGs are more favorable for photographers who are not concerned about editing their photos, or who want to be able to print and send images directly from their memory card, i.e. sport photographers or photo journalists.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both file types, but in the long run, shooting in RAW allows the photographer to have way more control over the final image.
You can decide which type of file your photos will be saved as by going into your camera settings.
Your camera probably has a RAW+JPEG setting that allows you to save an image as both file types. If you’re unsure of which type of file you should use, this is a good way to decide which one you prefer.
When you load these images onto your processing software, you will likely notice that the RAW image appears darker and more dull than the JPEG. That’s because your camera has already processed the JPEG for you, and a RAW file is a clump of data.
One huge benefit to shooting in RAW is that you can be way more flexible about your camera’s exposure and color balance settings. This is because RAW files provide your computer with more data to read, so you have the ability to correct loads of lighting issues.
Most photographers say that their biggest regret is failing to shoot in RAW sooner. Sure, shooting JPEG files means that you can readily share your photos while you have to go through the trouble of editing a RAW file, but if you’re a dedicated photographer then you probably prefer the latter anyway.
Not necessarily, but it is definitely a good idea; your camera may be high tech, but it can’t produce the image you want by reading your mind. The best it can do is take a guess.
When you take a photo, the level of exposure of your image is determined by your ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings. When you shoot in manual mode, you have full control over these settings. When you shoot in automatic mode, your camera decides for you.
Although each of these functions contribute to your exposure levels, they also create different effects.
When you change your ISO, you are either decreasing or increasing your camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the number, the less sensitive your sensor.
If you’re shooting in low light, increasing your ISO is a good way to make your image brighter without extending your shutter time or widening your aperture. However, increasing your sensor’s sensitivity can add noise to your images, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not always ideal.
Your aperture settings affect your lighting and depth of field and have a tremendous impact on the appearance of a photograph. Shooting with a wide aperture (f/small number) will decrease the depth of field by allowing more light to pour into the sensor.
A shallow depth of field is ideal for portraits, or other photos with a crisp subject and soft background. On the other hand, a larger depth of field (small aperture) and a more detailed image. This is more ideal for landscapes.
Allowing your camera to decide your aperture settings can be very unflattering in portraiture, and can remove detail from landscape images.
The shutter speed refers to the amount of time your shutter allows light to enter the sensor. Shooting with a slow shutter speed is good for capturing motion trails, while a fast shutter speed is used by action photographers who need to take a photo quickly.
Allowing your camera to configure your shutter speed for you is risky if you’re photographing moving subjects or if you’re shooting in low light. It’s good to be able to tweak these settings on your own accord so that you get the results you want.
Given all of these variables, using your camera’s manual mode is the best option if you want to have control over how much grain, depth of field and movement you capture.
The combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed is commonly referred to as the Exposure Triangle. If you want to learn more on how to master it, we have it covered here
Most DSLR cameras have semi automatic functions, such as aperture and shutter priority modes. Using these settings are a good way to transition to using manual modes.
If you use aperture priority, for example, your camera will automatically set the aperture and allow you to manually configure your shutter speed, ISO and white balance.
Golden hour (AKA magic hour) happens twice a day (sadly it’s often during rush hour) when the sun is crossing paths with the horizon.
Golden hour is a good time to shoot almost any type of photography, but especially landscape photography, because the warm, dimensional light and lack of harsh brightness illuminate scenes and make the process more practical.
During golden hour, the sun’s light contacts the earth at an acute angle. Since the light has to travel more to reach us from this angle, its intensity is diffused and adjusts to a warmer hue.
Just as golden hour’s softer, warmer light makes it easier for humans to see without squinting, it also allows your camera to capture more detail as it creates a reduction in contrast between whites and blacks, making it harder to overexpose or blow-out areas of an image.
You can even take direct pictures of the sun without blowing out the sky.
As warm light shines down on the earth, it is adds a golden ethereal glow to the objects it reaches, such as water, hills and buildings.
The angle of light the sun produces when it’s positioned near the horizon adds more dimension to a scene that is somewhat comparable to replacing an overhead fluorescent light with a smaller warm desk lamp.
This means longer shadows and dynamic scenes that encapsulate the appearance of three dimensions in a two dimensional image. This can have a really magnificent effect on landscape images.
Golden hour doesn’t always last an hour. Depending on how close you are in relation to the equator, it could last anywhere between a few minutes to more than an hour.
Make sure you plan your shoot meticulously so that you can get the most out of it. You can use a calculator like this one to find out about your local golden hour.