As a photographer, sometimes I get discouraged when the beautiful landscape pictures I figured in my mind does not come out as I’d hoped in the development process.
We’ve all felt that way and this post is going to focus specifically on landscape photography tips to improve the images you will take.
I will provide you with step by step instructions to shoot better landscape photos. Remember that beautiful shots take time to find and shoot properly.
Don’t get discouraged and, most importantly, remember to have fun! Having said that, let’s dive in these tips.
As we’ve just mentioned, taking the time to find the right location is key to landscape photography.
What’s not to love about nature and the outdoors, right?
Whether cold or hot, there is always stunning scenery to find and getting fresh air away from the hum drum of the city is just as great as finding that perfect shot.
So, take a hike! Explore your natural surroundings and find the perfect scene.
When you find the spot you absolutely love, walk around it a few times to really get a feel for the landscape.
While you are taking it all in, notice the flowers, rocks, grass, etc. and note which angles you are going to shoot from.
Explore several points of view to find the most interesting one. Experiment at different angles and heights.
Many landscape images look more interesting if captured from above or from the ground looking upwards. Think outside the box, you may end up with a super unique shot.
While you are scoping out your landscape, also take note of the light.
This is important in deciding how you’re going to compose your shots. If the sun is shining, it makes for great, natural light, but from the wrong angle, all you will see in the photograph is the sun.
It can blur out anything you’d attempted to focus on unless you use the right technique. I will discuss later this topic.
Along the same lines as lighting comes what is known as the Golden Hour.
This refers to the beautiful, warm, orange glow you get just after sunrise and just before sunset.
These are the best times to shoot landscapes. You might have to wake up early, but I promise it will be worth it.
During golden hour, also known as the magic hour, there is an amazingly warm and soft light that comes from the sun.
Now that you’ve found the perfect landscape and are working against time (assuming you are shooting in that precious golden hour), let’s talk about composing the shot.
Remember the Rule of Thirds. This idea is that you visualize your object in nine equal parts, spaced equally by vertical and horizontal lines that break the image up into thirds. You want to make sure the subject or focal point falls on one of the imaginary lines or where they intersect so it is off to one side, or up above or below, rather than dead center. This makes for a far more interesting image.
Next, keep the Golden Ratio in mind as you analyze your shot. The golden ratio is a composition tool that has been practiced for centuries, long before the invention of cameras. This ratio consists of the ‘perfect number’, which is 1 to 1.618. The use of this ratio builds a strong composition, which will, in turn, draw viewers to the photograph. The golden ratio is about finding balance from the perspective of the viewer to create an eye pleasing photograph.
Finding leading lines is also a key component. Leading lines is also a composition technique where those who view the photo are drawn to all lines leading to the image’s main subject. These lines can be anything from a road to a stream that leads the viewer’s eye into the photograph. It can also create depth in the image.
The next step is to properly frame the subject of your shoot. The subject is what will be the center of your landscape photo. Proper framing draws attention to the subject of the shoot. You can use natural framing to incorporate any element in the scene, like a tree branch that hangs down over the subject, or the rungs of an ornate fence that you point the camera through. The point of framing is to draw attention to your subject so the viewer is able to see it instantly.
Less is best. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to clutter your shot with numerous objects. The fewer ‘subjects’ in your shot, the better. It looks cleaner and attract the eye of the viewer without useless distractions thus helping to convey the message you want.
If you want to learn more about photography composition, this is a must read book by Bryan Peterson
This is probably my favorite thing to talk about: breaking rules.
The thing about rules is that you need to know them to break them, but once you do know them, the best part about the creative aspects of photography is breaking barriers and finding new depths for your landscape photos.
Take your time to get to this point.
Raw is a specific file format capable of capturing the data on an image that was recorded by the sensor at the time of the shoot.
Check your camera’s manual to see if it is capable of shooting in RAW.
This format is also known as the “digital negative” and allows the maximum flexibility in post-production as all the information recorded are available and you can have the full control.
Focus is a major thing to consider when taking photos of landscapes.
If you are capturing a majestic scenery you want to have all of it in focus. One technique to achieve this result is the hyperfocal distance.
It is the distance between the object closest to the camera and the lens that is actually in focus while looking through the lens.
You want to maximize the depth of field, which will bring both the foreground and background into focus.
There are tables which provide the hyperfocal distance based on the focal length of your lens and the aperture.
Another useful technique is to use a small aperture setting, i.e. f11 or f16.
The smaller the aperture the less less light gets to the sensor and the longer depth of field is.
If you’re in a low-light setting, you may need to balance by using use a longer shutter speed in order to expose correctly.
Depending on your camera and on the shutter speed, you may need to use a sturdy tripod to avoid blurry images.
Consider that each lens has a sweet spot for the aperture, which very often is not the smallest but somewhere close to it. Refer to the lens manual or simply experiment.
If possible, use a tripod so there is no movement when snapping the picture.
If you do not have one, you can also use a remote shutter to eliminate shake.
This gives you the opportunity to find a steady place for the camera to rest and avoid the shakes when you press the shutter button.
As a final option, consider using the shutter delay on your camera. Do whatever you can to keep the camera still.
If you are shooting in an area with high winds, rain, dust or dirt, never change the lens in this environment.
It could damage not only the lens but some internal components of the camera as well.
Protecting your gear is extremely important so…
This should go without saying, but it is an important step in photography.
Always protect your gear. The elements can change in a heartbeat.
Always make sure you have a safe, dry place to stash your camera should rain or snow start to fall.
A waterproof backpack or bag is ideal for these types of elements.
In any environment, but especially landscape, make sure to use the proper exposure.
If the photo is overexposed, the whites will be blown out.
Underexposure causes the entire scene to be too dark. Your DSLR has a built-in light meter or Exposure Level Indicator.
Since you want to master manual mode because it gives you the most control over your photography, you should also master the light meter.
Take some time to play with the meter by adjusting ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
The right combination will keep the meter at zero, which will give you a perfect exposure.
Depending on your artistic style though, one or two stops above or below zero is ok too.
Knowing when to use high or low ISO is also key.
Lower ISOs are less sensitive to light, whereas the higher ISOs are much more sensitive.
In bright conditions, you want to use a low ISO like 100 or 200.
In dark settings, like night scenes, you may need a higher ISO like 800 or above.
Higher ISO however may cause digital noise. The amount really depends on your camera. I anyway discourage you to use high ISO when shooting landscape.
It is good practice to keep the ISO as low as possible and play with the shutter speed and use a tripod as said before.
Wide angle lenses are the king lenses for landscape.
Although you may want to use a 18 mm or 24 mm lens almost any time, I encourage you to try a longer lens every now and then as it will open a different perspective and will allow your creativity to create original images.
The use of color or black & white is something many photographers struggle with.
What looks best? Sometimes, it’s just a matter of preference, but other times, a landscape scene can be much more dramatic and just look better in B&W, and vice versa.
A rule of thumb is to look for textures and contrast in the scene; very often it will be a great subject for a black & white capture.
Using filters is an option many photographers, including myself, love having.
When landscape photos are beautiful in their own right and personally, I choose not to use filters. But many photographers are big filter advocates.
A polarizing filter, for example, can really bring out the contrast of an image. This is great for enhancing the blue of the sky or avoiding water reflections.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) is also something to consider.
In its simplest terms, it means the difference between the darkest dark and the lightest light that can be captured in a photograph.
The camera takes multiple photos at different exposures (usually three work but also five depending on the camera and the light) and combines them to bring out the best highlights and shadows of the scene.
It’s supposed to be more like what you see with your eyes, rather than what the camera sees.
HDR photography has really grown in popularity with the advancements in camera and software technology, but it’s a technique that has been around for long time.
It’s really just a matter of style. If you like the look, use it; if not, don’t.
But, if you do use it, please don’t overdo it.
Bad HDR is obvious and can severely ruin a great photo. The good news is that you can always delete the image and start again!
Consider taking the same photo using several different techniques to see which turns out the best.
Long exposure is a fun technique to try. The stationary objects in the photo are sharper while everything else around them blurs out.
This is done with a slower shutter speed with the camera on a tripod to eliminate shake.
HDR. Again, this one isn’t for everyone, but if it is a technique you are not familiar with, it’s definitely one to try. Playing with lighter darks and darker lights can be lot of fun!
Taking a panoramic photo is one of my favorites. When done properly, you can capture many more subjects in an elongated field of view.
Most cameras have a panoramic function; you just need to keep the camera steady while panning and rotate it around an imaginary fix ax.
Like most types of photography, there are no rules set in stone when taking landscape shots. Feel free to be creative and do whatever you feel is right at the specific moment you’re ready to press the shutter.
Try new things and you could come up with a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
Often times, the sky looks boring in the final image; not at all what you saw in person. There are a number of things you can do to make it look more interesting, including using the long exposure technique.
This will add motion the scene. If there are clouds in the sky, a long exposure will capture them moving, so they look like they’re flowing across the sky.
Or, if you’re shooting night skies, you can capture moon or star trails with super long exposures.
Additionally, applying negative exposure can make the sky look bluer in the daytime. You can enhance the contrast and color of the sky by using a polarizing filter.
There is no bad weather.
You don’t need perfect weather to take the best landscape photos. In fact, some of the most atmospheric and dramatic photos are the result of bad weather conditions such as dark, stormy skies, rainbows, fog, mist, and lightning etc.
Different weather conditions can create an entirely different mood in the scene. Take advantage of the weather and find your inspiration in all seasons!
Digital cameras have the option to adjust white balance and it is great for landscape photographers.
Different light sources have different colour temperatures, so sometimes the image can come out looking more blue, orange, or yellow than we were expecting.
The white balance function lets you adjust the colour to best match the light you’re shooting in, whether it’s natural sun, fluorescent lighting, or tungsten.
If you shoot in RAW you can adjust the white balance in post-production quite easily.
Always have the tools necessary to keep your lenses clean. When you’re shooting outdoors, the lens can get dirty fast.
Dust, rain, and snow can stick to the lens and cause spots on the photo. Keep a good lens cloth on hand to give the glass a wipe every now and then. Cleaning kits are also available on the market.
This will save you a lot of time of cleaning spots in Photoshop.
You don’t want to be in the middle of a great shoot only to have the batteries die.
Especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere and have no option to recharge them. Even if you get through the shoot on one battery, you’ll probably be worrying about running out of juice and hurrying the shots.
But, even worse is to not realize you left the spares and end up with one dead battery right in the middle of your night sky long exposure.
Nothing you can do there, so be prepared! If you are mirrorless camera photographers be aware they tend to dry up batteries much quicker than DSLRs so make sure you have a number of spares in your pocket.
Always have extra lighting, such as a flashlight.
Flashlights, or torches, can come in handy for so many reasons. If you’re on a night shoot, it just makes sense to have one.
You can light your way down a dark path, use it to read settings and set up equipment.
Creatively, you can use a flashlight as an extra light source. Shine it directly on your subject or use it to light an element in the foreground or background, it’s up to you!
Keep a loupe (special magnifying glass) with you, especially when shooting in the sun.
A loupe can be attached to your camera to magnify the image in the LCD screen, helping you better monitor focus and exposure.
A loupe can also help block out light from entering the viewfinder, which could affect the image quality.
Go back to the same location. It may seem like the same old spot, but different times of day with sunrise and sunset will give you a whole new perspective.
The evening sun falling on a mountainside will light up the trees and terrain in a way you won’t see with the sun directly above.
Also shooting the same location in different seasons and weather conditions can drastically change the scene.
Go for dramatic, moody atmospheres caused by rain and storms. Or, shoot the same landscape on a bright sunny morning for a peaceful, calming feel.
Post processing the images to give them your own personal touch and artistic perspective is always encouraged!
You can do a lot in camera to minimize the time spent in post-production, but a few finishing touches in Photoshop or Lightroom can really make all the difference.
I personally consider the photography process split into two parts: on the field and on the computer and each is equal important to get to the final result.
Thank you for reading this post! We hope you found it informative.
Following these easy steps will help you increase your photography skills exponentially. There is no specific order.
Play around with them and find what works best for you. A knowledgeable and experimental photographer can find beauty anywhere and take a great shot anytime!
Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.
The Best Lenses for Landscape Photography
Best Camera Bags for Landscape Photography
12 Best Books On Photography
Exposure Triangle Explained
Night Photography Techniques: Essential Guide for Beginners
ND Filters: the ultimate guide for landscape photography
B&W Landscape Photography: ultimate beginners’ guide
Long Exposure Photography: how to take dreamy photos made easy
Moon Photography. The Ultimate Guide
Sunset Photography: 12 Tips for Spectacular Sunset Photos