10 Landscape Photography Tips from The School of Photography
- Marc Newton
- 1st August 2022
What is landscape photography?
This might seem like a simple question, but how much have you really thought about it? Landscape photography is the art of capturing images that demonstrate the beauty of nature. A great landscape photograph carries the viewer through a scene and gives them a sense of being there or of seeing something extraordinary.
Tip 1 - Planning
Don’t underestimate how much planning goes into getting a great landscape photograph. Planning for landscape photography is just as important as your creativity and technical knowledge.
Rather than heading out with your camera and hoping for the best, spend some time researching the locations you’d like to visit. You should know when and where the sun will rise or set and have an idea of what you want in the photograph, as well as the type of equipment you’ll need to achieve this. Don’t forget to check the weather and, if you are shooting a seascape, the tide times.
If possible, try to scout out the location in advance. This will give you more insight into where you might want to position yourself, what composition you might want to try and where the light will be hitting at different times of day.
Good landscape photography requires planning, so don’t expect to walk around with the family on holiday and get great shots. It’s best to go on your own or with others that want to do the same.
Tip 2 – Light
Arguably, the best time to photograph landscapes is during the golden hour. This is just after sunrise or just before sunset. Because the sun is lower in the sky, the golden hour gives your images a beautiful warm tone.
Another popular time of the day to create landscape photography is during the blue hour. This is just before the sun comes up, or just after it goes down. This time of day gives a lovely soft blue light with a hint of warm oranges in the background.
A good tip here is to avoid shooting in the middle of the day, as this will give images a harsh white light. Understanding the changing effects of natural light is essential to good landscape photography.
Tip 3 - Exposure
Exposure in photography refers to the brightness or darkness of an image. This is where beginner landscape photographers get it wrong most of the time. You’ll see a lovely scene and photograph it, but the sky ends up too bright or the foreground too dark.
The first thing to note is that this happens to everyone, even if you have lots of experience or the best camera in the world. The reason for this is that the sky is a lot brighter than the ground. In general, it will be around 2 stops brighter.
When you look at a scene, your eye focuses on one part at a time. If you look at the sky, you’ll see detail and it will be correctly exposed. If you move your eyes down to look at the ground, the same will happen, as your eyes will adjust to what you’re looking at.
The camera doesn’t work like this. The camera is trying to see the whole landscape at once, but it physically cannot expose accurately for both the ground and the sky. So how do you combat this?
To get a correct exposure for landscape photography you have to balance out the scene’s luminosity or brightness vs. darkness. There a few ways to do this.
Use graduate ND filters – This is the more traditional way and involves putting a filter in front of the lens to darken the sky without affecting the foreground. These filters come in different strengths, which you can use depending on the brightness of the sky. For example, you can use a 3 stop ND grad for a very bright sky, and a 1 stop grad for a slightly brighter sky.
Take two pictures and merge them in Photoshop – This technique involves taking two landscape pictures; one that’s exposed correctly for the sky and one that’s exposed correctly for the ground. Then in Photoshop or similar programs, you layer them up with the bright sky on top and mask through the bright sky to reveal the darker sky underneath.
HDR photography - HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a way of increasing the tones and colours across an image. It’s used to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than standard imaging. In other words, it gives you more range within the highlights and shadows of an image so that you can easily darken the sky or brighten up the ground. An HDR image is formed by merging 3 or more images of the same scene together. Each of the images must be taken in exactly the same place but at different exposures, e.g. one underexposed, one overexposed and one exposed in the middle. These pictures are then merged together to create an HDR image usually in Lightroom.
Tip 4 - Equipment
For landscape photography, the first thing you’ll need is a camera that goes into full manual mode. This will enable you to take full control of the camera settings. An easy way to check if your camera has this function is to look at the top of the camera and see if it has a dial with the letter M (for manual) on it. These are usually DSLR or good mirrorless cameras.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get started; second-hand cameras are fine. If you’re a beginner on a budget, I would suggest getting a second-hand DSLR body and spending the rest on a better lens. I still use a Canon 1200d, which you can pick up second-hand for around £100. Remember, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. For proof of this, click here.
You’ll need a sturdy tripod to take the weight off your camera. Avoid using cheap or flimsy tripods, as these could cause your camera to move in the wind or make your set up top-heavy. For tripod and other camera equipment recommendations, click here.
Remote trigger or a cable release
Landscape photography often needs longer exposure times. During longer exposures, you cannot touch the camera or you will get camera shake. So, to trigger the camera without touching it, you’ll need a remote trigger or a cable release that’s compatible with your camera.
A standard zoom lens is fine to get beginners started in landscape photography. It’s also a good idea to get what’s called an ultra-wide-angle lens. This is a lens with a focal length of around 16mm (full-frame), 11mm (crop sensor) or 8mm (micro 4:3). To simplify this, it’s a lens that goes really wide and creates that stretch out scene of landscapes that seem to go on for miles.
Many pro landscape photographers have what’s called the ‘Holy Trinity of Lenses’. These are three lenses that give you a focal range of 16mm to 200mm. While this is great advice for a pro, these lenses cost a fortune. So my tip for beginner landscape photographers is to start with a standard kit lens and then invest in an ultra-wide-angle lens if you can. For more info on lenses and focal lenses, click here.
Tip 5 - Camera Settings
What camera settings do you need for landscape photography? Unsurprisingly, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to camera settings. The settings you should use will depend on the lighting you have available and the way you want to capture the scene.
With that said, the following settings are used for about 90% of all landscape photography:
- A small aperture such as f16 – This will keep the whole scene sharp from the foreground to the background.
- A low ISO such as 100 or 200 – This will reduce noise, keep the detail crisp and the colours vivid.
The shutter speeds in landscape photography are the element that’s likely to change the most. Since most of the time you’ll be using a tripod, you can use longer shutters speeds in this type of photography. As long as the scene and your camera stay still, your picture will be sharp.
Unless the main part of your image is extremely near the foreground, you’ll usually be focusing into infinity. Focusing into infinity together with a small aperture ensures your photo is sharp, from the foreground to the background.
Tip 6 - Add Foreground Interest
Another great landscape photography tip is to add some foreground interest. Your images will be much more effective if you have something substantial in the foreground. This could be anything from rocks to trees to a flower. Look for objects in a scene that you can add to the foreground of your photo, as this will help bring the whole scene together.
Tip 7 - Leading Lines
A real skill with landscape photography is trying to lead the viewer’s eye through the scene effortlessly. Adding leading lines really helps with this. Leading lines are some form of visual interest in the foreground that leads the viewer into the image. You can use roads, rivers, bridges, logs, or anything else that might provide a path into the picture and help the eye move through the frame.
Tip 8 - Capture movement
Another great landscape photography tip is to capture movement within your scene. This can be water flowing over rocks, a running waterfall or clouds moving through the sky. Capturing movement helps add drama to your scene and can make the ordinary extraordinary. For this effect, you will need to use longer shutter speeds and possibly ND filters. While this may not be possible for absolute beginners in landscape photography, it’s something you can aspire to and learn over time.
Tip 9 - Composition
The Rule of Thirds
The most popular rule of composition is the rule of thirds. In the rule of thirds, an image is split into three equal blocks vertically and horizontally. Together they form a three-by-three grid. You should aim to get the most interesting parts of your image near the corners of these segments, where the imaginary gridlines meet. Using the rule of thirds gives the image a more natural feeling and allows the eye to flow through the picture with ease.
In contrast to the rule of thirds, placing things symmetrically in your frame will give it a clean and clinical feeling. If your camera can overlay a grid, turn on this feature and use it to help compose your pictures.
Minimalist photography is a form of photography that’s distinguished by extreme simplicity. It focuses solely on the smallest number of objects and is normally composed in a clean, clinical way with few differences in the colours and tones of the image. Sometimes with landscape photography, it’s more about what you exclude rather than include.
Tip 10 – Practice, evaluate and have fun
Finally, the best tip for beginner landscape photographers is to practice and most of all, have fun. It’s all digital these days, so take as many photos as you want and then evaluate them for potential improvements. Think about what you’re doing right and what can be improved on. Want to take your landscape photography to the next level? Why not become a member of The School of Photography?