The post Landscape Photography: 13 Surefire Tips (+ Stunning Examples) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darren Rowse.
Capturing stunning landscape photography might seem difficult – but with the right tips, tricks, and techniques, you can create consistently incredible images.
And that’s what I share in this article: 13 landscape photo tips, all of which are basically guaranteed to net you great shots, no matter your level of experience. (Your camera doesn’t make a huge difference, either, and while I do discuss the best landscape photography gear, bear in mind that you can take great landscape photos with only a smartphone.)
Read on to discover:
The best type of light for landscape photography (and the type of light you should avoid at all costs)The perfect landscape photography settingsLandscape composition secrets used by the prosSimple tricks to make your landscape photos uniqueMuch more!
I’ve also included plenty of example photos; that way, you can see the tips in action (and you can be confident that they really do work!).
Let’s get started.
1. Shoot in Manual mode
If you want to create landscape photos that are both artistic and full of detail, then I highly recommend you learn to use your camera’s Manual mode setting.
You see, Manual mode lets you work independently with the three exposure variables, each of which affects your images differently:
The aperture lets you brighten or darken the image, and it also lets you increase or decrease the depth of field (i.e., the amount of the image that’s in focus).The shutter speed lets you brighten or darken the image, and it also lets you increase or decrease the amount of motion blur present in the imageThe ISO lets you brighten or darken the image, but the higher the ISO, the more noise (detail-destroying specks of light and color) that’ll appear in your file
While I discuss my landscape photography settings recommendations in more detail below, it’s important to realize that, by taking complete control of your camera, you can adjust the image exposure, boost the depth of field, prevent noise, and include artistic motion blur effects at will.
And while you can always use semi-automatic modes like Aperture Priority to shoot landscapes, in my experience, it’s best just to take charge and handle your settings directly!
2. Adjust your settings for maximum depth of field
In landscape photography, a deep depth of field is almost always the way to go. In other words, you should try to keep as much of your scene in focus as possible.
Why? A landscape that’s sharp from front to back offers all sorts of beautiful details for the eye to explore – and it also feels more real, like the viewer could step forward and fall right into the scene.
Now, the simplest way to maximize depth of field is to choose a small aperture setting (i.e., a large f-number, such as f/11 or f/16). The smaller your aperture, the greater the depth of field, and the more the landscape will be in focus.
An image like this, which features tack-sharp detail from foreground to background, requires an aperture of at least f/11:
Keep in mind that smaller apertures cause less light to hit your image sensor. You’ll need to compensate for the narrow aperture either by increasing your ISO or lengthening your shutter speed (or both). In general, it’s better to keep your ISO at its lowest setting while lengthening your shutter speed, especially if you’re using a tripod (see my next tip!).
One more thing: While landscape photographers do tend to like deep depth of field photos, it’s possible to get great results with a very shallow depth of field. The technique is tricky and requires a lot of finesse, but if you prefer the shallow-focus look, don’t be afraid to experiment!
3. Use a tripod whenever you can
As I discussed in the previous tip: To maximize your depth of field, you’ll need a small aperture. Then, once you’ve dialed in your aperture setting, you’ll be forced to lengthen the shutter speed (so you get a detailed exposure).
If you’re working in bright light, you can often shoot at f/11 and 1/250s (or greater), in which case you’ll be able to capture sharp handheld shots.
But the best landscape photography often takes place when the light is low; in such cases, you’ll need to drop your shutter speed to 1/30s and beyond.
If you’ve ever tried to handhold your camera at 1/30s, you’ll know that it’s really hard; unless your hands are incredibly steady and your technique is outstanding, you’ll end up with unusably blurry images. (Also, even the steadiest photographers regularly fail to handhold images at one-second shutter speeds and beyond!)
By the way: Even if the light is strong enough to give you a fast shutter speed, a tripod can still be beneficial. It’ll force you to slow down and consider your composition more carefully.
(Pro tip: To prevent camera shake when pressing the shutter button, consider purchasing a remote shutter release!)
4. Look for a focal point
Once you’ve mastered your settings, it’s time to start thinking about your landscape photography composition (i.e., the arrangement of elements in the scene).
And while composition can be a complex topic, I can offer a few basic guidelines that’ll make a huge difference to your photos.
First, pretty much every great landscape shot needs some sort of focal point – a main subject that draws the eye and captures the viewer’s attention.
In my experience, a landscape photograph without a focal point ends up looking rather bland and empty. Plus, it leaves the viewer’s eye wandering through the image with nowhere to rest.
Note that focal points can take many forms, including:
Buildings and structures (such as in the photo above)Eye-catching treesBoulders or rock formationsSilhouetted wildlifeA person
Then, once you’ve determined your landscape photo’s focal point, think carefully about where to position it within the frame. Try to go beyond a conventional “centered” composition (with the main subject sitting statically in the middle of the shot). Instead, try using the rule of thirds, or go for a minimalist composition by placing the focal point off to the side.
5. Include a stunning foreground
Beginner landscape photographers tend to find a beautiful scene, point their camera, and then hit the shutter button.
And while the resulting shots look nice, they’re often missing something powerful:
An eye-catching foreground, one that initially captures the viewer’s attention and helps lead them into the scene. (A good foreground can also make the scene appear more three-dimensional, which is almost always a good thing!)
Good foregrounds tend to feature beautiful details, such as flowers, patches of foliage, water moving through a stream, glistening rocks, or waves lapping up on the sand. This next image, for example, uses a field full of flowers to add foreground interest:
Note that you’ll generally need to use a wide-angle lens. The wider the field of view, the easier it’ll be to include both a beautiful foreground and a stunning background. Make sense?
6. Don’t forget about the sky
In landscape photography, you should always, always, always think about the sky.
Clear skies, for instance, tend to look bland and lifeless, while a mix of clouds and sun offers all sorts of interest (and explosive colors at sunrise and sunset!).
I like to check the weather forecast before planning my landscape photography outings; that way, I can head out on partly cloudy days and maximize my time spent with beautiful skies.
Now, I’m not saying that you’ll never capture great landscape photos on clear days. But if you are faced with a clear sky, consider waiting to see if you get a couple of clouds – or, if you don’t have the time, try to subordinate the sky to the rest of the scene by placing it in the upper third of the image and contrasting it with a stunning foreground.
On the other hand, if the sky is filled with drama, interesting cloud formations, or colors, then let it shine. Place the horizon in the bottom third of the frame to emphasize the heavens, like this:
Pro tip: If your skies aren’t looking quite as intense as you’d like, consider enhancing them with filters. Neutral density filters will let you use long shutter speeds that stretch the clouds like cotton candy, while graduated neutral density filters will help you balance sky and foreground exposure so you capture plenty of detail.
7. Use leading lines to add dynamism
Leading lines are lines that encourage the eye through the image (generally toward the main subject; see above!).
And in landscape photography, a good leading line or two can be the difference between a mediocre snapshot and a great image.
(Why? Leading lines draw the eye through the image, plus they add lots of depth!)
Now, leading lines might seem hard to find, but they’re actually pretty common. You just have to know where to look! For instance, you can create leading lines using:
RoadsSand patternsReceding wavesRiversCracks in iceLeavesFallen logs
Really, anything line-like can work. The trick is to position the lines in the foreground. Then use a wide-angle lens and get down low, so that the leading lines appear huge in the frame and immediately captivate the viewer.
8. Use the right gear
Here’s the thing:
It’s possible to capture great landscape photos using only your smartphone. But if you want to get the most consistent results, and you want to be able to create large, beautiful prints, it’s important to use specific equipment.
For instance, you’ll want to pick a good landscape photography camera, such as a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless model. A Canon EOS R5 or a Sony a7R IV, for instance, will offer plenty of megapixels (for making large prints) as well as solid low-light capabilities (for doing astrophotography). If your budget is tight, consider an older full-frame DSLR (such as a Canon 6D or a Nikon D800).
You should also grab a few high-quality landscape lenses. When you’re just starting out, a 24-70mm f/4 model or even a kit lens will get the job done, though I’d eventually recommend grabbing a 70-200mm f/4 lens (for telephoto landscape photography) and an ultra-wide lens such as a 12-24mm f/4.
Of course, as I discussed above, it’s important to grab a sturdy tripod. And it also pays to stock up on filters, including a circular polarizer (to reduce reflections when shooting water) and a few high-quality ND filters (so you can experiment with longer shutter speeds as required). Some landscape photographers also like to use graduated neutral density filters, though it’s possible to get a similar effect using HDR techniques, so I’ll leave that one up to you.
9. Aim to capture movement
When most people think about landscapes, they think of calm, serene, and passive environments. However, landscapes are rarely completely still – and if you can convey this movement, you’ll add extra drama and moodiness to your images.
(Plus, you can use movement to create leading lines or to produce an eye-catching focal point.)
Here’s what you do:
First, look for movement, even if it’s subtle. Search for wind in the trees, waves on the beach, water flowing through a stream or over a waterfall, birds flying, or clouds moving overhead. Mount your camera on a tripod and compose your shot.
Second, lengthen your shutter speed to 1/30s and beyond, then set your exposure. Note that different shutter speeds will give you dramatically different results, so it’s a good idea to take several shots while making adjustments. If you’re working in bright conditions, consider using an ND filter or a polarizer to reduce the light hitting the sensor; that way, you can drop your shutter speed further without worrying about overexposure.
Note that landscape photographers achieve all kinds of different effects simply by experimenting with various shutter speeds. A 1/15s shot, for instance, will blur moving water but retain plenty of detail in the sky, like this:
Whereas a 30s shot will heavily blur the water and start to stretch the clouds.
At the end of the day, working with movement is a lot of fun. Just embrace the effect and see what you can create!
10. Photograph during the golden hour and blue hour
The golden hour is the time just before sunset and just after sunrise, when the sun is low in the sky and produces a beautiful, warm light.
And the golden hour is amazing for landscape photography. For one, the sun softly illuminates the scene, emphasizing all the little details. Look at how the golden light falls perfectly on these snow-covered trees:
The golden hour also offers lots of cotton-candy-colored skies, and the angle of the low sun creates interesting shadows while enhancing textures.
But the golden hour isn’t the only time of day that’s great for landscape photography. Light during the blue hour – that is, the time just before sunrise and just after sunset – can look amazing, too: soft, ethereal, cool, and magical. (Plus, due to the limited light, the blue hour is a great time to do long-exposure landscape shots!)
Now, you might be wondering:
Should I only photograph landscapes during the golden hour and the blue hour? Or is it okay to head out at other times, too?
That’s a good question. In my experience, it’s possible to get beautiful landscape photos on heavily overcast days, but you’ll want to find the right subjects – such as foliage, forests, and waterfalls – and I’d recommend including very little of the sky in your composition.
As for midday landscape photography in bright sun: Avoid it whenever possible. Midday sun will cast unflattering shadows, wash out colors, and produce lots of unpleasant contrast.
11. Don’t be afraid of bad weather
A landscape scene can change dramatically depending on the weather – so it’s essential that you plan ahead and carefully pick your time and location.
As I emphasized above, partial cloud cover at sunrise and sunset makes for a stunning sky (and partial cloud cover looks great during the blue hour, too!). But other types of weather are great for landscape photography, including:
FogRainDark, heavy cloudsSnowRainbows
Unfortunately, many of these weather events don’t last very long, so it’s important that you always keep one eye on the forecast. And if you do expect fog, snow, or storms, choose your location in advance. Fog and snow look great in forest scenes, while rain and stormy clouds can dramatically enhance beach and ocean shots.
Pro tip: Bad weather, while highly photogenic, can be dangerous! Always tell a friend or family member where you plan to go, always wear proper protective gear, and bring proper protective gear for your equipment, too. I recommend a waterproof camera cover, though you can always get away with a modified trash bag plus some rubber bands (to secure it around the lens).
12. Think about the horizon line
This landscape photography tip is quick and easy:
Always pay attention to the horizon line, and do whatever you can to keep it straight.
A crooked horizon line looks incredibly amateurish, and while you can fix this in post-processing, you’ll lose pixels along the edge of the frame – which will reduce your ability to print large and (even worse!) can cut off key compositional elements.
So make sure you get it right in-camera! Here, viewfinder gridlines can be helpful. Most cameras have these activated by default, but if you don’t see them, head into the settings menu and switch them on.
And if you use the gridlines but you still struggle to keep things straight, you might consider purchasing a bubble level. You can attach one of these to your camera’s hot shoe, and you can use it as a reference when setting up new compositions.
13. Change your point of view
Are you looking to capture strikingly unique landscape images?
Then you’ve got to move past those basic “lookout” shots, where you point your camera at a beautiful scene, then snap a photo.
Instead, take a little more time with each landscape scene. In particular, look for an interesting angle or point of view, where you approach the composition from an interesting direction. You should have fun with this; try getting down low, finding a high vantage point, walking off to the left or the right, or even shooting from directly above (using a drone, a lookout platform, or a helicopter!).
Often, these unconventional images are astonishingly powerful, in part because they show the landscape from a never-before-seen perspective.
It’s important to bear in mind, however, that you should still pay careful attention to your gear and lighting. A unique perspective can add a lot to an image, but the best landscape shots combine well-chosen gear, great lighting, and a great perspective for a beautiful result.
Landscape photography tips: conclusion
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to capture some stunning landscape photography!
So grab your camera, head out, and find a subject to shoot. It’ll be a lot of fun – I guarantee it.
Now over to you:
Which of these landscape photography tips are you going to try first? And do you have any landscape photo tips of your own? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.
The best landscape photos are well exposed, feature beautiful light, and include a beautiful composition.
With the right knowledge, capturing great landscape shots isn’t too difficult. It often does take perseverance, though!
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The post Landscape Photography: 13 Surefire Tips (+ Stunning Examples) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darren Rowse.