Have you ever stood on a majestic spot and been overwhelmed by its beauty? You pull out your camera, frame your shot, and fire the trigger on this epic landscape. Except when you pull up the picture later on your computer, it’s utterly underwhelming. You wanted jaw-dropping, not disappointment and frustration.
If your shots aren’t matching the size and splendor of your view, try our landscape photography tips to supercharge your images!
Our Best Landscape Photography Tips
Every once in awhile, you get lucky. You stumble on a beautiful scene with all the right hues and tones and strike photography gold. But landscape photography pros know the best pictures are a result of lots of planning.
Scout locations ahead of time. Arrive early. Have the right camera and other gear on hand. Be there during the best light. Know what settings you need to capture the scene as you imagine it. Apps like Photo Pills or OnX Maps can help find locations or plan your scene.
It can take some time for the weather, sun or other elements of your scene to come together. Be patient and allow yourself time to just wait.
Likewise, you need to be persistent. Some mornings the clouds never lift or the rain pours down and ruins your plans. Stick with it until you get the shot you want!
There aren’t any shortcuts to good planning. Put in the time and effort to plan your adventure and the effort will pay off in your pictures later!
Go for Golden Hour or Blue Hour
Great light makes good landscape photos better. The best light often occurs during the golden hour – an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. The sun is low on the horizon and softer or more diffused.
This means softer shadow in your images and a chance for some really beautiful color in your skies. Golden hour should be one of the best times to capture your images!
Blue hour is golden hour’s lesser-known sibling. Blue hour is about 30 minutes before sunrise or the 30 minutes after sunrise. The sun is below the horizon but still casting light into the sky. There’s this beautiful blue hue. This is the best time to try it with your favorite landscape or cityscape for a serene, peaceful vibe.
Use a Foreground, Background, and Subject
Beginning landscape photographers see a beautiful scene, pull out there cameras and start shooting without considering composition. Instead, try evaluating the foreground, subject and background together.
How can you use elements in the background or foreground to emphasize the subject? Can you use framing, leading lines, or symmetry to add visual interest? Examine the whole scene and use all the elements to tell a story.
Also, don’t forget to choose a specific subject for your composition. That subject will be your focal point and draw the viewer into and through the image.
Look for structures such as building or fences, use natural elements such as an unusual rock or tree, or even incorporate people into your scene! Incorporating humans into landscape shots provides an immediate sense of scale and tells a story.
Use Your Feet for a Different View
Don’t settle for the view from the parking lot! Get moving and find a different view. Sometimes a new perspective is just a short walk away. Other times, it will take some serious miles to get the view you want. If you do the work no one else will do, you’ll get a shot no one else will!
Reflections can add visual interest to your scene. Use water such as lakes, ponds, or small puddles. Use the entire landscape plus the reflection, or just take a photograph of the reflection.
Filters are Your Friend
Landscape photography pros make use of lens filters to help their shot. Polarizing filters reduce glare, minimize reflections, and enhance some colors. Neutral density filters allow less light into your lens, allowing for a longer shutter speed. Graduated ND filters help retain color in your sky while keeping your foreground properly exposed.
Use a Tripod
A tripod will only help your photographs. It eliminates camera shake, allowing you to shoot with longer shutter speeds. It also helps keep your camera and frames aligned when you bracket or capture panoramas.
Try Bracketing for Better Dynamic Range
Bracketing is a technique that takes different images at different exposures (3 or more) and combines them together in post-production. The process creates a final file with more dynamic range, meaning more tones from light to dark.
Use the Rule of Thirds
Divide your scene into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Place your subject at the intersection of two of those lines…that’s the rule of thirds! You can also place your horizon line at the top third or bottom third of your image. The rule of thirds adds visual interest to your picture and helps draw the viewer’s eye toward your subject.
Keep Color in Your Sky
A sky with no color is uninteresting and detracts from the other elements in your picture. It also prints completely white. Blech. Try to take your scenic photographs at the golden hour or blue hour, the best time to keep from blowing out your skies, or use a graduated ND filter.
Capture Scenes at Night
With the help of a flashlight, tripod, and some long exposures, landscapes transform after dark. Use ambient light and show the starry skies. Or create a light trail or illuminated subject with a flashlight or headlamp.
Make the Most of the Sun
Add a little sparkle with a sunstar. Try a narrow aperture like f/16 or f/22. Then frame your shot so the sun is partially blocked, as by a tree, building, or mountain peak. These two components create sunstars!
Bonus Tip: Sometimes the most interesting scene isn’t the sunset or sunrise. Try looking opposite from the rising or setting sun before composing your shot. The sky is usually full of beautiful colors and just might make for a better photograph!
Landscapes Don’t Have to Be Horizontal
If your scene is taller than it is wide, try shooting in portrait orientation. Landscapes don’t always have to be horizontal. You can also use the panorama function on your camera or post-production software to create a unique image. A tripod helps keep your camera steady and your shots level.
Recommended Settings for Landscape Work
There’s not a single group of settings that will work with every image. It depends on your lighting and priorities for your picture. But in general, use a mid-range to narrow aperture, like f/8, f/11 or narrower. That will give you more depth of field. More depth of field means more of your image will be in focus from front-to-back.
After you identify and set your aperture, depth of field, set your shutter speed and ISO. Keep your ISO as low as you can. If you’re shooting a picture with people in it, use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze their motion, like 1/200 to 1/500 (faster for bikes or cars).
If you want to smooth clouds or water, on the other hand, use longer shutter speeds. Try starting around 2 seconds and adjust your shutter speed from there.
Once you’ve adjusted your shutter speed, make sure you are shooting in RAW format. RAW format gives you more information and detail than a JPEG. If you need to edit in post-production, you’ll have more flexibility with RAW files.
Recommended Photography Equipment
Here’s a great intermediate photography landscape kit. Consider adding some of these items to your camera bag for your session.
- DSLR or mirrorless camera with good resolution
- A wide-angle lens (35mm or wider. I like my 24mm lens!)
- A telephoto lens, longer than 70 mm (I like my 70-200 mm lens)
- Polarizing filter
- Graduated ND filter
- Shutter Release remote or cable
- Lens pen or cleaning cloth
- Backpack style camera bag to protect your equipment
A wide-angle lens is a must for scenic photography. But don’t be afraid to reach for a longer lens now and again. A telephoto lens will let you shoot a scene in an entirely new way!
You don’t need to be standing in Yellowstone National Park to practice your landscape technique. Landscapes photography is a great way to combine your love of nature with your love of photography.
Use these photography tips to hone your skills locally. Practice making the landscape you see everyday look more interesting or beautiful. Then, when adventure calls, you’re ready for the challenge!