Have you ever driven through a stunning landscape, stopped at every picturesque scene to capture it with your camera, come home, look at the photos on your computer, and discover that they’re dull? That’s not uncommon.
When we’re at a scene, it’s 3-dimensional – we can walk through it, touch it, change our perspective. The same cannot be achieved by looking at a photo.
What differentiates a great photographer from a good one is the ability to tell a story with their photograph – engage the viewer’s mind that they feel like they’re in the photo.
Here are 24 landscape photography tips guaranteed to improve your photos:
1. Research the Location
Researching locations before your photo adventure is crucial for its success. Sometimes even as little as a couple tens of metres can be detrimental to your photo’s success.
You need to know the terrain well before you go on a shoot. Here’s how I make sure to find the best spots:
Google Maps – Always start with a map to get a general idea of what you’re dealing with. Google Maps is ideal for this task because other people have already uploaded some photos to it. Also, make use of the street view to find new spots and get a feeling of what the terrain looks like.
Local photographers – Quite likely, there’s already a photographer in your area who already took loads of great photos. Instagram is an excellent resource for this kind of research. But don’t just copy their images – make them better.
Local tourist agency – These usually promote the local area with photos. You can find their websites or Instagram profiles to explore new ideas for a photo shoot.
2. Plan When to Go
Once you have planned the location, it’s time to consider when.
Firstly, remember that you’ll always want to arrive at your destination at least half an hour early, although a full hour is better when you don’t know the area well.
Secondly, plan for the best light. The best light for landscape photography is usually around sunrise and sunset, the so-called Golden Hour. During this time of the day, you’ll find the most dramatic and colourful skies, soft and long shadows, and low-angle light that creates textures in landscapes.
3. Redo the Shot
There’s no shame in redoing a shot. You might have already photographed a particular scene. Still, you can try revisiting it at different time, in different weather, another season, exploring it some more to find new compositions, or just coming back with upgraded equipment to improve your photos.
There might be an additional benefit to revisiting a nearby location – it’s good practice. Because you already know it well, you can spend less time exploring it and shift focus to perfecting the composition and getting the settings right.
4. Composition (Rule of thirds)
Composing the shot is the most challenging aspect of landscape photography. Everything else can be read and memorized very quickly; however, composition finding is a skill that has to be mastered, and it may take some time to do so.
Rule of thirds is the most basic compositional rule and is thus a great starting point. Imagine dividing your image into thirds vertically and horizontally and then placing objects, horizons, and leading lines on these lines or on their intersections.
Most cameras have overlay grids, so make sure you turn on this feature and use it to better compose photos. How to do that? Don’t put the horizon line right in the middle of the frame. Put it a third of the way from the bottom if you have an interesting sky, or put it a third of the way from the top if you have an interesting foreground. The same applies to the vertical grid line of the Rule of thirds. Try aligning your main object with one of the third lines.
Don’t forget to break the Rule of thirds on occasion to try something new – think outside the box.
5. Add a Foreground Interest
To make a photograph stand out, you should add depth to it. But how do you cue depth in a 2-dimensional object?
The answer: By layering!
Foreground objects add depth to your photos. Some examples of foreground objects are driftwood, flowers, interesting rocks, a sailboat, and leaves. Make sure that they’re noticeable enough to convey depth but not too interesting so that they take attention away from the rest of the photo.
Foreground objects will help tell the story of your photograph. Forests in autumn are a beautiful sight, but add some orange leaves in the foreground and become majestic.
6. Choose the Best Camera for Landscape Photography
Different photography niches call for different camera features. Landscape photographers opt for high-resolution cameras to capture detail, and high dynamic range to easily battle difficult light conditions, the features that are usually exclusive to full-frame sensors.
Another quite important feature of best landscape cameras is a weather-sealed body, which demands an outstanding build quality – but with it, price.
7. Use a Tripod
If your landscape photographs aren’t sharp, all your hard work is in vain.
In landscape photography, we’re often dealing with low-light conditions in which longer shutter speeds are used – and that is the main reason for unsharp images.
To avoid “camera shake”, a sturdy tripod is virtually a must in landscape photography.
How do you choose a tripod? A good tripod should be flexible, sturdy, and light. These features are mutually exclusive, so you need to find a good mix of all three that satisfies your needs.
Here are some good tripods that are well-worth the money:
8. Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
Modern cameras are capable of producing good quality photos in poor light conditions, however, in landscape photography, you do not want “good” photos – you want perfect photos.
In pursuit of high-quality photos, you must master Manual Mode and the three key settings – ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed.
ISO 100 – Always keep ISO at the lowest value possible. ISO means sensor sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the brighter the photo, but it comes at a tradeoff – grainy photos. Since you’ll be using a tripod that will take care of camera stability at longer shutter speeds, using low ISO shouldn’t be a problem.
Aperture to f/16 – Aperture number can be counterintuitive. The lower the f/number, the wider the aperture. Wider aperture means shallower depth of field, but more light hits the sensor. For landscape photography, higher f/numbers are recommended, which give a broader depth of field, but longer shutter speed. Once again, these shouldn’t be a problem with a tripod. You usually don’t want to go higher than f/16 because at that point a new effect arises – “diffraction” – that makes photos look soft.
Shutter speed – once you set ISO and aperture, shutter speed should take care of proper exposure of the photo. There’s no rule for shutter speed, you have to experiment and check histogram of your camera. Take a photo, check its exposure, and adjust shutter speed accordingly.
RAW files – if you’re going for maximum quality you should always shoot in RAW. JPEG files will look better straight out of the camera, because they have already been edited automatically in your camera, but these are compressed files that have lost some information. If you want to edit your photos manually (=post-processing), you should always shoot in RAW.
Related reading: Depth of field
9. Create HDR photos
HDR photography is a technique every photographer should know, but it is crucial for landscape photographers.
In landscape photography, we often photograph scenery with high dynamic range (very bright highlights and very dark shadows). It’s impossible for a digital camera to capture such difference in brightness in one exposure, so we make use of HDR photography.
Take several consecutive photos of the same scenery but each with a different exposure value (EV), to create a sequence of photos where every part of the scenery is properly exposed. Later in post-processing, you can merge these photo to create one image with a high dynamic range – HDR.
10. Pay attention to the depth of field
The image above has a shallow depth of field; the child is in focus, while the background is blurry. This effect is achieved with a use of low aperture values, f/1.8 for example.
Conversely, in landscape photography, you should use a deep (or large) depth of field, that will keep in focus both foreground and background. To maximize the depth of field, we use higher f-numbers, usually f/11+, in landscape photography, but not so high to produce soft images due to the diffraction.
11. Importance of Clouds
Consider planning your photography shoots on slightly overcast days. When the sun starts to rise or set and the Golden Hour hits, clouds become beautifully coloured.
Don’t forget to enhance skies in post-production and with polarizing filters (more on these later) to introduce even more contrast and texture.
12. Edit Your Photos
Photo editing (also post-processing) gives you a chance to fix your photos and make up for the drawbacks of camera sensors. Photo editing is also the reason to take photos in RAW formats.
How you edit your photos and which photo editors you choose depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Having a personal style is what will help you develop your own brand, but it may take a couple of months or even years for you to settle on one.
Regarding the photo editors, Lightroom is the golden standard of photo editing and is fairly simple to use. Luminar 4 and the new Luminar AI are the best options for beginners, as their artificial intelligence-powered tools make them super-easy to use.
13. Use a Polarizing Filter
A polarizing filter is the one filter that cannot be substituted with a post-processing technique. For example, ND filters can be substituted by taking multiple shots and stacking them, ND graduated filters can be exchanged for taking multiple exposures and creating an HDR image.
This magical piece of equipment can eliminate certain reflections, resulting in higher contrast and vivid colours. This is extremely useful when you’re shooting water, wet landscapes, and skies.
I highly recommend using a circular polarizer (CPL) to dynamically adjust which reflections should and should not be visible.
14. Catch Movement
Long-exposure photos are a great way to bring photos alive.
To catch movement in the scene you photograph, you need slower shutter speeds, and to achieve those without over-exposing photos, you can shoot when and where there’s less light, use narrower apertures (higher f-numbers, such as f/16+), and/or use an ND filter.
To avoid camera movement during this time you also need a tripod.
Look for wheat fields, waterfalls, beach shores, and light trails to take long-exposure photos. Try experimenting with exposure times. You can try up to 1 second to get a smooth water with some detail, or 5 seconds and more to get completely silky-looking water.
15. Include People in Your Shots
People are social beings and seeing a fellow human in a vast landscape piques our interest. Not only that, adding a person (or wildlife) in your landscape photos can help convey the vastness and brings perspective.
Always look to add a subject that will fit the context of your photo. Photographing a road? Add a cyclist. Photographing a mountain peak? Add a climber. Photographing a river? Add a kayaker.
To earn bonus points, dress a person in vivid colours that are complementary to your landscape. For example, orange and teal work very well together.
16. Use Leading Lines
Leading lines help guide the viewer’s eyes into the picture.
Leading lines should be a strong geometrically shaped element that grabs our attention and leads our eyes towards the most important object in the picture. Paths, rocks, rivers, roads, bridges, tree trunks all work very well.
It’s a simple composition technique that will reward you generously when you start using it. The sooner you internalize this idea, the better for your landscape photography.
17. Find a Focal point
Adding a Focal point in the photo is closely intertwined with the use of leading lines. Using leading lines to guide the viewer’s eyes to the focal point of the image will create an interesting photo.
Focal points can be anything as long as they are interesting enough, some examples range from a church, hut, tree, human silhouette, to a waterfall.
Think also about where you place the focal point. Rule of thirds is a great tool to help you place focal points.
18. Go Wide (Use Wide Angle Lens)
To capture the grandeur of vast landscapes in one photo you need a wide field of view. In reality, we can turn around and admire nature that extends in front of us, but you need a wide angle lens to achieve the same with a camera.
With a wide angle lens everything will look smaller in camera than in reality. Solve this problem by moving closer to your object.
Wide angle lenses are amazing for landscape photography, but they do not come without limitations. Broader angle makes photos look flatter, but luckily you have already learnt in chapter #5: Add a foreground interest how to make photos look 3-dimensional. Take advantage of that.
Yes, wide angle lenses are landscape photographers’ favourite, but that doesn’t mean you should stick to them. Oftentimes there will be an opportunity to zoom in and capture a more intimate, minimalistic scene.
Minimalism is a reduction of everything unnecessary to create a simple composition. In landscape photography, that’s where telephoto or zoom lens come into play.
Omitting unneeded elements makes a big difference, but it’s harder to pull-off than it sounds. Sometimes your subject can be a whole screen rather than one thing – look for patterns or layers in nature.
20. Change Your Point of View
Way too often landscape photographers fall into a routine and forget that taking photos should be a creative and dynamic process. You come to a destination, set up your tripods at eye level, take a couple of shots, and move on. Sounds familiar?
To get “wow” results, you will have to put more effort than that into your photos. Try as many new viewpoints as possible. Move around a lot. Climb a boulder and try way up high or lie down and try way down low. Be creative. Have fun.
21. Go Camping
When you come to a location only at sunsets, you have only seen a fraction of its beauty. Go camping and observe how colours, shadows, and wildlife change over the course of 24 hours. Not only will you get to know the location much better, you will take several good photos, each at a different time of the day.
You will notice how rapidly the light and conditions actually change when you pay more attention. Don’t forget the Landscape Photography Tips #16 and experiment – don’t lock onto one composition.
22. Take a Road Less Travelled
Pulling up to the side of the road to photograph a trite landmark or scene will not result in breathtaking photos, and also you won’t learn anything.
Get off the trail to find new spots no one has ever photographed, take a different road to a certain destination even if it takes a couple of more minutes. Look for new and different perspectives and show people that you’re different.
Warning: always stay safe by avoiding dangerous off-trails. Great photos are amazing, but they are not more important than your health.
There’s no shame in taking bad photos in order to learn. Not every landscape photography adventure has to be planned.
Put on waterproof clothes and shoes, drive up to a new location, be it a forest, meadow or a bog, take only your camera with you and start taking photos. It doesn’t even matter if at the time you think that the photo won’t come to anything. It might. But most importantly – you will learn.
24. Try Black and White Photography
In some cases, colours are a distraction in a photograph. If you’re looking for a more classic look, you can try black and white landscape photography.
Taking a good black and white photograph takes more planning and hard work. Brightness and contrast become considerably more important because these two settings are now the only information in the photo.
To get some inspiration for black and white photography, look at some photos by Ansel Adams.
These Landscape Photography Tips are general guidelines to better landscape photos. I recommend that you take them on one-by-one because it’s a lot of take in in one read-through. But if you remain persistent and incorporate all of them into your photography repertoire, you will become a better photographer in no time.
If you know a friend who’s struggling with landscape photography, feel free to share this article with them.
Thank you for reading!