Have you ever driven through a beautiful landscape and stopped at picturesque scenes to capture them with your camera? But you discovered that they’re boring when you came home and checked them on your computer?
It has happened to every one of us.
Nature is three-dimensional; we can walk through it, touch it, and change our perspective. It’s impossible to accomplish the same effect by looking at a photograph.
What determines professional photographers is knowing how to tell a story with photos.
Let’s learn that together with these 24 landscape photography tips that will improve your landscape images.
Lanscape photography tips
1. Research the location
Researching a location in advance is vital for the success of your photoshoot. This way, you come prepared, thus improving your photos.
Because landscapes change throughout the day as shadows move, returning to the exact location at different times of day will help you find even more photos. I recommend going at least in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
But visiting a location is often not possible when it’s far away. Then use the internet to conduct as much research as possible. To scout locations ahead of time, I use the following methods:
- Google Maps is the first scouting tool I use to plan my photoshoots. It’s ideal because others have shared their photos, so you get valuable insight. Use street view to discover new locations and get a sense of the terrain.
- Local photographers have taken loads of great photos you can use for ideas. Instagram is an excellent source for this type of research. I prefer to search by the location name or hashtag to find similar photos. Instead of copying their images, make them better.
- Local tourist offices use landscape pictures to promote the location. You can learn more by visiting their websites or following them on Instagram. Or Google “[the location name] tourism.” to find ideas.
- 500px and Flickr host photographers from all over the world, especially at 500px. Flickr also comes with a handy world map.
2. Plan when to go
When to go is as important as where you go. I enjoy photographing landscapes at various times of the day because the light can produce drastically different results.
However, as a landscape photographer, try to plan your shots around the best light. The so-called golden hour occurs between sunrise and sunset when the light is orange and yellow. Because of the diffused light, shadows are soft and long during this time of day, the skies are dramatic and colourful, and low-angle light creates textures in landscapes.
You’ll want to arrive at your destination at least half an hour early to set up your camera. In some cases, coming an hour early is even better when you don’t know the area well. What is more, you might notice that the light is even better.
3. Redo failed shots
You don’t always get the perfect shot the first time. It’s even worse when you only realise it after viewing photos on your computer. Other times, the weather simply isn’t ideal, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
In these cases, you should return to the scene and redo the shot. Either in better weather, with a different camera setup, or with new knowledge.
Returning to a nearby location may provide an additional benefit; it is good practice. Because you’re already familiar with it, you can spend less time exploring it and more time perfecting the composition and fine-tuning the settings.
4. Nail the composition
Composing the shot is the most difficult aspect of landscape photography. You can learn everything else fast, but composition finding is a skill that takes a long time to master.
Rule of thirds is the most basic compositional rule, making it a terrific starting point. Imagine dividing your image into thirds with horizontal and vertical lines. Then, place the objects, horizon, and leading lines on the grid lines or intersections.
Cameras have overlay grids that aid in the application of the rule of thirds. Once enabled, don’t place the horizon line in the centre of the frame. Instead, align it with either a horizontal grid line to emphasise the sky or foreground. The same holds true for the vertical grid lines—try aligning your main object with one of the third lines.
Breaking the rule of thirds is as important as using it. Knowing when to break the rule of thirds separates intermediate landscape photographers from pros.
5. Add a foreground
Some landscape scenes look flat and boring when photographed. That’s because they lack depth, which is difficult to convey through 2D mediums. To add a sense of depth to images, use layers.
Foreground objects add depth to 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 grab all the attention.
But you don’t have to limit yourself to foregrounds. Experienced photographers use multiple layers to make photos more interesting. For example, a foreground (flowers, rocks), the main object (like a mountain), and the background (sky).
6. Choose the best camera for landscape photography
Every genre of photography demands different camera features. In landscape photography, high resolution, high dynamic range, and weather-sealed body are important. In addition, astrophotography requires good high ISO performance, which you can get with full-frame cameras.
In spite of the higher price tag, mirrorless cameras are gaining popularity because of their small bodies and fewer working parts. Whether they are better than DSLRs for landscape photography is up for debate.
7. Use a tripod
If your photos aren’t sharp, all your hard work is in vain. In landscape photography, we often deal with low-light conditions for which we use longer shutter speeds are used. But longer shutter speeds also see more movement, and therefore blurry images.
To avoid camera shake and movements, a solid tripod is a must. But how do you choose one?
A good tripod should be flexible, sturdy, and light. It’s difficult to find a cheap tripod that fits all three criteria.
8. Set ideal camera settings
Modern cameras can produce good quality photos in poor light conditions. However, you do not want average photos—you want them perfect.
You must master Manual Mode and the three basic camera settings (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) in pursuit of high-quality photos.
What are the best camera settings for landscape photography?
- Set the lowest ISO. Always keep the ISO at the lowest value, which is usually 100 (64 for some cameras). ISO means the sensor’s sensitivity to light. High ISO results in grainy photos.
- Aperture f/8–f/16. This aperture range ensures the best ratio between quality and the depth of field. Lenses are the sharpest up to f/11. At narrower apertures diffraction causes soft images, effect noticable at f/16+.
- Shutter speed. Use slow shutter speed for long-exposure photography or astrophotography. Otherwise, use shutter speeds that fit the lighting conditions. When using a tripod, it should be a problem.
- Shoot RAW files. Raw file format guarantees the best image quality and the most success with post-processing. JPEG files will look better straight out of the camera, because camera edits them. But these are compressed files that have lost some information.
- Autofocus on. When possible, use autofocus. If it doesn’t give sharp images, switch to manual focus.
- Turn off high ISO noice reduction.
- Turn off lens correction.
- Turn of IS/VR when using a tripod.
- Turn on long exposure noise reduction for shots longer than 5 seconds. But keep in mind that you’ll have to wait twice as long.
9. Create HDR photos
HDR photography is a technique every photographer should know. However, it’s crucial for landscape photographers, who often shoot in a high dynamic range (bright highlights and dark shadows). It’s impossible for a digital camera to capture such a difference in brightness in one exposure, so we use the HDR technique.
- Take several identical shots (3, 5, or 7), but each with a different exposure value (EV). We usually space them by 1 or 2. For example: -1, 0, 1.
- Merge the shots with HDR software (Lightroom, Aurora HDR, ON1).
- Edit the merged image with extended dynamic range.
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. You can achieve this effect with low aperture values, such as f/1.8. Shallow depth of field is popular in portrait and macro photography.
But in landscape photography, we use a deep (or large) depth of field, that both foreground and background keep in focus. To maximize the depth of field, we use higher f-numbers, usually f/11+, but not so high to produce soft images due to the diffraction.
11. Importance of clouds
Interesting skies can make or break landscape photos. You could improve a landscape shot with a boring sky by redoing it in more dramatic weather conditions.
Consider planning your photography shoots on slightly overcast days. When the sun starts to rise or set and the golden hour hits, the clouds become orange, red, and yellow too. Moreover, you can catch the blue hour if you wake up even earlier.
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. Also, it’s the reason to shoot photos in a RAW format.
How to edit photos and which photo editors you choose rely on your style. For basic photo editing, every software is good enough. But having a personal style is what will help you develop your own brand. Although it may take a couple of months or even years for you to establish it.
Adobe Lightroom is the golden standard of image editing. It’s my go-to tool for image management, editing, masking, and exporting. But Lightroom lacks the creative component. In part, you can make up for it with Adobe Photoshop, which features many creative tools.
Moreover, Lightroom can do HDR, panorama, and HDR panorama. For now, it lacks focus stacking, but you can perform it in Photoshop.
Luminar AI & Neo
Luminar is a set of tools better suited for beginners than Lightroom. Thanks to AI, it’s easier to use than the alternatives. In addition, Luminar apps offer more creative tools, such as golden hour, Orton effect, bokeh, and a lot more. You can think of Luminar AI as a Lightroom alternative and Luminar Neo as a Photoshop alternative.
Compared to Adobe tools, Luminar’s masking options are much worse. Also, it can’t do panoramas and for HDR you need to buy a separate app, Aurora HDR.
13. Use filters
Filters are high-quality glass attached at the front of the lens (for the most part). Based on the type of glass, the filters help you achieve various effects.
Then again, every piece of glass you add in front of a lens reduces image quality and can cause flares, particularly low-quality filters. So, buy a good filter, if you’re going to use one.
A polarising filter is the only type of filter whose effect you can’t replicate in post-production. As the name suggests, polarisers can block polarised light. As a result, it allows you to control reflections, which produces more vivid colours. The most popular type is the circular polarizing filter (CPL).
Neutral density filters
Also dubbed ND filters, neutral density filters reduce the amount of light that hits the sensor. You can think of them as sunglasses for your lens and camera. There are two types of ND filters: a uniform ND filter and a graduated ND filter. The former is useful for long-exposure photography, while the latter finds its use in landscape photography to shade a part of the image, such as the sky.
I don’t like the graduated ND filters since they produce linear “shade”, although the horizon is almost never a straight line. Not to mention that their effect is replicable with Lightroom’s masks. Graduated NDs are rectangular filters and require a filter holder.
Ultraviolet filters used to be important in the days of film cameras, but they play a little role with digital cameras. Most photographers use them to protect the front glass of their lens from scratches.
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 smooth water with some detail, or 5 seconds and more to get completely silky-looking water.
15. Include people
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 photographs.
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. 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 to 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.
What is landscape photography?
Landscape photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing natural scenes, especially those found in rural settings. Landscape photography is sometimes called nature photography, but this term is not always specific enough to describe the subject matter.
Nature photography includes both still and moving images. In addition to being a popular hobby, landscape photography is also a common element in advertising, editorial, fine art, and commercial photography.
These landscape photography tips are general guidelines for better landscape photos. I recommend that you take them on one by one because it’s a lot to take in on 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!