Landscape photography may seem like a simple endeavor, but in reality, capturing a remarkable landscape image is a sizable feat. In landscape photography, you’re up against erratic weather conditions, fleeting natural light, and chaotic scenes.
To succeed in landscape photography, you’ll need to be willing to wait for that perfect moment when all the conditions are just right. Just as important is to be prepared for when that moment happens.
To help you, I’ve created this comprehensive guide where we’ll go over everything you’d need to know if you want to capture amazing landscape images. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
1. Invest in a Wide-Angle Lens
Wide-angle lenses are the standard choice for landscape photography. Of course, there may be times when you opt for a longer lens, but a wide-angle lens is often the best option.
For full-frame cameras, I recommend a 14-24mm wide-angle lens. This wide-angle lens can display an extended view of a scene. This lens is also known for its excellent sharpness, ideal for capturing landscape scenes in great detail. It also has weather sealing, outstanding build quality, and exceptional image stabilization.
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If you are using a crop sensor, your lens will depend on your crop factor.
For example, if you are using a Canon or Nikon crop sensor you will likely have a crop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x. If this is the case, I recommend you go with a lens with a focal length of 10-20mm.
Typically lenses of this focal length will have a max aperture of f/3.5 or smaller. If you will be shooting in low light situations I suggest trying to get a lens with a max aperture of f/2.8 or larger such as the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8.
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If you need assistance finding a lens personalized for you check out the resource below and it will do all the work for you.
Resource: Lens Radar
2. Get A Sturdy Tripod
In landscape photography, you’ll often encounter low-light shooting conditions where you’re required to work will slow shutter speeds. So, for sharp images in landscape photography, investing in a reliable and stable tripod is an absolute must.
When we talk about tripods for landscape photography, sturdiness is even more crucial than it would be in other types of photography.
For portraits, wedding, or food photography a lightweight travel tripod will work just fine. But, for landscape photography, sudden changes in weather can render a light, compact tripod useless. So, you’ll need a stable tripod that can handle extreme weather conditions.
Well-made tripods are a financial investment. But, you’ll get plenty of use out of that tripod in the years to come, so it’s a worthy purchase.
If you are looking for a high quality durable and sturdy tripod I recommend the Manfrotto Befree Travel Tripod. This is a great tripod to invest in if you are looking for reliable tripod without having to break the bank.
3. Tips For Using Your Tripod
Avoid Using The Center Column
Many tripods today feature a middle column designed to boost the camera up to eye level. I suggest you avoid extending the center column on your tripod more than a few inches. Moderate winds can cause a camera mounted on a center column higher than a few inches to shake.
The smarter choice is to find a tripod with extendable legs so that your camera can reach the level of your eyes. I recommend you buy a tripod that is 6-12 inches higher than you need so you don’t need to use your center column.
If you do enjoy using a tripod with a center column for the horizontal perspectives and angles I recommend using the Manfrotto Carbon Fiber with Horizontal Column. This tripod is very sturdy and has a very well build elbow mechanism for the horizontal column that limits that amount of shake when it is extended.
Avoid Using the Thinnest legs on your Tripod
Always release the thicker portion of your tripod legs first for the most stability. In fact, I recommend you avoid using the thinner legs unless absolutely necessary.
The legs on a tripod consist of extendable levels. The longer you need your tripod the thinner the extendable legs will become. To avoid using the thinnest portion of your tripod legs, I recommend you buy a tripod that is about 6-12 inches longer than you would need.
This will allow you to use only the thicker sets of extendable legs when setting up, making your tripod more stable. I recommend getting a tripod with an “extra long” option such as the Benro Mach3, this tripod is extremely stable, has tick legs and great build so you should have no issue getting a sharp photo even in the harshest conditions.
Another way to increase the stability of your tripod is to use spiked feet. Spike feet attach to the bottom of your tripod and allow you to embed the feet of your tripod into the ground. These are especially useful when you are shooting on grass, dirt, or sand.
Position One Tripod Legs in Front of Your Lens
The stability of your camera depends on the position of your tripod legs. If you are shooting on a flat surface then it is best to position one leg in front of your lens and two legs behind your camera.
At this position, you will place most of the weight over the front leg which will prevent it from falling over.
If you are shooting on a slope, for maximum stability place two legs in front of your lens (downhill) and one leg behind your camera (uphill). This will place most of the weight on the two legs in front of your lens and prevent it from tipping over.
Hang Weight on your Tripod For Sturdiness
Sometimes, it may get so windy that you need stability beyond what a tripod can provide alone. For added stability, hang a weight on the hook at the bottom of the center column of your tripod.
If you don’t want to carry another item for added weight, hang your camera bag from the center hook. Your camera bag generally has enough weight to keep your tripod stable, even in windy conditions.
4. Use a Quick Release Plate and an L-Bracket
Trust me: Once you start shooting with a quick-release plate and L-bracket, you’ll never go back. The quick-release allows you to switch from shooting in horizontal to shooting in vertical in under 5 seconds.
When selecting your quick release system, I recommend you get one that uses a lever system. Levers are typically much smoother and faster than using the traditional knobs. Your quick release plate and system will be connected to your tripod head so be sure to choose your ball-head wisely.
The reason it’s called an “L” bracket is that it forms the shape of an “L,” with the short side of the “L” being on the side of your camera while the long side goes on the bottom of it. I recommend the Arca swiss L-bracket, I recently started using and it’s a game-changer.
To use a quick release plate and L-bracket, follow these steps:
- Release the small lever on the quick release plate.
- Then, turn your camera either vertically or horizontally.
- Set your camera back down on the quick release plate.
- Snap the quick release lever down to secure that your camera is in place.
Now, you’re ready to start shooting again with your camera in a new orientation.
5. Invest in a Ballhead
There are countless tripod head options available in the market. But, for landscape photography, I find that ball heads with a quick-release lever are the most effective option in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.
One of the best ball-heads without a doubt is the Really Right Stuff BH-40. Although it is a bit pricey at around $400 depending on the options you choose, it is durable and long-lasting. You can expect this ball-head to last you at least ten years if cared for properly. Long term, you are better off purchasing a high-quality tripod head rather than buying a low-quality one every year or even sooner.
6. Get Really Low Using a Platypod
A platypod is a great alternative if you’re looking to ditch your tripod for something more compact. A platypod is a thin, metal platform where you can attach your camera and ball head.
Using a platypod is great instead of a tripod in a few different scenarios:
- To achieve a camera angle that’s very close to the ground
- When shooting in a location that isn’t well-suited to tripod use, or where tripod use is prohibited
- To position your tripod on a space that’s too small for it to fit, or where it can’t sit safely
Platepods are constructed from commercial-grade aircraft aluminum, so they can withstand just about any harsh weather or tricky shooting conditions. This durable material also means that a platypod can hold a remarkable amount of weight for its size.
It also comes with four spiked metal feet. These feet allow the tool to cling to wood, rocks, and other outdoor structures. With its built-in strap feature, you can also easily attach platypod to railings, poles, or threes.
This offers additional angles and security when your shooting on surfaces other than the ground.
Another wonderful quality of a platypod is its portability. This gadget is so small that it will fit in the pocket of a shirt or jacket. Plus, it’s surprisingly affordable, when you consider its innovative qualities.
You have two options to choose from the Ultra and the Max. The Ultra is the smaller alternative best for mirrorless or compact cameras. It only costs $59, but it can hold up to 2 pounds.
The other option is Max, which is a heavy-duty choice. It is capable of holding heavier DSLRs with long lenses. It costs $99 and can hold up to 30 pounds.
7. Use a Cable Release
A cable release is a device that allows you to press the shutter button without touching your camera. This eliminates camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button when taking pictures.
As an alternative to a cable release, you can use a wireless shutter release. This can be a simple remote if your camera has Bluetooth capabilities. If not, you can purchase a wireless shutter release with a receiver that will work the same.
I recommend the Pixel wireless shutter release because it functions as both a wireless and wired shutter release button. Also, the range is excellent, and it can be paired with nearly every camera brand.
The best strategy is to buy a wireless remote or cable release at the same time as your tripod purchase. Then, you’ll have the main tools that you need for a super sharp landscape image.
Use A Self-Timer
If you do not want to invest in a cable release, a self-timer is an excellent alternative. This feature allows a few seconds in between you pressing the shutter button and the camera taking the image.
By using a self-timer, even if you move your camera a little bit by pressing the shutter, there are a few seconds for that movement to go away before the camera takes the image.
Most cameras offer several options for how many seconds should go by before your camera takes the image. When taking self-portraits or a group shot, setting your timer to 10 seconds is usually a great way to go. If your shooting landscapes, however, a self-timer of two to three seconds works great.
8. Use a Circular Polarizer
The main function of a circular polarizer is to minimize reflections. However, they are also a great tool for darkening and bringing out blue hues in skies.
If you’re planning to shoot bodies of water, like lakes, streams, and waterfalls, having a circular polarizer is a must. Using one will allow you to include water in your landscape compositions without having to include distracting reflections.
You can turn a circular polarizer to adjust the amount of polarization for the composition. This is remarkably useful, as it allows you to include some, but not all, of the reflections in a body of water. I recommend the B+W HTC Kaesemann CPL. It works extremely well and produces very little artifacts plus the low profile design keeps it light and easy to use.
9. Carry A Good, Cheap Lens Cloth
Your lens will always benefit from a quick, pre-shoot cleaning with a microfiber cleaning cloth. Cleaning your lens with a lens cloth will eliminate any smudges or specks on your lens. If you fail to wipe these off before you take your pictures, the smudge won’t just be in one of your images – it will be in all of them.
I recommend you bring more than one in the event that what your using becomes wet or dirty. They take up little room and are light so bringing more than one shouldn’t be an issue. Before shooting, take the time to make a simple swipe around the face of your lens with an inexpensive cleaning cloth.
10. Invest in a Hard Drive for Backing Your Images
I recommend having at least two sets of your images backed up before formatting a memory card. This may seem extremely cautious, but if you ever were to lose images from an entire shoot because you failed to back them up, you’d understand this precaution.
After shooting on location, it’s crucial to back up your images. Bring along a drive to complete this backup, and use your other gadgets (laptop, phone, iPad, etc.) to complete an additional backup.
I have always used Seagate as my preferred hard drive provider. They come in various sizes for both the SSD and HDD, they are reliable and I have never had an issue with them for as long as I have used them. I typically only carry a 1-2TB hard drive with me on location for a quick back-up, this is typically more than enough space for one trip of shooting.
If you are traveling or using them on the field, I recommend you buy a case to protect your hard drives. It is best to avoid having your hard drive crashing against the other gear in your bag, even worse you dropping while removing it from your bag.
11.Extra Batteries (Especially In Cold Weather)
Just imagine: You’re on location ready to shoot and the natural lighting is getting to its peak. But, just as you’re capturing your best compositions of the day, your battery dies. Without a backup, you’d have no choice but to pack up and go home.
This is why it’s essential to have a minimum of two backup batteries with you at every shoot. I recommend bringing along three, given that landscape shoots can be unpredictable. You never want to miss an opportunity to capture an incredible shot, and a dead battery should be the last thing to hold you back.
If you’re worried about the cost, don’t be. Today, you don’t need to buy backup batteries exclusively from your camera’s manufacturer (which can be insanely expensive).
Many off-brand batteries are much cheaper but are identical in performance to the manufacturers’ batteries. If you do go with an off-brand battery I recommend RAV Power, they produce high quality and durable chargers and batteries. Plus, they produce batteries for nearly every type of DSLR so you shouldn’t have an issue finding a battery for your camera.
12. Use Auto-Focus
For landscape photography, I almost always find using autofocus to be the easiest and efficient way to shoot.
The auto-focus system of cameras today is incredibly fast and accurate. Of course, some photographers can manually focus their cameras at incredible speeds. But, anomalies aside, autofocus is the clear winner as far as speed is concerned.
That said, don’t be tempted to ignore manual focus altogether.
When shooting in low-light conditions, manual focus is your best option. While some autofocus systems may work fine at night, most tend to underperform in low light.
13. Focus About 1/3 of the Distance
Besides using a large f-stop to keep most of your scene in sharp focus, you’ll also need to focus on the right spot. As a landscape photographer, the standard rule of thumb is to focus about 1/3 the distance into the scene.
This goal of this rule is to produce an image with the foreground to background in focus and sharp.
The basis of this rule is embedded in the concept of hyperfocal distance. Hyperfocal distance is the distance you need to focus on, to place the entire frame in focus. Hyperfocal distance is dependent on aperture and focal length you are using.
I have created a hyperfocal distance calculator to make this as simple as possible. All you have to do is select the camera you are using, the aperture, and focal length, and you will get the distance you need to focus on to place your entire frame in focus.
14. Set Your Focus to Infinity
Sometimes, you may have trouble finding a good focus spot ⅓ of the distance into your frame. In this scenario, you can switch your lens focus to the “infinity” setting.
By switching your lens focus to infinity, you ensure that your entire frame will be in focus. This typically involves using a wide aperture to produce a deep depth of field.
15. Select Single Focus
If you are using auto-focus, set your focus mode to single focus.
In single focus mode, your camera will select a single point in your frame and place it in focus. This is ideal for landscape photography since your subjects won’t be moving.
It is important to note that if you move forward or backward when recomposing in single focus mode, your image may lose some sharpness. Be sure to check your sharpness and refocus if necessary.
16. Check Your Sharpness During The Shoot
Many photographers have experienced the disappointment of noticing an out-of-focus shot once they’ve already gone home.
To avoid this disappointment, check your image’s sharpness while you’re still on location. By doing so, you can re-take any shot that comes out blurry. Once you’re at home looking at the images on your computer, there’s not much you can do to fix the issue.
To check if your image is sharp, zoom in to your image at 100%. Many modern camera models have made this process even easier by including a single zoom button on the back of the camera. So, you can just hit the button to zoom in on the preview, then hit the same button to zoom back out.
17. Set Your Camera at Its Lowest Native ISO
In landscape photography, your camera needs to be set to its lowest native ISO. In general, this value is ISO 100.
With your ISO set to its lowest native level, you probably won’t be able to shoot handheld successfully. Unless you’re shooting in a bright natural light where you can use fast shutter speed, I recommend you use a tripod to capture a sharp image.
18. Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode
Some photographers enthusiastically shoot in manual mode and have been doing so for a while. So, manual mode undoubtedly works for certain people. But, for landscape photography, I find that using aperture priority is often the best way to go.
When you use aperture priority mode, you’ll select the f-stop, then the camera will set the shutter speed to the right level of exposure for your scene.
Since landscapes are static and I always shoot with my tripod, shutter speed is typically a non-issue for me. The only exception to this is when I want to use a long exposure, in which case the best option is manual mode.
Considering that you’ll be at 100 ISO for landscape shots, using aperture priority mode is efficient in that it leaves just one decision down to you: the f-stop. The rest of your camera settings will be taken care of so that you can simply start shooting.
19. Use a High F-Stop
When photographing landscapes, you’ll typically want to have most of your frame in sharp focus. So, using a high f-stop is the ideal option. This can range from an aperture of f/8 to f/16.
It is important to note that the minimum aperture on your lens does not produce the sharpest photo. This is due to the diffraction after a certain aperture setting diffraction will cause wider aperture values to be softer.
This means you can’t just select your widest aperture setting and start shooting. I recommend you use your lenses aperture “sweet spot”. Every lens has an aperture “sweet spot”, at this aperture value your images are the sharpest.
To find your aperture sweet spot, you can use the general rule of thumb or do some self-testing. The general rule of thumb states that the aperture sweet spot is two to three full stops away from your lenses maximum aperture.
For example, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, then your aperture sweet spot will be between f/5.6 and f/8.
Once you have your aperture sweet spot, you can do some self-testing to find the sharpest aperture value. First, mount your camera on a tripod and take an image at each aperture value. Then compare these photos using post-processing software to determine which is the sharpest.
20. Shoot in RAW
The RAW format provides the greatest potential for creativity in landscape photography. RAW is superior to JPEG due to the wider dynamic range and color gamut.
For instance, in post-processing, you can easily adjust your white balance when shooting in RAW but not when you shoot in JPEG. Likewise, RAW photos are capable of expressing 281 trillion colors, while JPEGs can only express 16 million colors.
Shooting in RAW offers many benefits over JPEGs, especially when shooting landscape photography.
Resource: RAW vs. JPEG: The Full Story
21. Turn On Your Highlight Warning
Clipping occurs when an area in your image is blown-out or overexposed. An overexposed area appears white and has little to no digital information.
To know if you’ve clipped your highlights, turn on your camera’s highlight warning. This tool will cause the blown-out highlights to blink on and off through your camera’s preview screen.
Different makes and models of cameras may have a slightly different name for highlight warning, so consult Google or your user manual if you can’t find it.
Cameras also differ in the timing of their highlight warnings. Some cameras will show a striped warning in your LCD display before you take a shot. This means that your highlights are clipped, and it gives you a chance to make adjustments before taking the shot. Other cameras display the warning on your LCD after the shot has been taken, letting you know that you need to retake the image.
Now, with all of that said, it’s important to note that your camera’s highlight warning will not always be accurate.
A common issue when using the highlight warning is that it may indicate overexposure as you shoot, but when you view your image in post-processing, there is no clipping. This typically happens when if you are shooting in RAW because the image you see on your LCD is a JPEG thumbnail while the image you see on your computer is a RAW image.
22. How To Deal With Clipped Highlights
If you’re shooting in aperture priority mode, adjust your exposure using exposure compensation. Start by darkening your exposure by ⅓ of a stop. If this isn’t dark enough, continue in ⅓-stop increments until you’ve reached the proper exposure level.
Most cameras don’t offer exposure compensation when you shoot in manual mode. In this case, you’d need to manually alter your exposure by adjusting either your shutter speed or aperture.
Let’s say that you’re at f/11 and need to make an adjustment. Bump it up to the next f-stop (generally f/16). Then, take a photo and check the exposure. Continue to darken the image until the clipped highlights disappear, and details become present.
23. Which Metering Mode To Use
For your metering mode, I recommend setting your camera to evaluative metering or matrix metering mode.
With evaluative metering, your camera takes in and processes the light from your whole scene. It then averages all of the lighting information from your scene to determine the proper exposure.
Matrix metering mode is ideal for landscape photography because it will produce an image that adequately exposes most of the objects in your scene.
When To Switch To Spot Metering
High contrast scenes can throw off evaluative metering mode, causing your camera to expose the scene improperly. You can tell when this happens because your scene will be far too bright or far too dark.
When photographing high contrast scenes, it is best to use spot metering. Spot metering will allow you to select a single “spot” or isolated part of your scene and use it as the baseline for proper exposure. The “spot” selected is typically the location of your focus point.
You won’t need to use spot metering frequently. But, if you’re seriously struggling to achieve the proper exposure, spot metering can help you reach your desired result.
24. Do Your Research
Taking time to research before a landscape shoot can make all the difference. Without researching nearby areas, you could miss out on an exceptional scene.
A good place to start your research is on Google and social media such as Pinterest and Instagram.
On social media, you’ll have access to people who are passionate about landscape photography. Try searching the name of your location on Pinterest and see what comes up. For example, if you type in “Grand Canyon,” you’ll find lists of the best sites in and around the Grand Canyon. From there, it’s easier to plan your shoot and find all of the best scenes.
Google image searches don’t necessarily pull up outstanding landscape photos of a specific location. However, the search can give you ideas for nearby shooting spots.
Google Maps is another convenient resource to use for landscape photography research. It allows you to take a look around a general area, getting a sense of what’s around. With it, you can scope out trails, parking, vantage points, and other useful areas of a landscape scene.
25. Location Scouting
Familiarizing yourself with your new shooting location is one of the first steps in creating successful landscape images.
If you’re shooting at dawn, aim to scout your location the day before.
It can be difficult to find good compositions in the dark, so scouting your location in full daylight beforehand is a good idea. Plus, if the location turns out not to be what you expected, you’ll have the time to find a new place to shoot without having lost too much time or effort.
Location scouting is even more crucial when you only have one chance to shoot a location. Without a second day to try again, you could miss you on some stellar images if you’re not prepared.
Don’t skimp on the scouting process if you’re shooting at sunset, either. Unlike sunrise, you don’t necessarily have to visit the location the day before. You can simply scout your location during the midday hours while the light is not ideal for shooting.
When you’re scouting a location, it’s not necessary to whip out all of your camera gear. Just bring along your camera or even your smartphone and check how the location works. Through this process, you’ll learn if the location is worth heading out to at dawn.
26. Create Depth
Creating a sense of depth is one of the biggest challenges in photography. But the reward is often worth the difficulty. An image with depth draws viewers into a photograph. It provides perspective and helps the audience connect with an image on a deeper level.
There are several techniques often used in photography to encourage more depth in an image.
The main ones are converging lines, sizing, overlapping objects, and an aerial perspective. Here, we’ll learn more about these factors and how you can use them to formulate depth in landscape photography.
27. Converging Lines
Converging lines create vanishing points that give a sense of depth to a picture. A vanishing point is an area where two parallel lines converge. The convergence of these two lines gives the viewer a sense of distance. The more these lines converge, the farther away the viewer perceives them to be.
Think about railroad tracks: the tracks converge far off in the distance, so you know that they extend out for many miles. Including converging lines in your landscape photography will give your viewers this sense of distance and depth. But in actuality, there is no depth, and the image only has two dimensions.
The relationship between size and distance is simple: large objects seem close to us, and small objects seem far away. With a two-dimensional medium like photography, you can strategically emphasize the size of objects within your frame to create depth.
A great way to convey a sense of depth in a landscape photo is by photographing similarly sized objects using a wide-angle lens. For instance, consider a field of flowers.
Although the flowers are all roughly the same size, if you get very close to a small group of flowers with a wide-angle lens, you can make those flowers appear very large. In contrast, the flowers that are further from the lens will appear very small and dissolve into the distance.
Overlapping objects also create a sense of depth. When an object partially blocks our ability to see another object, we assume that the blocked object is further away from us.
You can experiment with overlap in landscape photography to emphasize depth. Think about a tree obstructing a view of a mountain, or a field of flowers overlapping a lake. This will give your viewers a sense of their orientation in relation to objects within the scene.
30. Aerial Perspective
Aerial perspective has a unique impact on depth in photography. In the space separating you and a far-off object, blue light is scattered from the atmosphere. When you’re close to an object, however, that blue light is absent. This reveals a relationship between color and depth: cool colors seem to be far away, while warm colors seem to be closer to us.
When viewers see a subtle haze over the objects in the background of your image, they get the sense that those objects are far away.
For this reason, be wary of using a polarizer, as it can eliminate this haze and, therefore, some of the depth in your image. When you bring everything in your frame into sharp focus, a similar effect is created: none of the objects in the frame are softened. So, the sense of depth is compromised.
31. Get Your Horizon Line Straight
While it is possible to correct a skewed horizon in post-processing, you’ll have to rotate, then crop, the image to do so. If there are key visual elements near the border of the frame, cropping them can be problematic and may ruin your composition. To avoid this problem, ensure that your horizon line is perfectly straight during your shoot.
There are several tools you can use to ensure your horizon is straight.
One is to use your camera’s gridlines. You can also use grid lines to help balance your composition overall, so I recommend that you make use of this tool whenever you can.
Most tripods are also built with levels. If your tripod doesn’t have a built-in level, you can buy a mini-level separately that attaches to your camera’s hot-plate. With this tool, you’ll have the benefits of a typical bubble level that you use for home improvements. Check the bubble level to make sure that your camera is perfectly straight before each shot.
32. Shoot at Sunrise or Sunset
The best time to shoot landscape images is typically at sunrise and sunset. The low angle of the sun during this time creates soft, subtle shadows and golden highlights. Landscape scenes are amazing at these hours, so don’t miss out on them!
Waking up early enough for a dawn landscape shoot is a major challenge. However, your effort will be well worth the vibrant skies and pristine reflections that are typically seen at sunrise.
When shooting at sunrise, aim to arrive at your location at least 30 minutes before sunrise. More often than not, the best natural light happens before the sun rises. So it’s good to make sure that you have your camera and tripod ready at least 15 minutes before the sun comes over the horizon.
Keep in mind that your specific location, as well as the time of year, will slightly shift these windows. Be sure to check the time of the sunrise in your area as you plan your shoot. Go to bed early the night before and set a reliable alarm, so you don’t sleep through this window.
Similar to sunrise, sunset offers the soft, diffused natural light that’s ideal for landscape photography. But, at sunset, you’ll enjoy that beautiful, soft light longer – usually around 45 minutes, and even up to an hour.
Shooting at sunset also offers the benefit of not having to wake up early. You can also scout your shooting location on the same day as the actual shoot, which is a time-saving solution for many photographers.
Keep in mind that some scenes are better photographed at either sunrise or sunset.
The quality of natural light at these times are similar, but not identical. The angle of the sun in relation to your subject is also different during these two times of the day.
Over time, you’ll develop an instinct for which time of day to shoot for certain scenes. But till then, I recommend doing research and visiting the same location at both sunrise and sunset.
33. Shooting At Blue Hour
The blue hour rolls around an hour before the sun rises and after the sun has set. During this time, natural landscapes become saturated with crisp, cool blue tones giving them a surreal look.
Cities, especially after sunset, can be a fantastic element to add to your landscape photo during this time. After the sun goes below the horizon, the colorful city lights start to come alive. The combination of city lights and beautiful natural landscapes, such as mountains and valleys, all work to create unique and exciting compositions.
34. Keep Moving
Landscape photographers often end up being stationary for an entire shoot without realizing what they’re doing. With a tripod stable and set up, it can be hard to muster the motivation to move. But, when you don’t move your camera for a full shoot, you miss out on interesting angles and perspectives.
Sure, you can just zoom your camera in and out. But it won’t have the same effect as physically moving your camera to a new vantage point.
So, before settling your camera down for the long haul, walk around and test out different possibilities. Try different perspectives. Get down on your knees, set your camera close to the ground, shift your angle from left to right until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities.
35. Be Patient
As landscape photographers, you have little control over whether or not you’ll get a successful image when you go out to shoot. It doesn’t matter how much preparation you have done, nothing can guarantee that you will get that perfect sunset you want.
But one thing that is within your control is your ability to stay patient. Sometimes, the most incredible scene will appear as you drive away. Nothing feels worse than losing such a shot that you know you can never find again. If only you had left the camera on the tripod for a couple more minutes!
So, put hastiness aside when you shoot. Play down the desire for instant gratification and stay out late at the scene. Even better, wait till dark before leaving. Practice patience, and you won’t be disappointed.
36. Leading Lines
A leading line is an element in landscape photography used to strategically guide the viewer’s eye to an image’s focal point. These lines can be made from both natural objects, like a river, and human-made objects, like a cobblestone road or a bridge. They can also be implied such as light, water ripples, and stones.
The best leading lines are converging lines. As mentioned, converging lines are two parallel lines that meet at a vanishing point. These lines are not only useful in directing your viewer to your focal point but are also an effective tool for creating depth in your image.
Resource: How To Use Leading Lines In Photography
37. Negative Space
Negative space is another powerful tool in landscape photography for directing your viewer’s eye. By leaving a section of the frame completely blank, you can bring emphasis to the parts of the frame that are filled.
A great example of negative space in landscape photography is a vast, blank sky captured with a lone tree extending upwards. The tree interupts the negative space provided by the sky creating a striking composition.
Negative space in a landscape image doesn’t necessarily have to be completely blank. It just needs to be blank in terms of visual interest. It should lack pattern, color, and other eye-catching qualities. That way, the focal point of your image will pop.
38. Pay Attention To Relative Brightness
Viewers are naturally drawn to the brightest element in an image. So, you’ll want to place the brightest areas near or on your main subject or focal point.
You’ll also want to avoid having a bright element at the edges of your frame.
For instance, when photographing waterfalls and streams, aim not to have the white water positioned at the edge of the frame. Otherwise, the white water will draw the viewer’s eye outwards and away from your focal point.
If you happen to take an image with distracting, bright objects, consider darkening it in post-processing. You can also brighten your focal point using the dodge tool to highlight it further.
39. Include an object in your Foreground
The most effective landscape photographs have narratives. And one of the best ways you can achieve this in your image is by including an element in your foreground.
Your foreground is like an introduction to the image’s story. It opens the door to your image for the viewer, inviting them to explore its contents.
If you dive straight into your focal point, placing a mountain, for instance, right at the bottom of the frame, you’re forcing your audience to skip to the middle of your story.
Adding an element in your foreground is also a great way to enhance depth in your image.
In landscape photography, there are numerous natural foreground options you can choose from. Rocks at the shoreline, a bed of wildflowers, or even a fallen tree make for an attractive and effective foreground. Experiment with different options to see what meshes well with the whole image.
40. Find a Clear Subject
You must have a clear, defined subject in your landscape image. All too often, landscape photographers take a general image of a scene without setting on a single, focused subject.
Your subject is what your viewers will connect with.
Imagine a stunning waterfall shot, or a composition featuring a vast mountain range. The viewers will connect to those main subjects, reflecting on personal memories of waterfalls or mountain ranges.
Your subject is the essence of your image, so don’t glaze over it. You should always settle on your main subject before you start composing your image.
41. Simplify The Scene
Photography is, in many ways, a practice of minimalism.
Unlike in painting or writing, in photography, you do not create by adding into a blank canvas. Instead, you create by taking away elements from a given scene. This is especially true with landscape photography.
Landscape photos can be chaotic. Leaves scattered across the ground, twigs extending out from various angles, and even small birds flying across the sky can make a composition seem messy.
Chaotic, busy images rarely succeed, as a large number of visual elements can be distracting and disorienting. When you boil your composition down to a few key elements, your viewers will have a better understanding of your intentions. They can have a clear focus and delve into the image more easily.
Remember, in landscape photography, a few meaningful elements have a far more significant impact than several unfocused ones.
42. Avoid Junk at the Edges of Your Frame
A simple rule of thumb for landscape compositions is to get rid of “junk” at the edges of your frame. Here, “junk” means sticks, leaves, branches, and other random objects that don’t add to the quality of your composition and can pull your viewers’ attention away from your focal point,
When photographing landscapes, it’s easy to pay too much attention to our subject and forget to look out for distracting backgrounds.
For example, if you’re shooting a mountain, it’s easy to focus exclusively on that mountain and forget the junk on the edges of the frame. But, that junk will impact the composition as a whole, so it merits attention.
Make a point of checking the outer edges of your frame before you take your photo. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a composition that keeps distracting junk out of your images altogether. However, if you fail to do so, consider removing the distracting elements in post-processing.
43. Follow the Clouds
Clouds are an essential compositional element in landscape photography. Especially when you’re shooting at dawn or dusk, clouds can be the difference between a stunning image and a dull one. Without clouds, a sunrise or sunset wouldn’t have the power to take your breath away. The sky would be a blank stretch of color, with no texture or depth.
Unfortunately, the behavior of clouds is out of our hands. Whether clouds will align with your composition on the day that you shoot is up to fate. So, being able to capture them requires persistence and patience.
Be open to the idea of shooting at the same location for several days in a row to get the cloud conditions that you want. Chances are that with a bit of patience, Mother Nature will be on your side and eventually provide an eye-popping sky for you to photograph.
44. Photograph Water Reflection
Capturing mirror reflection is a great way to showcase the beauty of natural landscapes.
To do this, aim to go out on a day when there is little to no wind. Wind blurs the water’s surface and causes ripples that can ruin an otherwise perfect mirror image.
You’ll also want to shoot during the golden hour. That is, during sunrise and sunset. The bright sunlight during the mid-day creates distracting glares and shadows, so you’ll generally want to avoid shooting at this time.
You’ll also want to use a polarizing filter. As mentioned, these filters are fantastic tools when you’re trying to eliminate the glare caused by light reflecting on the water.
Another tool that you should keep within reach when taking water reflections is ND filters. These filters make it possible to produce mirror reflections using slow shutter speeds without overexposing your images. I recommend a variable ND filter such as the Tiffen Variable ND filter, this filter will allow you to adjust the intensity of your ND filter by rotating it.
A tripod is another essential tool you’ll need. Using one ensures that your camera will be steady, and your images will be sharp.
Before settling on a composition, make sure to take the time to experiment with different vantage points. How you position your camera can have an enormous impact on how you’ll capture the reflection in your image.
For instance, an image from a camera positioned above a reflection will be entirely different from that of one positioned to the side of it. This will make it easier to capture multiple shots of the same scene until you’ve exhausted the possible compositions.
45. Use a Reference Item
Reference items are visual elements used in photography to demonstrate scale. They can be anything from a person to wildlife, to man-made structures.
Reference items are especially important when photographing immense landscapes. For example, taking a picture of a small cabin next to a wide lake enables viewers to understand the vastness of that lake by reference.
Including a reference item is also a great way to create unique and engaging landscape images. It can help immerse the viewer into the scene in a way that can turn a mediocre photo into an engrossing one.
46. Use the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a compositional technique that leverages asymmetry to create dynamic compositions. It involves evenly dividing your frame into nine parts using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, similar to a tic-tac-toe pattern.
The idea is to position your focal point along one of the lines or on one of the four intersections. This naturally places your focal point off-center, creating a more dynamic and visually pleasing image.
You’ll also want to align your horizon along one of the horizontal lines. The idea is to create asymmetry by placing a heavier emphasis on either the foreground (land) or the background (sky).
If you want to place more emphasis on your foreground, align the horizon with the upper horizontal line. If you want to place more emphasis on the sky then align the horizon with the lower horizontal line.
Resource: How to Use Rule of Thirds in Photography
47. How To Shoot Long Exposures
Long exposure is a process that gets its name from the use of long or slow shutter speed. This enables you to capture the movement of subjects such as flowing water, clouds, or people passing by.
When you use slow shutter speed, you allow your sensor to record your subject as it moves across the frame. The result is slightly soft, blurry textures and colors.
In landscape photography, you can use a long exposure to transform the movement of water, clouds, and trees in the wind into colorful, abstract textures.
While there isn’t a specific value of shutter speeds that are labeled as long exposure, a good starting point would be shutter speeds less than 1/25 of a second.
To successfully use a long exposure, you must mount your camera on a tripod. Doing this technique handheld will result in a camera shake and a blurry image.
You’ll also want to consider using an ND filter if you’re photographing during the day to filter the bright light and avoid overexposing your image.
48. Try Using Live View To Focus
To use an ND filter, you’ll need to focus your camera before securing the filter to your lens. Otherwise, your scene will just look black in your viewfinder when you put the ND filter on.
That said, your specific camera may be capable of providing a preview of your long exposure image with the “Live View” feature. This feature is only included in certain camera models, including the majority of Canon cameras. If you turn on Live View mode with most Canon cameras, your scene will be previewed on the LCD screen at the back of the camera. So, you’ll be able to see the image’s exposure ahead of time.
This goes for mirrorless cameras as well. But, with a mirrorless camera, you can also see a preview of the shot through the electronic viewfinder. After you have some experience in taking long exposure shots, you can use Live View or your electronic viewfinder on a mirrorless camera to check your exposure. From there, you can make an educated stab at choosing a shutter speed.
49. Take A Second Shot in Aperture Priority Mode For Sharp Detail
While using slow shutter speeds is great for capturing beautifully streaked skies and silky smooth water, it can cause problems with the surrounding terrain. This is because small motions that occur over the course of a long exposure lead to blurring. Even the subtlest wind can make the leaves and branches of trees soft and blurry.
One way to fix this is by taking a second image using fast shutter speed. If you’re shooting in shutter priority, simply change your exposure mode to aperture priority then take a couple of shots. You can then blend this image, if you need it, later in post-processing.
Taking a second shot enables you to capture the softness of the sky and water in your shot, but maintain sharp detail in the rest of the frame.
After reading this extensive guide, you have the tools that you need to create beautiful, well-balanced landscape images.
By carefully planning your shoot and paying careful attention to each aspect of your composition, you’ll be able to capture the attention of your viewers. So, get outside and experiment.
Keep your mind open to all different eventualities and adapt accordingly. As a landscape photographer, you’re at Mother Nature’s mercy – the sky may not appear as you would like it to, or it may pour down rain on the day of your shoot. But, with a solid set of skills and an undying persistence, you’ll reap interesting results from any landscape shoot.