How you set your camera settings heavily determines the outcome of your landscape pictures.
But with the variety of settings to choose from, finding the best ones can sometimes be confusing and difficult.
Don’t let this prevent you from capturing beautiful landscape pictures. Here, I have broken down the best camera settings for shooting landscape photography.
Let’s dive in.
1. Camera Mode: Aperture Priority
For landscape photography, using aperture priority is often the best way to go.
With aperture priority, you set the aperture and ISO while the camera sets the shutter speed for you.
This allows you to control your depth-of-field to make sure most of your frame stays in focus.
Shutter speed is typically a non-issue when photographing landscapes, assuming you are using a tripod (you should). So, you don’t have to worry about letting your camera choose your shutter speed for you.
Aperture priority also allows you to shoot more efficiently.
Considering that you’ll likely be at 100 ISO, using aperture priority mode leaves you with just one camera setting to choose: f-stop.
The rest of your camera settings will be taken care of, allowing you to focus on shooting.
When To Switch To Manual and Shutter Priority
I wouldn’t recommend using aperture priority if you’re trying to capture motion. For this, I would either opt for manual or shutter priority, depending on your subject.
If you’re trying to photograph waterfalls and streams, I recommend you use manual mode.
With these types of compositions, you’ll generally want to keep most of your frame in focus while using slow shutter speeds. So, you wouldn’t want to let your camera choose either your f-stop or shutter speed for you.
If you’re trying to capture wildlife in your landscape scene, you’ll likely benefit from shooting with shutter priority.
Shutter priority allows you to control your shutter speed and ISO while the camera sets the aperture for you.
Using shutter priority can be advantageous if you’re shooting wildlife, especially in dynamic lighting.
In this case, having to adjust three settings using manual mode continually will only slow you down. To prevent missing your shot, shoot with shutter priority.
You’ll also want to switch your camera mode to manual if you’re shooting at night.
Using priority modes in low light conditions will often result in improperly exposed images.
2. Aperture: f/8 – f/11
When photographing landscapes, you’ll generally want to keep most of your frame in sharp focus.
To do this, you will need to use a narrow aperture (large f/stop).
Keep in mind the narrowest aperture will not always produce the sharpest image with the widest depth-of-field. To do that, set your aperture to your lens’ aperture sweet spot.
The aperture sweet spot is typically 2-3 stops aways from the lens’ maximum aperture.
For example, if you are using a 70-200mm f/4 lens, your aperture sweet spot would be between f/8 and f/11.
Although the aperture sweet spot varies between lenses, a good range will produce sharp images with a deep depth of field is between f/8 and f/11.
3. Shutter Speed: 1/250 – 1/60
If you’re using aperture priority, then you shouldn’t have to worry about shutter speed.
But assuming that you’re using manual mode, a good range to start when taking landscape images is 1/250 to 1/60 of a second. At this range, you don’t need to worry about camera shake.
If you are looking to capture motion, you’ll need to use slower shutter speeds.
For example, if you want to capture the soft, silky quality of water you typically see in most waterfall images, you’ll need shutter speeds between ½5 to 4 seconds is an excellent place to start.
The particular shutter speed you should use will vary depending on the speed and size of the waterfall you’re trying to photograph.
4. ISO: 100-200
Set your camera to its lowest possible ISO (ISO 100).
While increasing your ISO will make your image brighter, it will also increase the apprearance of noise in your image.
So, unless necessary, avoid increasing your ISO.
If you need to boost your exposure, start by adjusting your shutter speed. In most cases, using slower shutter speed is enough to get the proper exposure you need when shooting landscapes.
I rarely go above ISO 400 for landscape images unless I’m shooting in low light conditions.
5. File Format: RAW
Compared to JPEGs, RAW files produce much higher quality images.
RAW format is perfect for landscape photography because it produces images with a high level of detail.
RAW images also provide you with greater editing capabilities and allow you to adjust nearly any feature of an image with ease.
Resource: RAW vs. JPEG: The Full Story
6. White Balance: Auto
If you are shooting in RAW (you should), I recommend setting your white balance to Auto.
Raw files allow you to adjust your white balance with great precision in post-processing, so adjusting your white balance on location is not necessary.
That said, if you prefer to apply quick white balance adjustments on location, I recommend using the white balance presets.
If you are shooting at sunset or sunrise and want to remove the warm color cast, you should use the sunrise/sunset preset.
If you are shooting during the day, use one of the daytime presets that works best for the conditions you’re in.
7. Drive Mode: Single-Shot
Most landscape scenes are static, so using a single-shot is often the best option.
When shooting in single-shot mode, your camera will take one image each time you press the shutter release button. This will give you the time to review your shot and adjust your settings or composition accordingly.
This is also great for saving space on your memory card and not taking an excessive amount of shots.
8. Metering Mode: Matrix (Evaluative) Metering
For metering, I recommend setting your camera to evaluative metering or matrix metering.
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.
Evaluative 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
When photographing high contrast scenes, it is best to use 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.
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 struggling to achieve the proper exposure due to high contrast, spot metering can help you reach your desired result.
9. Focus Settings: AutoFocus
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.
For the most accurate results, use single-servo when shooting landscapes.
In single-servo, your camera will lock your autofocus point in place even if you recompose your image. Whereas, the continuous servo will adjust your focus point to track any motion in the scene.
When To Switch To Manual Focus
Any time you shoot in low-light conditions, manual focus is your best option.
While some autofocus systems today are amazing, most tend to underperform in low light.
At night, autofocus systems take longer to focus and are often inaccurate.
When focusing at night, it is good also to use the live view mode to make sure your subjects are in focus. Another good way to double-check your image is to take some test shots and zoom in at 100% to make sure it is in focus.
10. Playback Menu Settings: Image Preview, Highlight Warning, 100% Zoom.
Although the playback menu settings are not essential when taking photos, having the correct settings can make your workflow more efficient.
Keeping your image preview on will allow you to review your images right after you shoot them.
I suggest you set the time interval between 3 and 5 seconds. This will give you enough time to look at your image and make any necessary adjustments.
Taking photos and making adjustments is essential for landscape photography. Make sure you have this feature on so you can do it efficiently.
Another useful feature when shooting landscapes is to have your highlight warning on.
This feature will cause any area of your photo to blink black and white if it is overexposed, allowing you to analyze and adjust your images’ exposure on the fly.
100% zoom makes it easy to check your images’ sharpness and focus on location.
Most cameras allow you to adjust the amount of zoom applied in your image when you press the zoom button.
I suggest you set this to 100% on the first press. This will make it easy for you to inspect your images while you shoot.
11. Settings That Don’t Affect RAW Images
Maximizing Dynamic Range
Dynamic range maximization settings only work with JPEGs or TIFF. If you are shooting in RAW using any dynamic range maximization settings will have no impact.
In Sony cameras, it is called dynamic range optimizer, while in Nikon cameras, it is called active D-lighting.
In either situation, the settings are designed to enhance your image’s dynamic range by applying some processing to your images. This includes enhancing highlights and adding detail to your shadows.
The best way to enhance your dynamic range for RAW images is in post-processing where you can adjust your highlights, shadows, and mid-tones to enhance your dynamic range.
Picture Controls: Standard
Picture controls are a set of settings that applies specific stylistic processing to your images. These preset adjustments often include adjustments to sharpening, clarity, contrast, saturation, and brightness.
Some common picture control presets include landscape, portrait, flat, standard, neutral, vivid, and monochrome. Depending on your camera, you may have more or less picture control presets.
Your picture control settings won’t affect your actual RAW image output, but it will impact the image preview you see on your LCD screen.
To make sure your image preview and image output match set your picture control to standard.
Long Exposure Noise Reduction
Since no image processing occurs when you are shooting in RAW, it is best to leave this setting as is.
Even if you are shooting long exposure, you can worry about removing noise in post-processing. Whether you adjust this setting or not, no noise reduction will take place on your image.
While I made this list to help you choose the camera settings quickly, know that they won’t apply to every situation.
The best way to choose your camera settings is by understanding your camera.
With enough practice, you’ll be able to know the right settings to use for any situation intuitively.
It may take some time, but as they say, “nothing worth doing is easy.”
So go ahead. Spend some time to learn and master your camera settings. This way you won’t miss out on any photographic opportunities that come your way.