Landscape photography is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and enjoyable forms of photography. Who doesn’t want to get outside more, to breathe the fresh air, and to connect to nature? Whether your pastime is to capture majestic snow-capped mountain peaks, the orderly structure of a metropolis skyline, or calm waves lapping at a palm tree-lined island beach, these landscape photography tips will help you make the most of your next photo expedition.
What is landscape photography?
Landscape photography is the art of capturing images that embody the essence of nature and the outdoors. A great landscape photograph transports the viewer and gives them the sense of being there and seeing something incredible. As a landscape photographer, you want the viewer to connect with the emotions you felt when you shot the photograph.
Everyone wants to capture the beauty of new locations. Even if you are fortunate enough to visit the most beautiful locations on Earth, photography is a never-ending learning and growing process.
Here are the top 25 landscape photography tips on everything from planning to composing the images, and from gear to post-processing techniques:
Do not miss (at the end of this article): Bonus Interview of landscape photographer, Ricardo Martinez on staying true to the moment
1. Plan Where To Go
Researching locations might just be one of the most fun parts of shooting landscapes. Whether it’s a favorite place that you’d been to a million times or an entirely new location far away from your home base, a little research can go a long way in planning to take the best shots possible. You can use online maps to plan your route to the spot and different vantage points that you think will make the best shots.
2. Plan When To Go
Once you have an idea of where to go and how to get there, consider when you want to be there. You’ll want to plan quite a bit of time to scout the location in person, set up your gear, and move around the place. But beyond that, you’ll want to plan for the best light. You might wind up taking some sample shots and realizing that you really want to come back at sunset, or even after dark.
On an even bigger scale, some vistas are perfect at certain times of the year. The Smoky Mountains are beautiful anytime, but in the fall when the colors turn they are magical. And what about the rainbow that is made at Yosemite Falls only once a year? Think about your expedition with the seasons in mind.
3. Consider a “Do Over”
Just because you have shot a location doesn’t mean you have to be done with it. If you had a great time shooting a location and were super impressed with the photos afterward, consider a return trip. Photography, like any endeavor, is a learning experience. With each trip into the field, we learn more and more about ourselves, our equipment, and our environment. By returning to the same location after we have seen some results, you will be inspired with new ideas for new angles and new approaches to try out. You also might be inspired to hike a little farther and dig a little deeper.
4. Choose the Best Camera for Landscape Photography
Give your camera choice some thought. The best camera for landscape photography is definitely one with a full frame sensor and a nice wide angle lens, but occasionally the best lens for landscape photography might be a zoom or telephoto lens. For the sharpest landscapes, you’ll want to shoot at f/16 or even f/22. A high f-stop allows the photographer to capture details in both the foreground and the background. Having everything in focus in your landscape shots is important. Point and shoot cameras seldom have the ability to exceed f/8. Digital SLR cameras, with their many choices for lenses and manual settings, will produce the best landscape images. What is more, DSLR cameras feature larger sensors that will produce much more detail and sharper images, making them the best camera for landscape photography. Newer mirrorless cameras are also great for landscapes, and they have the added benefit of being smaller and lighter than the old school SLR cameras.
The circular polarizer is one of the most powerful landscape photography technique in the professional landscape photographer camera bag, so don’t leave home without one. This magical piece of glass makes all the difference between the professional artists and the point and shooters, and there are few situations where the polarizer won’t make your photos shine. In every daytime scene, the polarizer allows you to manipulate the light in the sky, making blues pop and clouds more dramatic and more defined. When near water the polarizer will enable you to control, limit, or even eliminate reflections. You can see fish swimming over tropical reefs or rocks at the bottom of a mountain stream.
6. Make it Dark
Neutral density filters are another great tool in a photographers arsenal. ND filters make a scene darker than it appears by reducing light that reaches the camera. If you want to capture a long-exposure photograph but the scene is too brightly lit to allow it, an ND filter is just the thing. ND filters are invaluable when you are seeking to make water smooth with motion or when looking to make clouds streak across the sky. When used correctly, ND filters can create a surreal, painting-like quality, especially with seascapes and waterfalls.
7. Graduated Filters
Sometimes we don’t want a filter to affect the whole photo, so graduated filters come in handy. If you need an ND filter to darken an overexposed sky, reach for a graduated density filter. They come in pretty much any combination you could desire, but the primary go to would be a half ND filter of 1 or 2 stops.
8. Wide Angle Lenses Are King
The best lens for landscape photography is not always a wide angle one, but it usually is. There are times when you will want to focus on small details, like the moon rising over a distant mountain peak. For these rare examples, a zoom or telephoto lens will come in handy and will help you think outside the box regarding your compositions. But regardless, the workhorse lens for shooting landscapes will be your favorite, good quality wide angle lens. Even when your subject is small, you may be best served by getting closer to it with your wide angle lens rather than zooming in with a longer lens.
9. Three Legs are Better than Two
One of the most significant aspects of shooting landscapes is to capture the sharpest detail possible over a wide area. When shooting at the low shutter speeds common in landscape photography, your tripod will become your new best friend. Pick a tripod that is beefy enough for your heaviest gear, but also portable enough to not be a burden. If your tripod is too heavy and too cumbersome, you will find yourself leaving it at home more than you should.
10. Dramatic Skies and the Importance of Clouds
A blah sky makes a blah photo. While the Golden Hours around dawn and dusk can make even the most dreary vistas beautiful, consider all your options.
Clouds often add interest and drama to a photo. Even just a few fair-weather cumulus puffballs can make a world of difference to an otherwise uninteresting landscape. Streaky cirrus clouds reflect pinks and oranges during sunset, and dramatic and contrasty cumulonimbus thunderheads change the tone of a photo entirely.
11. Night Shots
Another option is to shoot at night. Newer digital cameras have fantastic light capturing abilities in low-light settings. Astrophotography is no longer just for folks with telescopes and specialized equipment. A wide-angle lens, set on a sturdy tripod and mounted to your favorite DSLR, can capture amazing, captivating nighttime scenes that will make your landscapes look like a science fiction fantasy land.
Star photography takes a little practice and some special planning. If you are too close to big cities, you are more likely to get bright skyglow rather than the Milky Way prominent in your photos. Research dark sky areas and parks nearby where you can get away from light pollution.
Of course, astrophotography is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shooting after dark. Cities and towns, with their bustling cars, trains, and airplanes making a continuous, flowing light show, provide ample opportunities for photographers to capture stunning images too.
12. Add Foreground Interest
A great landscape photograph really stands out when it is balanced with depth to it. This means something needs to be in the foreground: a character tree, a piece of driftwood, a sailboat, or a mountain creek. Where ever you are, look for foreground objects that help tell your story. An island in the distance is pretty, but a sailboat passing an island in the distance is epic. A mountain range is nice, but a lake surrounded by forest, reflecting those mountains is majestic.
13. Try Including People or Wildlife in Your Shots
Of course, people and wildlife are perfect subjects for adding depth and interest to landscape photos, but they are sometimes disregarded in favor of capturing pristine, untouched postcard looking scenes. Instead, consider letting hikers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts tell a story in your images. While a beautiful view is gorgeous to look at, seeing a person in the scene invites us in as we imagine ourselves in their shoes.
14. Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
Modern DSLR cameras are fantastic in their ability to capture images quickly and to work in very dim light. There is a tradeoff, of course, in that pictures taken at higher ISO settings are very grainy. This is another reason why tripods are so crucial to landscape photographers. Keep the ISO numbers as low as possible. This will result in longer exposure times, but you will be rewarded with higher quality and sharper photos.
Landscape photography invariably requires high f-stops. Apertures of f/16 or f/22 are not uncommon. This ensures that the lens focuses details in both the foreground and background with a very deep depth of field. To achieve both high f-stop and low ISO, slow shutter speeds are a must. At low shutter speeds, remember that a tripod must be used to avoid blurry images from camera shaking.
The histogram display on your camera can be a great help to all photographers. When used correctly, this informational display can tell you if the bright whites have been clipped or if the blacks are underexposed. This can be invaluable when setting up the shot and picking your camera settings for the perfect exposure.
15. Use RAW Formats
RAW files contain more information than their JPEG counterparts. While it might seem simpler to save in the camera as a JPEG, you will be losing valuable information that could be important during post-processing. With the ability to adjust color balance and exposure details much more accurately, developing a good workflow with RAW files can be invaluable.
The rule of thirds pertains to landscape photography just as well as to any other form of photography. The advantage with landscapes is that the photographer has much more time to reflect on the scene and compose the photograph. If your camera can overlay a grid, turn on the feature and use it to help compose your pictures. Work on creating a flow in the photograph that takes the viewer on a journey through the scene you are capturing. Where do you want them to visit? It is your job to guide them there.
Minimalism is the reduction of everything unnecessary. It is an excellent benefit when shooting landscapes to keep a minimalist's eye. Often capturing the whole scene is just too much for one photograph. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip about composition: in keeping the composition simple and embracing minimalism, we can use small details to tell the whole story without overloading the viewer.
18. Change Viewpoints
As landscape photographers, we can’t really ask the mountains to change poses. Our models don’t move, so we have to. Try as many new viewpoints and vantages as possible. Move around a lot. Try way up high and way down low. Be creative.
19. Use Leading Lines
Leading lines are some form of visual interest that lead the viewer into the image. Roads, rivers, rocks, bridges, or anything else that might provide a path for a viewer to put themselves into the photo. Once you understand the concept, you will find leading lines everywhere you shoot. It’s a simple composition technique that can pay dividends in your photography.
20. Find Movement
Another great way to add excitement to a scene is to focus on movement. Water in a stream, cars on a road, or waves on a beach all blur with longer exposure speeds that are common for deep, luscious landscape images. An ND filter can help you achieve just the effect you are looking for while keeping the scene’s details sharp and interesting.
21. Camp Out and Move In
Plan on spending some time in locations that you love. Come back when the light has changed. Come back after dark. Come back with different lenses. If your spot of choice is too far off-the-grid, consider staying for an entire afternoon with a picnic or even camping overnight. Make the photography just one part of the adventure.
For this very reason, you may find that your favorite landscape locations are close to home. If they are easy to access and you travel there often, you will see the best lighting, season, and angles for a location. Keep this in mind on your next photography trip. Don’t rush.
22. Get off the Beaten Track
Roadside pull-offs in the mountains and photos spots in the parks have been done. Sure, you haven’t put your twist on it, but chances are spectacular photos have been taken there before. Get off the trail and find new spots where fewer photographers tread. Seek out a different perspective and show the world what’s out there if you just look a bit deeper!
23. Don’t be Afraid to Try New Things
A beauty of shooting with a digital camera is that there is never any harm in trying. Got a wacky idea for an awesome photo? Just try it. In photography, maybe even more than other hobbies, there are no real rules. Try out your crazy ideas, have fun, make mistakes, and most importantly learn from those mistakes.
24. Focus on Small Details
As landscape shooters, sometimes we get overly focused into our wide-angle view of the world. Look for small details in a scene that have their own story to tell about that place at that time. What is unique and special about a place, and how can you zoom in on the special quality that it provides? This is not necessarily suggesting that you should adopt a new hobby in macro photography, just that it is often a lack of focus on individual details that make some landscape scenes cluttered and confusing.
25. Consider Alternatives to Traditional Color Photos
High dynamic range photography is becoming all the rage. It is well suited for landscapes because it adds detail and depth to your photos. Bad HDR is everywhere: it can be gallingly unrealistic and oversaturated. But done well HDR can produce beautiful results that cannot be duplicated as well from a single exposure. With a practiced eye and a little patience, HDR can take your landscape photography to the next level. Even if you don’t use the technique every shoot, you will eventually find certain locations and lighting situations that are made to be shot in HDR. HDR photography is accomplished by taking multiple bracketed exposures of the same image and combining them into one correctly exposed image during post-processing.
If you’re looking for a more classic look in your photos, consider shooting black and white landscape photography. While many photographers today alter their pictures after the fact during post-processing, anyone who has shot black and white images will tell you that it requires more thought and planning than that. Without color data, the way you view your landscape changes. Deep contrasts become much more important. Dark shadows are a benefit, and dramatic lighting only helps the scene take shape. While shooting, give the black and white photography option some thought and consider it part of the shooting rather than part of the post-processing.
Bonus Interview: Landscape photographer, Ricardo Martinez on staying true to the moment
Ricardo Martinez is based in Chile and is an Engineer who’s passion lies in photography. Ricardo is working towards taking up travel photography as his full-time career.
You can see his work at http://www.ricardomartinez.cl/
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m an engineer who has a great passion for photography. Over the years this hobby has assumed great importance in my life. I travel as much as I can, so I have been able to photograph several countries of amazing beauty. I’m trying to orient my life towards travel and especially landscape photography as it gives me great satisfaction and joy. I plan to keep doing this and maybe in the future have my own full-time photography business.
Check out some tips on how to start your photography business.
Tell us about your childhood and growing up in Chile?
I must say, it was a happy childhood. But the curious thing about this is that nothing indicated clearly that I was going to be so involved in photography. Maybe a key element was that I traveled a lot around Chile as a kid and had the opportunity to be amazed by the beauty of this country.
Chile at that time was a far and extreme location to visit, which was important because a lot of the natural landscapes were unspoiled, making my contact with nature wilder, and therefore making me appreciate them more.
You trained to be an engineer. How did you get initiated into photography?
It was a gradual thing. I did not know that photography was going to be so important in my life. It all started with a business travel to the United States, several years ago, there I bought my first DSLR camera (a Nikon D50 with the lens kit) without much too many expectations.
But after a few months of using it, I had shot hundreds of landscape photos in the Atacama Desert. It was an amazing experience, so I started to take photos more seriously. I bought two more lenses and started to learn about photography. I ended up dedicating a lot of my free time to practice and learning about post-processing. That was the beginning.
How would you describe your photography style?
It is rather simple. I like to capture the beauty of the places I visit, nothing fancy. I try to capture the moment and represent it in a photo, staying true to as I lived that moment. Through the years, I have been exploring several techniques and styles, but now I’m more focused on just taking the photo and showing the moment through my eyes.
As a travel photographer, you have photographed Chile extensively. How has being in Chile influenced your work?
I must say that it has been a great influence. Chile is an extremely beautiful country, it has nearly 4400 kilometers long and I have been very lucky to photograph it from north to south, from the Atacama Desert to the Chilean Patagonia. It is a land of contrasts and a very particular country. Chile’s amazing and overwhelming beauty has had a very strong inspiration in my work and has pushed me to achieve high standards in landscape photography. Wherever I travel, I have the beauty of Chile in my mind and the more I travel, the more I love this country.
Outside Chile, which are your favorite places that you have shot?
I have had the opportunity to travel to several countries: Iceland, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, etc. Every one of them has their own beauty, but somehow I’m in love with the landscapes of Scotland and Ireland. They have something that appears mystical and magical to me, maybe it is the history behind the castles and the great landscapes there, I’m not sure, but I really enjoy traveling to that part of the world anytime I can.
What are the challenges and perks of being a landscape photographer?
Well, for me in particular, the challenge to be a landscape photographer is to be able to find the time to travel to different places, being a full-time engineer. So far, I have been able to deal with this problem by finding the time from my own vacations and using every possible holiday of the year to travel, but I must say that it has been quite a challenge. Besides, you have to plan every aspect of the place you visit very carefully, for example, you have to consider the time of the year you are traveling, the time of the day, the light, deal with other people and photographers who are looking the same spot, etc. So, it is important to be prepared to deal with all these issues in the places that you visit.
As far of the perks of being a landscape photographer, it has to do with enjoying the places you visit, leaving photography besides for a moment. Traveling around the world, learning different cultures, talking with other people, etc., it is a big deal to me. Travel has made me grow, not only as a photographer but as a person. I have been able to live different, enriching experiences, that has great importance to me.
What will we find in your camera and equipment kit for landscape photography?
Well, every place has his own challenges, but so far I have reduced the list to a few considerations. First, I try to travel light as far as I can, one camera body and two or three lenses max. Of course, I always bring at least two more camera batteries a bunch of SD cards to spare and a speed-light just in case.
Second, a key thing is to have a trusted, light and resilient tripod. In landscape photography, it is important to obtain photos as sharp as you possibly can, therefore a good tripod is key. You have to choose according to your needs but choose well.
Which is your favorite image that you have shot?
It is an image I shot in the Atacama Desert, award-winning in a national contest and my first photography 1st place, which gave me great satisfaction. Beyond the photo itself, that moment gave me the push to continue believing in my work and my talent. It was the starting point of the adventure that brought me at this point.
Do you get to take in the beauty of the places you travel to, just as a traveler?
One hundred percent! Every time I travel, the thing that most amazes me is the beauty of the places that I visit, every travel and every place has touched my soul deeply, and photography came second, because I’m so overwhelmed with the beauty of those places that I want to show them to the world through my photography.
I think I enjoy more with the beauty of the places I visit, the experience I lived, and photography is the way to show those feelings.
How do you market your work?
I started off by using the typical photo profile websites available at that time, trying to get the users’ attention with my photos. Then I started to participate in several national photo contests. That was a turning point, I won several contests and after that, things started to roll. I was contacted by international photo magazines, I sold a few photos to National Geographic and other magazines and local companies.
After that, I decided to promote my work more professionally, so I started my own portfolio website on Pixpa. Now I have added promotion on Facebook and started to sell some photos in a few photo stock websites. So far so good.
How has your website helped you?
It has been a great help in my business, now that I have a centralized website where all my contact information, photo portfolios, and skills are available to possible clients, making my business more professional.
Besides that, Pixpa has offered me beautiful portfolio templates to show up my work. It has been a great improvement.
And one of our final landscape photography tips: remember that there are no rules and nothing is set in stone. Above all else, try new things and be creative. These tips are just the beginning of an artistic journey to connect with nature and capture the beauty of the Earth. No matter where your adventure takes you, these professional landscape photography tips are a great place to get started. So what are you waiting for? Start researching your next trip into the field today!
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