Landscape photography is my favorite genre of photography. And I am not alone there. I love landscape images for many reasons. For starters, I can enjoy and appreciate a beautiful landscape even without a camera. It also pushes you to be on the move all the time searching for new inspiration or perspectives. So, for me, it is a three-in-one adventure. I love to walk, I love nature, and of course, I love photography. Furthermore, the possibilities are countless. All you can lay your eyes on is a landscape. Be it a secluded mountain view, or busy downtown street.
Is Capturing a Landscape Photo Easy or Not?
Nowadays, modern technology allows you to capture decent landscape images even with your smartphone. The internet is full of landscapes from every corner of our planet. However, capturing a great image of the landscape is not easy even with high-tech super-smart cameras. I have seen a myriad of horrible photos of beautiful landscapes. How is it possible? I mean, if you are shooting hills and meadows they keep their poses all the time. They are not moving or doing anything so if they are beautiful, they should always look beautiful. And they do, except in those photos that turn out dull and flat.
The answer to this question is simple. Your eyes see what they see, but it is a whole different story with your camera. Depending on composition, lighting and camera settings you can create a vast number of impressions of the same hills and meadows. So, to cut to the chase, you need skill and knowledge to capture, or maybe more accurately to create a great image of the scene you are looking at. Truth be told, sometimes you can get it naturally, or accidentally, but it won’t happen regularly. However, if you have the right tools and skills you may even enhance the scene. Changing the perspective, focusing on certain details can allow you to accentuate and add some drama to the parts of the scene that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed.
First Things First
Many new photographers believe that they can compensate for a lack of skill and experience in post-processing. Sure, Photoshop can do a lot, but many mistakes can’t be fixed without compromising the quality of the image. First things first. If you are serious about photography you should master the skill first. Then, a computer and Photoshop can help you to achieve the best possible outcome.
So, it all begins with the basics. You need to know your camera first. Then you can focus on landscape photography, composition, settings, etc. In this guide, I will walk you through all the important steps in order to be prepared to capture some great landscape images.
Gear for Landscape Photography
It takes a good idea, skill, and lighting conditions to capture a great photo. But, without adequate equipment, it still won’t work. So, you need to choose the right gear before you go out to shoot. However, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive state-of-the-art equipment. So, let’s see what you need for landscape photography.
Cameras For Landscape Photography
Any decent full-frame DSLR camera will do. Newer generations of mirrorless cameras are gaining popularity and they can be a great choice as well. As a general rule of thumb, for landscape photography, you need high resolution and good dynamic range. So, to improve your photos don’t look for a higher price tag. Look for cameras with more megapixels and better dynamic range. Nikon D850, Canon EOS 5DS R, and mirrorless Sony a7R III are probably the best models out there.
Wide-angle lenses are the most obvious choice for landscape shooting. They allow you to capture a broad view. Wide lenses also provide greater depth of field, so you can use faster shutter speeds. That way both foreground and background will be sharp. This is essential for most of the landscape images.
However, don’t be afraid to experiment with lenses. Telephoto lenses can be used, too. For example, if you want to capture details of smaller areas at greater distances. Prime lenses produce the highest quality in the image and can be used for some shots as well.
So, wide angle lens should be the first choice, but depending on the situation you can use other lenses as well.
Don’t even think about becoming a landscape photographer without a tripod. Even as a serious hobbyist you must have one. Landscape shooting often requires slow shutter speeds. For example, if you want to capture the movement of the water. Also, you can create an attractive motion blur using slower shutter speeds. Tripod comes as a necessity in these situations to achieve sharp images. I would also recommend a remote shutter to further avoid any camera shake.
Filters are not necessary for landscape photography, but they can provide more options and possibilities for you. For example, you are looking at the perfect scene, but the sun is way too bright. In this scenario, you can wait for the sun to go down to get a softer light. But, it takes time and the weather can change and ruin your composition. Neutral Density (ND) filter is a solution to this problem. ND filter reduces the amount of light that enters the lens. In any case, it allows you to use slower shutter speeds. Graduated ND filter is just partly darkened. This is very useful if you have too much of a contrast between the sky and the landscape. With graduated ND filter, you can darken the sky only, creating a more balanced image.
The polarizing filter darkens the sky and prevents glare and reflection. It is very useful when shooting rivers and waterfalls. Removing reflection of vegetation also accentuates its natural color.
Apparently insignificant things can sometimes ruin your shooting. A couple of extra accessories can help you to avoid unexpected problems. In nature, when doing landscape photography, the weather can change quickly. So, a camera backpack and rain cover can save the day sometimes. A clean lens is essential for high-quality images, so make sure you have microfiber cloth to keep it clean. Also, if you shoot in RAW you may need a lot of space for your files. A backup SD card will allow you not to worry that you’ll run out of storage space half way through the shooting.
Shoot in RAW
First of all, you should always shoot in RAW. Well, maybe not always but most of the times. JPEG files take much less space because your smart camera edits the image in accord with the mode and style you have chosen. Shooting in RAW allows you to be fully in control. RAW files contain a full range of data so that you can have full control of editing. You can post-process JPEG files but not without losing the quality. And lost information is hard to recover, if possible.
For most of the landscape shots, you want the entire image to be in focus and as clear as possible. It gets tricky hear. The higher the f-stop, the greater the depth of field, which is good. The lower the f-stop, the sharper the image, which is also good. Do you see the conundrum? You have a range from an extra sharp image but shallow depth of field and a small area in focus, to a great depth of field with entire image in focus, but not very sharp and clear.
As a rule of thumb, apertures between f11 and f16 will provide satisfying sharpness and depth of field. However, you shouldn’t stick to this rule strictly. Be ready to change your aperture to achieve whatever you want to in particular situation.
Shutter speed setting is the most flexible one. At least when we talk about landscape photography. Different shutter speeds allow you to achieve various effects. While slow aperture and low ISO require somewhat slower shutter speeds, there are situations where you want to use fast shutter speeds. Fast shutter speeds freeze motion resulting in the dramatic and sharp picture. For instance, if you shoot running water, every drop of it will be sharp and crisp.
On the other hand, slow shutter speeds will blur the motion while the rest of the image will remain pretty much the same. Shooting the same running water, this time you will get smooth, silky, flowing appearance of the water. And it changes the whole atmosphere of the image. Anyway, you have a lot of freedom to set the shutter speed.
Best camera settings vary depending on conditions, composition and what you want to convey to an observer. Fortunately, setting your ISO value for landscape photo has one simple rule: keep it as low as possible. A high ISO inevitably introduces some noise and grain. If you need more light go with slower shutter speed. As long as you have tripod this should do the trick. Anyway, your ISO value should be 1between 100 and 200 if possible.
“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” – Charles Lindbergh
The composition might be the most important piece of the puzzle for landscape photography. Yes, you need gear, skills and technical knowledge to set things right. But, if you fail with composition it will all be in vain.
When you find yourself in front of the stunning scenery, you may wish to capture it all. Don’t. It often ends up with flat and empty images. To avoid this you should look for focal points. Remember, you don’t want to show what you see, you want to convey a story. And you need a focal point for that.
Use the rule of thirds. In landscape photography, it is a good composition that separates great images from boring ones. So, the rule of thirds should be applied. Try to place your points of interest at the intersections of the grids. Our eyes and mind are inclined to focus on these areas easier. It is the way to involve the observer.
Leading lines are the best method to guide your viewer’s eyes. You can find these lines anywhere. Trees, rivers, or whatever, should guide your viewers to focus on your points of interest. Actually, these lines can lead the viewer’s eyes wherever you want them, depending on what you want to achieve.
Work the golden hours. As in any outdoor shooting, golden hours provide best lighting conditions. One hour after the sunrise, or one hour before the sunset, will provide soft light and bring out new colors and shades. The angle of the light will create shadows to enhance depth, patterns and textures.
Changing perspective can be a game changer as well. You will be surprised how small changes in perspective can make a huge impact on the image. Lay on the ground, walk around your location, to find the best angle.
A Few Tips and Tricks
Three-dimensional images can lose some of its appeal, when transferred to two-dimensional images. Besides composition and settings, there are some simple tricks to make your photos stand out from the crowd. When searching for your shooting site look for movements and textures. Creeks, rivers, waterfalls are examples of movement. As for the texture, you can look for grass, rippling water, rock formations, and so on. These dynamic elements will make sure that your image is not dull and boring.
“The lake and the mountains have become my landscape, my real world.” – Georges Simenon
Let the weather be your accomplice. Weather can change your image dramatically. While most of the people believe that a clear sunny day is perfect for landscape photos, there are many more possibilities. Fog, wind, storms, sun shining through the clouds, menacing clouds can provide an opportunity for some unique shots.
This leads us to another tip: watch the sky. We usually focus on the landscape, but it has to work together with the sky. Sometimes the sky can be more important and more dramatic than the landscape.
And for the end one surprising tip: add people. While we imagine landscape photos as people-free, sometimes the addition of people can enhance the impression. Of course, you shouldn’t do it too often, and people should never be the main subject of your image. But the appearance of people at the bottom of the giant cliff or waterfall can help viewers to grasp the grandeur and scale of the scene.
Landscape photography requires practice, just like any other niche of photography, as a matter of fact. In the beginning, there are many things to consider, and you will make mistakes for sure. However, with time all these rules will come naturally, and you will be able to focus on creativity. So, grab your camera and get out there to find a new story.