A Beginner’s Introduction
Have you ever wanted to capture breathtaking landscapes like a pro?
Struggling to understand what kit you’ll need to get started?
Feeling overwhelmed with all the great landscapes you see online?
Whether you’re a beginner in need of advice, or an experienced hand looking for a refresher then, this easy-to-follow guide for landscape photography will be your bible to the outdoor world.
In the first place, landscapes are accessible, inspiring, energising and constantly changing – every visit presents a new opportunity.
This is how to take advantage of those moments…
Packing Your Camera Bag
Packing your camera bag can be the be-all and end-all of your photography outing, and here’s why…
Firsty, getting your preparation wrong will limit your chances of the perfect shot in landscape photography.
Secondly, your kit bag needs to be rugged and waterproof. Even if you only intend to go outside on days when it’s blistering sunshine, you’ll need to be wise and get something sturdy.
Look out for these features:
- Padded shoulder straps
- Cross body straps or hip belt
- Rubber base
- Side pockets
- Water bottle holder
- Shoulder strap loops
- Reinforced seams
- Ripstop nylon material
Thirdly, when choosing a bag don’t get lost in the amount of compartments or how many pockets it’s got. Instead choose it based on its comfort, size (relative to you) and budget. It’s unlikely in these early days of being a landscape photographer that you’ve got tonnes of equipment to fill it with.
Let’s begin filling the bag up…
Rather than stressing that you don’t have a good enough camera and you need more megapixels, let us tell you this one universal truth about photographers – we always want something we don’t have, especially when we don’t need it. We are the worst type of coveters.
Simply work with the camera that you’ve got, and we’ll show you that using it correctly makes up for any missing megapixels. Invest in a strong neck and sling strap. You’ll need your hands free if hiking, therefore, don’t rely solely on hand/wrist straps.
Just make sure you’ve cleaned your sensor before venturing out and leave your battery out of the compartment until you get to your location. Having the battery in the camera can mean you accidentally knock the camera on when packing and wind up with a dead battery just as the shooting begins.
Subsequently, the same goes for lenses as it does for cameras; don’t, in these early days, splash out on a top-level landscape lens. The camera settings, which we’ll come to shortly, are more vital to get right than a fancy lens. In truth, all you need to get yourself started is a lens with a short focal length for wide landscapes. Around 18-25mm would be wide enough.
Therefore most 18-55mm kit lens that comes with many digital cameras will be good enough for us! Clean the lens, front and back, with a micro-fibre, lint-free cloth to remove any smudges off the glass. Wipe in a circular motion to avoid leaving any lines.
A tripod is ESSENTIAL for landscape photography. The biggest crime beginners commit is not getting their horizons straight, which we’ll tackle later on.
A ball headed tripod will give you the most flexibility in terms of angles, very useful for uneven surfaces.
Carbon fibre tripods will be the lightest material and it’s worth screwing the baseplate in your camera beforehand, so all you need to do is clip it on when you’re out.
Please take more than one! Make sure they are fully charged and stored separately from your camera when you head out. In the same vein, when you’ve finished shooting remove the battery from the camera.
Batteries can lose up to 50% of their native power in extremely cold conditions. So if you’re shooting in the depths of winter, taking two batteries will feel more like one.
In extreme cases, leaving the battery in your camera for long periods of time can cause the battery to corrode, leak and ruin your camera body. Extreme, we know, but it can happen!
Again, please take more than one. Be sure not to pile all your shots on to one monster 128gb memory card. If it fails, then there’s no going back, unless you’re very lucky with recovery software.
Instead, invest in a few small sized cards (16/32gb) and swap them out after an hour or two of shooting. That way, if a card corrupts, you’ll still have something to show for your day. Get yourself a class 10 card to ensure the write and reading times are as fast as possible.
Firstly, it’s not an essential part of landscape photography for beginners, but there is no harm in picking up a couple of lens filters to help balance exposures and giving you richer contrasts in camera. There are several different filter types. Let’s take you through the 5 most common ones;
Neutral Density filters are a way of reducing light entering the lens when you don’t want to change your aperture, or you’ve maxed out (i.e. it’s as small as it can go). They are graded in stops of light. You’ll see 1 stop through to 10 stops. Each stop represents a 50% reduction in light. So a 2 stop ND increases a 1-second exposure time to 4 seconds – as each stop doubles the necessary exposure time.
It’s more likely you’ll use it for a long exposure – which we’ll cover later.
Grad filters are the same as normal ND filters, but the filtration is graduated so you can just filter the sky and not the rest of the shot.
Useful for stopping your bright highlights being blown out.
Used to warm up colours in your landscape, a useful little addition to your kit bag.
But not something you couldn’t do through white balance changes or in editing if you prefer.
You can use circular polariser filters to stop reflections of the sky in shallow water, making it appear transparent.
Really helpful for landscape photographers who shoot a lot of coastal scenes.
They also reduce specular highlights (glare/reflections) from wet surfaces, glass and snow.
A bit of a specialist filter really, not an everyday choice. Infrared filters work by cutting out all visible light and allow only infrared wavelengths.
Transforming skies from blue to black and green grass to white.
Due to their density they require long exposure times and a lot of patience.
You can pick up these filters in either rectangular or circular format. The circular ones will only fit certain thread sizes of lens but are less susceptible to light leaks. Whereas the rectangular filters will cover most lenses when used with a filter holder.
We’ve talked through all the things we need, it’s down to you to pack them now…
GAME: Drag the Kit into the Bag
What Time To Go?
Your landscape photography requires a bit of planning in terms of when to go. Weather will have a massive impact on your location, access and light conditions. But when is the right time to go? Well let’s find out.
To begin with, this may be a term you have heard in relation to landscape photography before, but if it still leaves you in the dark then let us explain.
The golden hour is generally accepted as the hour after sunrise and before sunset.
Depending on location and weather, this golden ‘hour’ may not be a 60-minute window, nor may it be a daily occurrence.
In fact, you may go a long time without the right quality of light that’s normally associated with this time of day. Despite that, it’s still important to take your chances when the light is right.
When the conditions are right, the golden hour produces long wavelengths of red, orange and yellow light.
They cast golden warm tones across a landscape and look amazing as they peak through trees, over mountains or across an open plain.
“The number of stories I’ve heard from photographers turning up during the golden hour and missing their shot is countless. Remember to turn up before this time, so you’re ready for the light as it may not last for 60 minutes.” – Rebecca (iPhotography Head Tutor)
When the sun is considerably below the horizon, indirect sunlight takes on a blue tone, which differs from the visible light we see during a sunny day. It’s referred to, by photographers, as the blue hour.
The blue hour tends to occur just before sunrise and after sunset, opposite to the golden hour. Its lifespan is normally closer to 30 minutes, but blue hour we guess just reads better.
Again, it’s still affected by all other weather factors just like the golden hour so check the forecast ahead of time. When the conditions are right though, the sky should be an uninterrupted blanket of rich blue tones.
It’ll be a seamless backdrop to your landscape photography with a few stars twinkling through.
“Previously I’ve used an app called ‘The Photographer’s Ephemeris’ perfect for landscape photographers looking to predict the days light conditions and directions. You’ll be able to pinpoint the perfect spot at your location ahead of time, knowing where the best light will be.” – Stephen (iPhotography Head Tutor)
Getting Yourself Ready
Furthering our preparations, you need to also organise yourself before venturing out. Yes, your kit bag is ready, and you’ve checked the weather but are you ready?
Fingerless gloves are a top tip to be able to change those settings on touch screen cameras.
Make sure when you go outside to take landscape photos you wear clothes…no, that’s probably not what we meant…
…ah, yes, actually what we meant was dress appropriately.
If your location involves a bit of a hike, then don your best walking boots (don’t break in a new pair with a 10-mile hike).
Wrap yourself up warm with multiple thin layers – big bulky jumpers and coats can limit your movement and flexibility. We all know how photographers love to get into science-defying stances when we’re taking pictures!
If you’ve got the budget, make yourself two wardrobes for warm and cooler weather. Softshell jackets and lightweight trousers for summer and waterproof outers and thin base layers underneath for the colder months.
Opt for bright colours that would stand out on a landscape – yellows, oranges, reds – you won’t believe the amount of times a luminous jacket has saved a stranded adventurer!
Maps / GPS
You’ll probably have your phone on you 24/7 if you’re like most of the modern world, but use it wisely in knowing that you may be going to somewhere with limited signal.
Some map apps in particular, allow you to download sections to use offline, incase you get lost in the great wilderness.
Oh, and with that said, tell someone where you’re going especially if you’re trekking out alone.
If you want to push the budget up, invest in a GPS finder and use it to coordinate your trek to your final location.
There’s no need to load yourself up with a camping stove if you’re heading out for just one day of landscape photography.
Professional hikers always say it’s better to take small bites often than gorge on a full snack in one go.
Above all, keep the weight down and pack some energy bars and water. You’ll sweat so much (gross, but true) you need to restore the electrolytes that you lose with bananas or protein shakes.
It can make you feel lethargic and less willing to complete a trail.
GAME: Healthy Snack Wordsearch
Banana / Watermelon / Avocado / Water
Choosing Your Shot
Eventually we are out in the great outdoors! How do we pick the right spot for our landscape photography? What makes a good location or the right angle? When there’s too many options how do we know which is the right one? Well it all starts in your heart…
Breathe in that fresh air and take a moment to appreciate where you are. Any good photograph should make you feel something, and as a photographer you need to translate that feeling through your camera.
It all starts by taking stock of these feelings.
Points of Interest (POI)
Pinpointing what is causing those feelings is important to guide you to a POI. The POI is the main subject of your landscape photograph. Have a look at these examples…
GAME: Click Where you think the POI is on each photo
POIs could be your background or even your foreground in your landscape photography. It’s important not to overlook what is right in front of you, or at your feet. Either way, you need to make the POI clear when you compose the shot, don’t cram in everything else around it just because you can. Choose a subject and stick to it.
It’s typical that you choose your spot but find a giant eyesore that you can’t crop out or work around. So, what do you do?
Pick another spot possibly, without compromising on your shot. Moving a couple of feet left or right may remove the offending article from your eyes.
Alternatively, if you’re an ace on Photoshop then assess whether you can edit that distracting element away in post-production.
But if neither of those are options then get creative with your camera and opt to use a depth of field that helps blur out that road sign or ugly bin.
Remember that depth of field is controlled by distance as well as f-stop so you may need to get closer to your distractions to make them disappear.
Spatial awareness is something lacking in an overly focused photographer. As soon as you get your eye to the viewfinder the world around you becomes white noise.
Before you get lost in the art, first make sure the immediate area around you is free from distracting elements. Are there any potential pitfalls such as rocks, water or barbed wire?
The last thing you need is an injury to be the backstory of your breathtaking landscape photography. Try to move away from impending hazards or shuffle them if you can (without disturbing nature where possible). #savethebees
GAME: Click on the 2 Hazards in the Photo Below
Setting Up Your Camera
We know what you’re thinking, I’m over 2,000 words in and we’ve not even turned on the camera! Any good landscape photographer will tell you good things come to those who wait – and your time has arrived.
The biggest question we generally get asked is ‘what settings do I need for landscape photography?’. This is the most impossible question to answer.
We’d have more success giving you next week’s lottery numbers! Honestly, it is a completely individual experience.
This next section will teach you how to react to the conditions with your camera, so you can learn, and you can decide on the settings you need.
This will make you a much better photographer and that’s what iPhotography believes in. You.
Levelling the Horizon
We made the point earlier that the biggest crime beginners make in landscape photography is messing up the horizon, so let’s get it right.
This is where your tripod or camera’s built-in leveller come in handy. Some tripods have a little spirit level beneath the base plate to show you when the horizon is level. It’s ridiculously easy to use, which makes you wonder how some photographers still end up with wonky landscapes.
In truth, the problem arises from choosing what is the horizon.
When we say ‘horizon’ most of us think of the sea with the sun setting and that line where they meet is the horizon. But what if we’re not shooting that scene and there’s no water and no sun? Instead, we must look for other horizontal lines crossing our frame.
The horizon may not always be obvious in your landscape photography. You have to be creative with your composition to work in the horizon line. See these shots for example, we’ve marked where the horizon is.
It maybe the baseline of a mountain range
An invisible line drawn across the vanishing point
Where the land meets the sky
Where the foreground and background meet
Let’s make one thing clear, there is no magical aperture setting that you need to use on every landscape. In summary, all you need is the understanding that landscape photographs should be rich in detail and texture.
Apertures such as F/16 and higher are typically associated with landscape photography, but it may not always be the case for you. You may even want to lose detail for a certain effect, so this rule isn’t exclusive.
Yet if you are just starting out and want a yard stick to shoot with then set your aperture to F/11 or smaller.
These aperture sizes will reduce the amount of light entering your lens, but the light waves are more compacted and focussed resulting in a sharper image. And an increase in sharpness is followed along by greater detail and texture.
It’s possible to set your camera to A/Av mode (aperture priority) so you can keep your aperture small and let the camera sort out your shutter rate.
The only problem is that, depending upon light, your camera may push your shutter speed slower than recommended for hand-held shots (1/60 or slower), hence why we keep banging on about a tripod. It will keep your shot stable when the shutter runs to slower speeds.
But if the light is good and you want to shoot handheld, providing there are no rapidly moving parts of your landscape photography, then a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster will be suitable.
Allow for wind movement in small plants, tree branches or reeds around water. Shutter speeds slower than 1/250 may pick up little blurs of motion when you really zoom in.
ISO governs your sensor’s sensitivity to light. The aperture dictates how much light enters the camera, but the ISO decides how much of the light is converted.
Low ISOs result in richer colour, stronger contrast and better overall clarity.
Depending upon what camera dial mode you are shooting in for your landscapes, apart from M (manual) then the camera will decide the ISO setting for you. Given the quality of modern digital sensors you can push your ISO rate up to 400 without much quality loss. Keep an eye on it though and don’t go above 800.
In summary, keep your ISO as low as possible 50-100 would be ideal, 200-400 isn’t a major problem that you couldn’t fix with a little bit of work in Lightroom.
Exposure & Focus Metering
Matrix, wide, grid, spot, centre weighted aaarrrgghhh!! What does it all mean in landscape photography? Getting your metering system correct is a stylistic choice based on your composition. There are two types of metering for a camera, one for the exposure, another for the focusing. Whichever you choose, make sure you are exposing for the brightest part of your shot.
We could go through all the modes and describe the finer points of each, but who’s got time for that right now? You need landscape photography tips and quick – so here goes…
Evaluative Metering – gives an average overall exposure based on all visible light. Useful for low contrast scenes where you don’t want overly dark shadows and highlights. A good starting point for new landscape photographers as it will stop your skies becoming overexposed.
Centre-Weighted Metering – more specific to a region of your frame. The exposure will be based upon light readings from a set area. Better for shooting larger subjects like a mountain range.
Spot Metering – Unless you’re shooting a flower in the foreground and want the landscape totally out of focus for example, stay away from spot metering.
Let’s do the same cut-throat analysis on focusing modes…
AF/One Shot/Single-Servo – Half-pressing the shutter or holding the back focus button (if your camera has one) in AF-one shot mode will focus the camera on the scene, but if you move or let go, focus is lost and you’ll need to reset for each shot. Useful if you’re confident of your composition and don’t want to overshoot.
AF-C/AI Servo/Continuous-Servo – Continuous focusing modes will track any changes in camera position and re-adjusts the focus point with tiny movements. If you’re shooting handheld be aware of any movements you make as they could change the focus point at the last second. Best used by beginners to take one less stress away.
After choosing your focusing mode, you may become faced with focus zones i.e. where and how much of the frame do you want the camera to focus on? You’ll see wide, centre or spot.
Similar to exposure metering, wide means the whole frame (good for landscapes), centre is a region (good for large subjects) and spot (best used for small objects or a person in landscape photography).
Let’s face it, we all just stick it on auto hey! Modern digital cameras are so good at reading light levels and temperatures that auto is probably the best bet in many situations. You can tweak white balance if you enjoy post-production editing, but otherwise we’d recommend either cloudy or sunny settings depending upon the weather.
Don’t bother with customising a colour temperature to your landscape. By the time you’ve set it, chances are the light will have changed.
“If you use a particular white balance setting outside of auto you may find it trickier to revert back if you don’t like it afterwards. I’ve deleted many landscapes by being overconfident thinking I’ve got the shot perfect when looking on an LCD back-lit 3-inch screen. When I’ve got it home and seen it on a colour-balanced screen I’ve hated it.” – Stephen (iPhotography Tutor)
GAME: Put the Photos in order of Colour Temp
(from warmest to coolest)
It should go without saying but to get the best quality photo possible then set your camera to RAW file captures and not JPEGs if you have the option. If not choose FINE JPEGs over STANDARD. You can always save a JPEG version of the RAW later for space and upload purposes, but never the other way around.
Composing the Frame
You may have the light balanced and focus set but is the actual scene looking as amazing as possible? We’re going to take some time now to investigate how to maximise the landscape in front of you and see what camera tricks we can use to make it truly breathtaking.
Rule of Thirds
There are several traditional compositional rules in photography that are worth adhering to, as well as breaking.
But when it comes new photographers, it’s best to learn the basics before you go ripping up the rule book.
The rule of thirds was constructed off the back of landscape photography, so this rule is just for us.
Divide your screen into a grid of 9 rectangles, look at it as 3 horizontal rows of 3 boxes.
With a landscape compose it accordingly;
Sky in the upper third
Subject in the middle
Foreground in the lower third
Of course, this is easier said than done, not every landscape will fit perfectly for you, but if you at least aim to construct your frame like this you won’t go far wrong. Have a look at alternative ways that you can apply the rules of thirds to differing types of locations.
Use the Power Points
Continuing with the rule of thirds, where the lines intersect are our power points.
These are compositional markers on which you should position any subjects of interest.
For example, a person in your landscape should be framed to the left or right side with their head on the upper power points.
Constructing a narrative or super-objective in your composition can also be very powerful. Leading lines are designed to draw your audience into the shot and through it following a particular path.
For a landscape photographer, rivers, converging valleys, mountain sides, tree lines and roads are all great continuing lines to work with. Lines can be straight or curved.
If you’re looking for a symmetrical shot, then place your line in the middle of the shot or balanced lines on the edges leading to the middle.
Otherwise get your line to start in one corner of the frame and let it trail into the main subject or across the entire frame.
Look at Colours
Don’t overlook the colours in your frame either. Now, this may be a point to explore if you like to edit, as you may not be able to change the colour of your landscape so easily!
Nevertheless, keep your eye out for odd colours appearing in your landscape that you think will be an unwanted distraction. It may be a passing car, group of walkers, a discarded crisp packet (please take your rubbish with you folks!) #keepthecountrysidegreen
Just wait for all the distracting elements to disappear, otherwise crack out the patch tool in Photoshop and make sure everything looks as nature intended.
Long Exposure Landscape Tips
We mentioned a while back when you use A/Av (aperture priority) mode your shutter speed may go too slow for handheld shots. But there is an opportunity there to exploit for some more creative landscapes. We’ll now have a look at how you can create silky-smooth waterscapes.
If you’ve decided to use a ND filter and your shot is still looking underexposed, despite changing the aperture, then playing with a slow shutter speed is a fun combination.
To give you more control of the shutter rates, instead of using aperture priority, flick over to shutter priority mode (S/Tv) and turn your shutter rate down to 1/30 to begin with. Go slower if you’re feeling confident.
Subjects such as crashing waves, babbling brooks and powerful waterfalls can all be transformed into mirror-like surfaces. They will reflect light sources more clearly and turn a dramatic moment into something calmer and peaceful.
It will also have a similar effect on moody skies though you may have to drag the shutter speed out a little longer, somewhere around 30 seconds, depending upon the cloud movement. Fluffy nimbus clouds can be stretched to look placid and low key like the water below. Long exposures don’t have much effect otherwise on stationary objects.
Keep an eye out for dangling branches and wavy plants that could shuffle in the wind.
They may only be small but if you’re printing your photos out, you’ll notice unwanted motion blur.
Finally, you’ve taken your shots and it’s time to pack up and go home. Yet since we are opportunists at iPhotography we’d never recommend turning your camera off until you get back to your car, you never know what you may see on the way down.
Remove any batteries and memory cards before the drive home. If the weather has been particularly cold and frosty then heed this warning…
⚠️ DON’T TAKE YOUR CAMERA STRAIGHT OUT OF YOUR BAG WHEN YOU GET HOME ⚠️
Instead, leave the bag to warm back up to room temperature before opening. The reason for this is condensation. Rapidly changing temperatures to already cold equipment can cause microscopic sized water droplets to form on the camera body and if that gets into your electronics you’re finished!
Put your batteries back on charge as soon as possible. Get in this habit every time and you’ll never be scrabbling around last minute for power.
GAME: Find 5 pieces of Photo Equipment in the Word Search
You’re back home, cosy, warm and with the finest flat white coffee in hand sat in front of your computer.
What are you going to do with those lovely landscape photographs?
There are a million things you can edit on your photo, but they may not be relevant every time.
Instead here’s a list of basic ideas that you can apply to your landscape editing.
High Dynamic Range is really geared to get the best out of textures and details in landscape photography. A lot of popular software has automated HDR processes or clarity sliders to increase this effect.
It’s possible to shoot HDR in-camera by taking 3 shots of the same scene. One underexposed by 1 stop, one over by the same measure and one bang on.
Photoshop will take these three files and compile the best rendition. Whatever you do, don’t overdo it.
Lens Distortion Correction
The beauty of wide-angle lenses is the field of view they give.
Yet the wider they go the more barrel distortion that will happen on the edges, making your straight horizon look rounded at the sides. Lightroom, for example, can counter for that with its lens correction function.
Simply tell it which camera brand you were using, and it’ll do the maths from there to correct the distortion.
Until you use it, you wouldn’t have known how bad it was!
Playing with White Balance
Remember earlier we said just stick it in auto?
Well this is a chance to start on a level playing field and add a bit of warmth to your landscape, or even temper the golden sunlight by making the colours cooler.
Ultimately the final effect should look as your mind remembered it, so tweak it how you want.
Darkening Your Sky
Lightroom has a built-in function designed to help landscape photographers get control of their skylines. Apply a graduated filter across the top of your image to bring back detail from any overexposed clouds.
If you’ve totally blown out the highlights, don’t expect it to work miracles. If you learn to expose for the brightest part of your shot, then you shouldn’t end up with blown out highlights and it means you can recover details easier in editing.
Removing Chromatic Aberration
Sticking with a Lightroom function, chromatic aberration is the scourge of digital cameras.
The aberration appears along the edge of some objects when a lens struggles to focus all colours to the same point. Sometimes called ‘fringing’ or ‘purple fringing’ due to its colour. Either way, tick the option to remove any aberration if you’re keeping your picture in colour at least.
Increase Contrast & Saturation
This is just a standard rule to follow whenever you begin editing.
It doesn’t have to be a lot but adding a little contrast and hyping up the saturation levels 5-10% will make your image pop off the page a little more.
In Photoshop you can access the contrast panel using CTRL/CMD+M or IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>CURVES.
To get the saturation tool hit CTRL/CMD+U or IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>HUE & SATURATION.
Content-Aware Distracting Elements
Similarly, another tool in Photoshop will help you remove features that you couldn’t at your location. Content Aware uses AI to assess your selection and will replace it with decent accuracy.
Make your selection as precise as possible to help the AI out.
Don’t try to make it do all the work though and start removing mountains out of your shot. This should only be used when all other options failed.
Check the Composition as you Crop
Furthermore, if you crop your shot in editing, just make sure you’re still keeping true to your original composition.
Ideally you should be cropping in camera. But if you need a different ratio for a print or Instagram perhaps then try to keep your leading lines and rule of thirds in mind so you don’t compromise your intentions.
The Orton Effect
Like we said there a million things you could edit on your photo but giving you an entire list now will;
- Overwhelm you.
- Compel you to try them all out, when it’s unnecessary.
We just wanted to give you springboards for you to consider. If you do want to know more we have got a couple of editing modules in our Light Tricks course where you can discover about adding mist, fog, lightning and even the Orton Effect for those who want to get more advanced.
Landscape Photography Summary
In summary, landscape photography can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. But this guide should serve as the entry level bible on how to get started and enjoy snapping breathtaking vistas of the world around you.
Don’t always assume a landscape needs a mountain, green grass, lakes and trees. Think about urban landscapes too. Use all the methods and approaches we’ve outlined and apply them to shooting in your hometown or the big city and you won’t go far wrong.
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