Landscape PhotographyA Beginner's Introduction
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 with our landscape photography guide.
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 number 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.
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.
Tip – 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.
Tip – 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!
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
These are a way of reducing the 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.
Graduated ND Filters
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 from 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.
Polarisers (CPL Filters)
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…
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?
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. 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.
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.
When the conditions are right though, the sky should be an uninterrupted blanket of rich blue tones.
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 are 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…
Point 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.
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.
Setting Up Your Camera
The biggest question we generally get asked is ‘what camera 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 camera settings you need.
Keep Your Horizon Straight
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
Best Aperture & F/Stop for Landscape Photography
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 yardstick 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.
Best Shutter Speed for Landscape Photography
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 the light, your camera may push your shutter speed slower than recommended for hand-held shots (1/60th 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 1/250th or faster will be suitable.
Allow for wind movement in small plants, tree branches or reeds around water. Shutter speeds slower than 1/250th may pick up little blurs of motion when you really zoom in.
Best ISO Setting for Landscape Photography
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.
Best Exposure & Focus Modes
Matrix, wide, grid, spot, centre-weighted – what do they 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 from 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 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.
If you move or let go, the 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.
When choosing a focus zone consider where and how much of the frame you want the camera to focus on.
Similar to exposure metering, ‘wide’ means the whole frame (good for landscapes), the ‘centre’ is a region (good for large subjects) and the ‘spot’ (best used for small objects or a person in landscape photography).
Choosing the Best White Balance Mode
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 the white balance if you enjoy post-production editing, but otherwise, we’d recommend either cloudy or sunny settings depending upon the weather.
Composition in Landscape Photography
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.
The Rule of Thirds
There are several traditional compositional rules in photography that are worth adhering to, as well as breaking. But when it comes to 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.
Power Points on the Rule of Thirds
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.
Leading Lines in Landscapes
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, mountainsides, 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.
Landscape Photography Warning
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.
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 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!
Add a Graduated Filter
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.
Remove 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.
Watch Your 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 the 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. In Photoshop and Lightroom as you use the crop tools a fluid grid will appear to help you follow along.
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.
Whatever’s on your mind, let us know. Drop us a message. If you want a little bit of feedback on your landscapes, get them uploaded to the iPhotography gallery today so our teaching team and 100,000+ worldwide students can all wade in with their thoughts.
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The other challenge when shooting through glass is the tinting. Unfortunately, architects and designers didn’t think about us photographers when creating these skyscrapers.
Their windows are invariably tinted in some way to help with heating.
This means that some of your photos may have a green/grey tint to them.
It’s not the biggest issue as you can rebalance this tint in editing with the ‘tint’ slider for example.