Via Adorama : What makes landscape images so beautiful? Believe it or not, it’s more than those breathtaking sunsets or vibrantly colored trees — it’s knowing how to make the best use of your camera. In this article, you’ll learn why smartphone and compact digital cameras often don’t do justice to the beauty of the outdoors and what you can do to produce the same stunning landscape photos that you normally see online or in galleries.
Landscape Photography Tips for Beginners
As with every other photography niche, capturing great landscape photos involves putting a lot of thought into your shot before you actually click the shutter. Here are the steps that you will need to take in order to improve your landscape photography.
Use a good camera
The ideal cameras you can use for shooting landscapes — and lots of it — are DSLR and mirrorless cameras. While today’s most developed smartphone cameras are able to produce pretty nice landscape shots, they have yet to catch up to the quality of professional cameras.
What makes DSLRs and mirrorless cameras good for landscape photography, aside from their larger and more improved sensors that produce higher-quality images, is that they have more settings that allow you to fully customize the exposure of your photos (more on this later).
Fortunately, there are a lot of affordable entry-level cameras on the market, if you don’t have one yet. But for best results, go for a full-frame camera with a 35mm sensor, so you get the widest possible views with your lenses.
Equip yourself with a good lens
Pair your camera with a compatible lens that is optimized for shooting landscapes. You’ll need a wide angle lens, which offers a wider perspective and therefore captures more of the scene. Wide angle lenses have smaller focal length numbers (35mm and below), but avid landscape shooters typically go shorter than 24mm (ultra-wide angle lens).
Using lenses shorter than 24mm will give you even wider and sometimes distorted views that some photographers don’t like, so it’s best to check out how a particular lens works for you and your camera. You can also choose from our list of the best lenses for landscape photography.
Invest in a good tripod
Many landscape photographers shoot handheld thinking that their images look sharp enough, only to be disappointed once the smaller details are magnified. Therefore, one of the most important pieces of equipment that you’ll need for landscape photography is a tripod. They help minimize camera shake so you don’t end up with blurry shots, particularly when using slower shutter speeds.
But don’t just buy any cheap tripod. When it comes to this type of photography gear, you’ll want to get the best tripod for your needs—it should be strong and stable enough to support your camera even in windy conditions yet lightweight so it’s not going to be a burden when traveling.
Another thing you’ll need to remember is that you won’t always get to prop it up on flat surfaces when you’re shooting outdoors. You’ll find that sometimes, you’ll have to set it up on rocks or soft grass, so look for a tripod with spiked feet and rubber overshoes.
Learn about the basics of manual exposure
Here comes one of the most important tips that you will ever learn for landscape photography—and photography in general. With your DSLR or mirrorless camera on Manual Mode, familiarize yourself with the exposure triangle: shutter, aperture, and ISO. Each is measured by a numerical value and affects the amount of light that enters the lens.
Here are the basic descriptions for each:
- Shutter Speed – Determines how fast or slow the shutter closes to end the image capture after clicking the shutter button.
- Aperture – The theoretical value expressed as an f-number or “stops” to determine the size of the lens iris opening, regulating the amount of light that enters the lens and affecting the depth of field.
- ISO Level – Measures the camera’s sensitivity to available light.
Your camera allows you to dial each of these in and the right combination will help you get the right exposure for an image. So whether you’re shooting snapshots during the day or hoping to get spectacular night shots of the city, you will finally be able to get the right settings once you understand how these three work and affect each other.
Find good lighting
Thanks to your manual camera, you have more freedom to shoot under different lighting conditions. Nonetheless, the sun will be your main light source, so you’ll need to schedule your shoot when the light is not too harsh as subtle, diffused lighting helps reveal the true tones of colors and make your photos look more natural.
Landscape shooters typically head out during the golden hours (right after sunrise and before sunset) to get beautiful mixes of blue and orange in the sky. We suggest you take the time to understand the characteristics of the lighting that you will get when shooting during different times of day so you can schedule your shoot accordingly.
Play with filters
There are two kinds of filters that landscape photographers typically use to improve their images. One is the polarizing filter, which manages reflections, suppresses glare, and darkens skies to a deep blue to make the clouds pop. The other is the neutral density filter, which filters out a certain amount of light from entering the lens to allow the use of slower shutter speeds, wider apertures, and/or higher ISO levels without overexposing the image.
Polarizing filters instantly improve the colors and overall appearance of your landscape photographs while the ND filter may need some getting used to in order to make the best use of it for common landscape photography techniques. If you’re on a budget, we suggest getting the circular polarizer first and then leveling up with an ND filter to enjoy motion blur effects and capture those velvety smooth streams.
Use a shutter release
An accessory that many beginner landscape shooters may not always remember to get but we (and many professional photographers) would recommend that you include in your camera bag is a shutter release, which can be very handy when you can’t use a fast shutter speed. This small remote or cabled control device connects to your camera so you don’t have to touch your camera and risk blurring your images when you click the shutter during long exposures.
Create a meaningful composition
The best professional landscape photography tip that you’ll ever get is to pay attention to your image composition. Thankfully, there are a few compositional techniques and rules that you can follow (and occasionally break) to ensure that you get an image that will pique the interest of your viewers and convey your desired message.
Some of the most common techniques include simplification, figuring out the right image orientation for your scene, the observance of the Rule of Thirds, the use of leading lines, and incorporating balance in your images. Once you get used to them, your photos will be noticeably better and more captivating.
Make sure your focus is on point
Part of composing your shot is ensuring accurate focus on your main subject. In most cases, this means making your subject tack sharp and leaving the rest of your frame sufficiently blurred out so your subject is highlighted. This is done by keeping your lens diaphragm wide open, preferably with an aperture of f/2.8 or wider to have a shallower depth of field. Landscape shooters usually focus on either the foreground or the background, instead of a smaller portion of the frame like with other photography genres.
Set your focus point—or several focus points—by selecting them within your viewfinder or by using the manual focus ring on your lens.
Shoot in RAW
For even better results, shoot in RAW image format than in the usual JPEG. RAW photos preserve all image information and help you capture higher quality images (like digital film) while JPEG compresses the files, resulting in less image data. You’ll want to have RAW files that are easier to edit for color enhancements, white balance corrections, and other necessary digital adjustments until you get your desired results.
If you tend to shoot the same spots and sceneries as everyone else, then you’re likely to have the same photo as everyone else. So how do you set your photos apart? Aside from shooting with proper exposure and ensuring that it’s sharp and blurred in all the right places, the one thing that will make your photo stand out is your creativity. Instead of just capturing the scene in front of you, think of ways to tell a story or find a way to provide a different visual experience. Here are some tips to help you create more compelling (and unique) landscape photos:
- Incorporate stunning water reflections
- Play around with “negative space”
- Add a human element
- Capture panoramic photos
- Shoot in less-than-ideal weather conditions
- Try sub-framing your scenes
- Experiment with infrared filters
Post-process your images
Image post-processing programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are typically used for professional-level photo editing. You can use them to import your RAW images and make all sorts of edits to your photos. If you aren’t adept with photo editing, there are tons of online tutorials for photo editing and manipulation. We also have an article to help you learn some basic photo editing steps that all beginners should know.
Explore and improve
Every photography style can be learned with the right tools and educational resources. With these tips, you will be able to practice landscape photography and earn more experience.
But don’t stop there—challenge yourself to mix landscape photography with other styles or use some of these tips to try your hand in other niches. As with every art form, photography is a continuous learning experience that will give you a new pair of eyes to see and appreciate the world in a whole different way.