Many consider landscape photography the genre with the lowest entry barrier. And to some extent, that is true. Anyone can shoot landscapes and it’s actually difficult to make an outstanding view look bad on camera. This is why so many beginners choose to focus on this genre at first and why nearly every photography website out there has a section dedicated to landscape photography. But the truth is, just because it’s accessible, it doesn’t mean that taking stunning landscape pictures is easy.
Anybody with a camera can take a picture of a landscape, but it takes a good photographer to capture its essence and make jaws drop. While there might be no rules for good photographs, there are many little things you can do in order to improve the outcome of your photo sessions. These 25 landscape photography tips will help you capture the world around you from a whole new perspective.
01. Plan ahead
If you’re shooting a location you’ve never visited before, dedicate some time to research. Looking at the photos other photographers have taken will help you get an idea of the potential of the place. This will allow you to select which gear to bring along. There are numerous photography apps that you can use to track the sun position through the day and outline your compositions in advance, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris.
02. Go at the right time
The photography golden hour is widely considered the best time to shoot landscape pictures. It refers to the period right before sunset and after sunrise. Because of the position of the sun, light takes on a warm tone and shadows are less harsh. But don’t let its name trick you, this perfect light lasts only a few minutes.
03. Change your perspective
We’re used to seeing the world from a similar point of view, which only varies a few centimeters up or down depending on how tall you are. Because of this, something as simple as crouching down or pointing your camera up will result in a much more powerful image. Once you’re in the field, try to shoot from a few different spots. Doing so will allow you to explore new compositions and find details you might have missed otherwise.
04. Switch lenses
It’s likely that the first type of lens that comes to mind when you think about landscape photography is a wide-angle lens. Seems logical, right? The wider the angle, the more of those breathtaking locations you’ll be able to capture. However, sometimes these landscapes are even more powerful when you focus on small details.
Using a telephoto lens will force you to analyze the scene and find the little things that make it unique. Getting closer to subjects that feel far away will challenge the way you experience each location, and also have a great impact on your composition skills. If you choose a prime lens, you’ll have to face the added challenge of zooming with your feet, rather than relying on technology.
05. Remember the rule of thirds
In landscape photography, one of the most popular photography composition rules is used to balance land and sky. The horizon is placed at the top or bottom dividing line, depending on which element is more interesting. For example, if you’re capturing a stunning sunset sky, you’ll want the horizon to sit on the lower line. If the main subject is on the land, you should use the higher division instead.
06. Lead the viewer’s sight
The human brain is wired to detect and follow paths within static images. You can use this to your advantage by consciously using any lines in a scene to guide the viewer to the composition subject. If you’re working with diverse points of interest, you can place them strategically to create a leading line of their own. This practice will make your images much more dynamic and interesting.
07. Focus on a subject
Every image needs an interesting subject, and landscape photos are no exception. Creating a clear focus point allows you to draw visitors’ attention to a specific point. In return, this gives you more control over how the scene is perceived. This focus can be achieved in many ways, such as color, contrast, isolation and center placement.
08. Include foreground elements
One of the biggest challenges of shooting beautiful landscape photos is to capture the essence of a 3D scene in only two dimensions. One of the best ways to add depth to your images is creating different layers. Including foreground elements in your frame will allow viewers to get a feel for the distance between these closer objects and the ones placed further away.
09. Capture movement
Landscapes hardly ever, if at all, offer a static scene. The way you capture this movement is completely up to you. Whatever you choose to do, consider beforehand how it will affect the atmosphere of the image. For example, slow shutter speeds can strengthen the force of the movement by showing all its trajectory. However, letting the shutter open for too long will result in a smoothness that serves the complete opposite purpose.
10. Brave the “bad weather”
You should most definitely stay home if there is a hurricane about to hit your town, but don’t let a bit of rain stop you from getting out there for a few shots. Landscape photographers usually see what the common human calls “bad weather” as an incredible chance to capture dramatic skies and misty mountains. In fact, these moody landscapes are expected to be one of the biggest photography trends in 2019.
11. Simplify your compositions
There’s only so much information that can be contained in a single image. Trying to fit too many elements in your frame will only confuse the viewer. Remember: less is more. Simplicity is easier to understand, which inherently makes these simple images more attractive. There are many ways to achieve this, such as focusing on a single detail, filling the frame with one main visual, or using natural elements to alienate the main subject.
12. Get your DOF right
It’s not a coincidence that Group f.64 chose to name themselves after one of the smaller apertures available on large format cameras. Ideally, you want your depth of field to be as deep as possible. Contrary to how it may seem, closing your camera’s diaphragm as much as possible won’t actually achieve this result. In fact, the sharpest point of a lens usually sits a couple of steps lower than its smaller opening.
Make sure to know your equipment’s capabilities before you get out there for your photo shoot. If you feel ready to take your technique one step further, work on mastering the use of hyperfocal distance. This focusing point will allow you to maximize the number of elements within focus.
Bonus tip: If you’re not familiar with the work of Group f.64, clear up your schedule for the rest of the day and get ready to be inspired. Your photos will thank you for it.
13. Add people to the scene
Landscape photography is generally understood as a genre in which people are mere spectators to the majesticness of Earth. By capturing these natural scenes without any humans in them, photographers aim to transmit a feeling of wilderness and purity – even if there were actually another hundred people taking the same shot right next to them. However, when composed purposefully, adding people to your landscape photos can significantly increase these feelings.
Human figures make for a perfect scale referent. Seeing a person in a landscape enables viewers to immediately imagine the immensity of the surroundings. This sense of perspective is especially valuable when shooting vast lands or large elements, such as mountains, lakes, deserts, and waterfalls.
14. Prepare for the wait
Sometimes you arrive to places just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter. But most of the time, you don’t. One of the main things you need to remember about this genre is that you won’t be able to control nearly any of the factors involved. The ideal conditions you envision for your composition might take hours, or even days, to become a reality. Many photographers have spent years chasing their dream shot, so take your time.
15. Start using filters
The number of different filters available is nearly infinite. They are one of the most popular camera accessories, yet there’s a tendency to avoid their use early on – even more so nowadays, as photo editing software now allows users to digitally create many of the results in post processing. However, there are two filters whose main effect cannot be manipulated:
Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light that enters the camera. This allows photographers to shoot long exposures without overexposing the image.
Polarizing filters refines the visible spectrum of light to eliminate determinate frequences. As a result, they remove glares and increase contrast and color vibration.
16. Shoot in RAW
RAW is the digital version of film rolls in analogue photography – an untouched version of the image captured by the camera. Shooting in RAW, rather than in JPEG, gives you much more room for post processing without quality loss. RAW files register much more information about the scene, meaning you’ll be able to get more detail on areas that might not have otherwise been properly exposed.
17. Pay attention to the histogram
Unless you want to depend on trial and error, understanding how the photography histogram works is an absolute must. This tool offers a graphic representation of the tonal values of the image. The histogram analyzes the luminosity of each pixel and places them in a graph categorizing them from absolute black to absolute white. Knowing how to read a histogram will allow you to set your exposure triangle values properly and avoid loss of information on your captures.
18. Use natural reflections
… And not just to create a perfectly symmetrical composition. Reflections are a fantastic way to add dynamism and draw the viewer’s attention towards a specific point. While they are commonly used to fully mirror the image, smaller reflective bodies, such as lakes, can create reflections within a more complex composition. In these cases, reflections can be used to simplify the image or offer more context.
19. Aim for the stars
If you fail, at least you’ll make some great memories. Few experiences can be as incredible as astrophotography. Capturing the starry sky offers you a whole new view of the universe, one that is hard to forget. From a landscape photography point of view, it’s hard to imagine anything as powerful as the milky way standing over outstanding scenery. As a photographer, it also poses a great technical challenge that will impact all aspects of your work.
20. Think monochrome
We see the world in full color, and therefore most people assume landscape photography is meant to be in color. The truth is, black and white offers a whole different look of the world surrounding us. When captured in monochrome, we can fully take in the contrasts and textures of the scenery. It’s no longer about the colors of the leaves, but about the roughness of the bark. As a result, the photographer’s approach also shifts. Shooting black and white landscape photos will draw your focus towards small details and compositions you might not have thought of before.
21. Be fast
Landscape photography is commonly perceived as one of the calmest genres of photography. Find a nice spot, put together an interesting composition, and get your photo. Unlike a lion or a stranger on the street, that forest won’t be going anywhere any time soon. The thing is, while the forest will still be there in five, ten, or fifty minutes, the perfect light will be gone in just a few seconds. Make sure to always have your camera ready to capture that perfect image you’re looking for.
22. Adapt to change
Not to be dramatic, but as Murphy said: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” When shooting landscape photography, you’ll need to be prepared to face a lot of potential mishaps. A seemingly sunny day can turn into a pouring storm in a matter of minutes. That sunset you hiked five hours for could be hidden by clouds. A bird might poop on you as you finally get that wave crashing on the shore. Whatever happens, you’ll need to be ready to adapt and make the most out of the situation. Making a Plan B (and C, and D) will help you move on faster and not miss any shooting opportunities.
23. Use a tripod
Even when you’re not capturing long exposures. Using a tripod offers you a stable point from which you can carefully plan a composition or simply avoid unwanted movements. This piece of gear is also a must if you plan on using tele lenses, as its weight make it nearly impossible to escape camera shaking. Shooting diverse images to create a panorama also requires a tripod. Otherwise, it is highly likely that the final result will suffer from correlation issues.
24. Try new things
Experimenting is the most fun part of photography. Push yourself to try new techniques and approaches to landscape photography. Don’t be scared of mistakes, as they are always the best way to learn. Look for new subjects and search for different ways to convey emotions. Break the rules and make your own. Don’t let other photographers tell you what to do, but always listen to what they have to say. Get out there, and have fun.
25. Go back
Many people feel as if locations are only worth seeing once. There’s so much world to see, why would you waste your time on something you already captured? If that has ever crossed your mind, it probably means you travel quite a lot and have a fair share of landscape photography adventures on your portfolio. At the same time, each of these experiences turns you into a different person, a different photographer.
You shouldn’t be against the idea of going back to somewhere, just because you have already been. Not only do new experiences shape who you are, they also do wonders for your photography skills. Revisiting a location is the best way to see how much you have changed, and the way in which your work is evolving as you grow.
Last updated May 20, 2019.
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