If you think landscape photography is easy, then you'd be wrong. Hate to break it to you.
Did you ever once fall into the trap of thinking: “Tripod, camera, wide angle lens, remote shutter release and some filters…yep, done.” Okay, all set…let's take some pictures!?
I think most of us did. But since every photographer KNOWS that isn't the case, we'll use this landscape photography guide to explore this in some more detail.
Your Landscape Photography Guide: Three Key Elements
- Setup, and
You can remember those three, right?
But, there are many other factors that need to be considered like the right location, time of day, the weather, your gear, composition, compensating for exposures, and so on.
In the famous words of Ansel Adams, “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.”
As a landscape photographer, one needs to take into consideration various factors before they press the shutter button.
You'll also need: an understanding of light, knowledge about the settings in your camera, some research on locations, weather and creativity in mind, you can with practice and patience create some amazing landscapes that can keep the viewers hooked on to your image for a long time.
The Camera Setup
Shoot manual, but if you are fixed on to a particular aperture value, try shooting Aperture priority, so that the shutter speed is calculated for a given ISO. Also, try and keep ISO to a minimum, start off with an aperture of around f/16.
For any shutter speed below 1/250s, use a tripod with a remote trigger.
To get sharp images, correct focusing and narrow aperture are very important. Try best to manually focus on the correct area of the frame, so that you get both the background and foreground in focus. Use live view to zoom into the image to check if the focus is spot on. Make minute adjustments here.
As much as possible, have a camera that will let you shoot manual. This lets you make desired changes in aperture, iso and shutter speeds.
Most of the time, landscape photographs are shot at a narrow aperture and very low ISO, which means the shutter speed may be very slow at times while using the available light.
A tripod and a remote trigger are a must have in a landscape photographer’s bag. Using a tripod also helps you to compose some unusually creative frames.
It is best to shoot a landscape with a wide angle lens, preferably focal lengths between 16mm and 35mm can get you some decent shots with most of the landscape in front of you within the frame. Don't sweat it if you don't have a wide angle lens.
Try shooting narrow, by bringing focus to a particular region in the landscape or try a panoramic shot to get all that you desire in the frame.
For capturing the colors, minimizing harsh lights: Use a polarizing filter for deep blue skies and to reduce reflections if there are any water bodies within the landscape
To capture movements: With the help of an ND filter, you can get silky smooth water and cloud movements. You will be working with slower shutter speed here, so use a tripod
Use a graduated neutral density filter to capture the very bright skies against a normally lit foreground. These filters are dark for the top frame and are transparent for the bottom frame thus limiting the amount of light for the upper parts in landscape photographs, which is usually the sky.
My advice, use them only when there is a huge contrast between the land and the sky.
What to Look for When Composing Landscapes?
- When storm clouds are approaching look for the drama in the sky – contrast, patterns, extremes. Do not get put off by overcast days as these skies can also create a beautiful moody image with rich colors in the landscape avoiding high tonal ranges!
You just never know when the sun will break through these clouds to put on a magical show. So grab the chance when you get one!
- Place the elements in the frame so that they create a balance and are visually appealing. Make use of the rule of thirds, the golden spiral or golden rectangle rules when composing the frame, to keep viewers engaged.
- Look for S curves and leading lines to guide the viewer along the frame. This helps with some depth and scale for the image.
- Observe interesting textures and patterns especially when you have fields, rocks, sand dunes and other elements in the frame that can contribute to this. These combined with the right light conditions can contribute to some dramatic images.
- Add interesting foregrounds that will help create a balance with the background. That way the image will lead the viewer’s eye from the foreground, through the middle ground to the background.
Make sure that the foreground has relevance to the background, that is, it complements the background to create a visual impact.
Break the rules if you need to – just don't worry, for example, you do not always need to follow the rule of thirds while placing the horizon.
You may want to capture a reflection or some natural symmetry, where placing the horizon right in the middle may create a visually appealing image.
Try minimalistic photos. Sometimes less is more. So having minimal elements in a frame can make for some compelling, eye-catching shots.
Do not add too many elements to your frame as it may look cluttered. Wisely compose the shot to include a few elements in the right locations.
Choose a main subject and then start to include secondary elements to complement the main subject. All these put together should work well as a well-thought-out photo.
Add a layer of interest in your foreground, like a garden of flowers or a field or anything that can add some color and interest to the composition.
Planning Your Shoot
Look for some visually compelling locations to create your landscape photograph. Once done, the next job is to find the right time of year to shoot these locations.
Most landscapes change a lot over the seasons and it is your job to find out the best time to shoot a particular landscape, that is when it looks the best.
Check the weather beforehand. This helps you to plan the shoot. Have options ready for whatever weather you may have to encounter and get to the location prepared for it.
Use Mobile Apps to Track Weather/Locations
Google maps is now even better with locations that have images pinned to them. What's cool about this is that it gives anyone an idea of what they can expect to see when they arrive at a particular location.
Besides this, there are many other apps and online resources that will help you get information about location and lighting at different times of the day/year.
Sometimes, no matter how much you've done your homework, mother nature can just put on a show anytime. Be ready to expect the unexpected!
Cold or wet weather offer great opportunities for some really cool images. Storm clouds add drama to a landscape. When it rains, look for reflections, find symmetrical frames and shoot them.
Mist gives a mysterious feel to a landscape and especially after the sun is out in these conditions – look for some dramatic light to illuminate your frame. In all these conditions, stay safe and protect your gear!
Do not just frame and shoot, carefully try different perspectives, from different positions and experiment with various compositions.
- Look up,
- Look down,
- Try a low angle (ground level) perspective, and so on.
The possibilities are endless, you just have to create them.
Do not hesitate to revisit locations. You never know, you may come back with an image that you have never captured before, just because the light was different, the landscape was different (changes with seasons) or there were other elements like storm or mist creating a different feel to the image.
As a general rule, the best time to shoot landscapes is the blue hour and golden hour.
This is the time when the sunlight creates some beautiful hues in the sky and on the objects. This is also the time when the light casts beautiful shadows that help with some depth in textures and patterns.
Try some tricks with your camera, like introducing a motion blur by moving your camera upwards or sideways. It depends on what type of landscape you are shooting.
If there are a lot of trees in the frame, you can try a vertical pan and for frames that have moving water, you can try a horizontal pan. Use these techniques to create abstract images out of your landscapes.
Have you seen those starbursts of the sun in landscape photographs?
You don't need any filters to create that effect. Set the aperture value to f/16 or f/22 while shooting and you have a starburst. Best to compose the shot so that you have a beautiful burst with the sun partially hidden by something like a mountain or a rock or maybe leaves from a tree or even when the sun is halfway up the horizon.
When there is too much contrast between the darker and lighter regions (shadows and highlights) in a frame, it's not always possible to correct these with the use of filters.
In these situations, you'll have to take two exposures, one exposed correctly for the brightest region (in most cases, the sky) and the other correctly exposed for the darker region (usually the foreground). Blend them digitally later.
There may be times when you come across a high tonal range in a frame. In these situations, if you like HDR images, then bracket exposures and create the image later in post software.
Do not overdo HDRs unless it is something that you are looking to do – it's easy to get carried away!
10 QUICK TIPS
- Always shoot RAW as it helps immensely while post processing,
- Use a tripod to avoid losing your hard worked image due to blur because of handshake,
- Shoot at the lowest ISO possible and smaller aperture, preferably f/16 (this is where the tripod comes in handy!)
- Do not just stop with a single shot; taking a few shots lets you choose the best if there was a problem with one or more of the images and this is most helpful for beginners. But remember, quality is more important that quantity!
- When there is a high tonal range, always go for exposure bracketing.
- Manually focus, make use of live view and magnify the image to check for sharp focus.
- Use the right metering mode, the most common one for landscape being the matrix or evaluative metering mode. Do not hesitate to try other modes if they help.
- Have you heard of this app called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris?” Make use of this to check lighting conditions in a location at different times of the day. It has information about sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset. Very handy!
- Spend as much time outdoors exploring possibilities for an unusual shot; go on an adventure trip and photograph the least photographed places.
- Get inspired by looking at works of other photographers and learn from them in that process.
- Landscape Photography Guide by Photzy
- How to Develop the Landscape Photographer’s Mindset by Jason Row
- Just Like the Masters: 5 Concepts that Can Make Anyone a Better Landscape Photographer by Jason D. Little