Landscape photography is a passion that requires patience & planning. The basic techniques can be easily learned and will help you to improve your skills to capture great landscape photos. But only the practice and repetition will make that your photos upgrade with time.
In this article, you will find helpful information about the most important aspects that a landscape photographer needs to know (and master). If you are a beginner photographer this post will help you to introduce to one of the most popular categories of photography. And if you are an advanced landscape photographer, this post will bring you new ideas and reinforce your knowledge.
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Essential gears for landscape photography
This gear is something essential that you must bring for your landscape photography: Don’t leave home without them.
Read our blog to find more info about it, we not will stop to talk here about cameras.
Tripod & Remote shutter
One of the basic gear you already probably know is a tripod. Always bring with you, landscape photography requires a perfect sharpness, and only with a tripod, you will get it. Also, try to choose a tripod that can keep the weight of your camera.
Reduce the movement of your camera with a remote shutter (or at least use the function of your camera to shoot with delay). A sturdy tripod is required in almost all situations of landscape photography to get sharper images. From sunrises and sunsets to capture the movement of water in a waterfall or river.
If you are planning big trekking, exists great tripods with low weight. But always bring it with you if you really are looking to capture amazing landscapes.
Another basic equipment is the use of filters in landscape photography. Last years I hear that some photographers avoid using, arguing that they can edit in Photoshop to get similar results.
Don’t be fooled, the reflections of water can’t be fixed in the same way in post-production. Also, long exposures are hardly imitated by the use of several layers or effects.
Neutral Density Filter
Neutral Density & Graduated Neutral Density will help you to reduce the light that enters your sensor. It means that you can increase the time of your photo or you can balance the light in your scene with a graduated filter.
According to the steps of your neutral filter, you can get long exposures in clouds or water as an example. With the graduated, you will easily control the differences of light between the skies and the ground. With the use of filters, you will transform an ordinary landscape into an extraordinary one.
A polarizer is another basic filter that must be in your photography bag. As we said before, Photoshop (or any other similar software) can mimic the effect of a polarizer. Thanks to the polarizer you will reduce the reflection of the light & also increase contrast in your scene. It means, that you can change the tonal balance of the sky, reduce glares… But the most important is to cut the haze of diffused light that can spoil your landscape photography.
During our photography trips to Iceland, you can test the Kase filters for free, and with the help of our photographer guides. Also, if you are interested to buy some of them, you can subscribe to our newsletter. You will get a 10% discount code on Kase products at 3dpi.
The Best Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
Suggested Landscape Photography Camera Settings
Every situation has different light conditions, and the best camera setting for landscape photography will be according to that. But what we can suggest you these basic settings to start.
Using manual mode gives you all control of the scene. But if you are starting in landscape photography, we can suggest you these settings to start before you jump to manual mode:
- Exposure mode: Aperture Priority.
- Drive mode: Single shot.
- Aperture: f/8 – f/11.
- ISO: 100.
- Shutter speed: Determined by the camera.
- White balance: Automatic (you will adjust later shooting in RAW).
- Focus mode: Manual.
Control the long exposures
If you like long exposures, but you are a beginner landscape photographer, probably you will find problems to find the correct settings. The use of Neutral density filters when you start in photography, can result in mess of calculations.
To make it easy, you can use apps like Long Exposure Calculation that will help you to understand which settings you must use. Check our post about the best apps for photographers, there you will find some other apps that can help you with this task.
Check the image below, with the famous Vestrahorn in Iceland at the background. The use of the long exposures, thanks to a filter, gives life to the picture, right?
Photo taken during an Iceland Summer Photo Tour
Another great option you must control as a landscape photographer is the use of the exposure bracketing. Actually, almost all cameras bring you the possibility to control the exposure compensation. Using this option will allow you to take multiple photos of the same scene (use of a tripod is required) with different exposures.
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Usually, working with the basic setting of 3 shots will let you capture all the dynamic range of the scene. You can choose how many stops of difference you want between them. As normal with +1 and -1 you will be successful (plus the 0 or normal shot).
With this method, you have the guaranty of success. During the post-production process you will be able to merge the 3 photos in one single file, and have all the dynamic range. This result will bring you a HDR file, where highlights and blacks will have much more information than a single shot.
Master the Depth of field
The last point you must control is the depth of field of your image. The use of the hyperfocal is a must, and in this case, using an aperture of f/11 will usually give you a sharpened image.
Another great option to use is the focus bracketing. This method is similar to exposure bracketing. Only that this time you will need to do manually the 3 photos (or the amount that the scene requires).
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As a basic tutorial, you can follow these steps:
- Change your focus & exposure to manual mode.
- Exposure to the light of your scene.
- Focus on the background for the first shoot.
- Now change the focus to the middle ground for the second shoot.
- Finally, focus on the foreground for the last shoot.
In case you want to do also an exposure bracketing, take the 3 shoots of your exposure bracketing every time you change the focus.
How to focus in landscape photography?
Again, we recommend you to use some app to calculate the hyperfocal. But anyway, most of the time your own instinct will tell you where you must focus. We will speak about later, but when you choose a specific interest in the scene, you already will answer this question.
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Anyway, in landscape photography is recommended to have all your scene in focus. This way the use of focus bracketing or calculate the hyperfocal is a must.
Shoot Raw & Use low ISO
Are you still shooting JPG? Avoid it! There are some articles on the internet trying to tell you that there are no big differences between use RAW or JPG. But the reality is that RAW will preserve more information, giving you the chance to control the final result.
Also, remember to keep your ISO settings low (100) to keep sharpen and noise-free images. Only for night photography, you will need to use high ISO, if you are bringing your tripod for day landscape photography.
Best time for landscapes photos
The Magic or Golden hours
One of the key to master landscape photography, is to catch the best lights. Of course, the spot have importance in your pic, but with a beautiful light will bring your photo to the next level.
The best moment for landscape photography is sunrise and sunsets. During this period, you will get a soft light, that will colorize the scene and will bring the elements a special atmosphere. According to the weather and location, the time can go from few minutes to an hour before and after sunrise or sunset.
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The difference of color temperatures in the scene gives you at this moment the perfect conditions for a great landscape photo. This is why these hours are known as the ‘magic hours’.
Again, you must get a good app for photographers to control when this light will be at your location. Don’t look only when will be the magic hour. Check also the weather conditions, and remember that some clouds can bring you a perfect atmosphere for your landscape photo.
How to compose a landscape
In photography, there is not only the rule of thirds to know in your landscape composition. The composition is how you place the elements of your scene in your photo. It can be from people or natural objects to negative spaces. Also, it’s important at the moment to choose a composition in your photos, to pay attention to how we will use the available light.
There is not a kind of composition to suggest here. You must be as creative as possible with the angle & perspective of your picture. Wether it is a mountain, desert, plain, river… With our tips, you will be able to manage in any place, from a United States landscape to an island beach seascape.
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Improve your compositions
What is the focal point of your photo?
Sound basic, but the first that we need to think to compose our photo is the focal point of it. Don’t miss to always make this question to yourself. If the reply its all the scene your photo will not show anything special in particular.
Once you know what is your focal point, you will choose the other elements to compose your photo. So first thing you must do is always ask yourself what are you photographing.
In the examples below, there are no doubts what is the main subject…no?
Weight in your landscape composition
Another important principle, is to balance your composition. Sometimes can be easy to balance as in the example below. The distribution of the two fishermen placed at the same distance from the borders gives a visual same weight on the photo.
But we know that in landscape not will be as easy as this example. One way to balance the weight of the photo is by using the human factor. In this example, the image without the person in the right will “feel down”.
Another important point to pay attention it’s the use of the shadows. Usually, shadows have more weight than the lights. In this case, using a person to balance the weight in the lights is also, a good tool to compensate your composition.
Getting Visual Flow
Give to your landscape composition a visual flow, helps the viewer a path to look through your photo. The typical example is the use of lines that helps the eye to go to your focal point.
But these lines do not have to be always straight. It can be curves or zigzags as an example.
Also, the use of patterns or repetition of elements helps the eye to enter into the image.
The use of three elements also helps to give harmony to the image. It can be not aligned as in the previous image. The placement of the elements can be around the image giving a visual flow. This triangle helps to watch our pictures more natural.
Use the depth of field
Usually we will compose our landscape with three elements: the foreground, midground, and background. In the next example, you can see as the grass & tree in the foreground makes the frame to the scene. The focal point in the midground and the windmill in the background.
But sometimes our scenes can be easier. In these cases, we will need to pay attention to colors and lights, to create depth in our images. In this example, the light colors of the background, create the necessary volume to our minimalistic scene, as you can find during a Hokkaido Photo Tour.
Also, our scene can have much more than 3 levels. In these cases, we will need to pay attention to the distribution of the elements. As you can see in the next image, the tree that is in foreground merge with a tree in the midground. This makes that our image doesn’t have all the depth that the scene need.
Frame your image
Framing your image, is probably one of the most important things you should think at the moment you compose your landscape.
You can also, use other elements to frame your photographs as the grass, mountains…any element that focus your view in the focal point.
And not only elements, will help you to frame your images. Also shadows & lights can create a frame around your focal point. The negative spaces will frame your images as well.
Display the size of your landscape
When we are in front of a landscape, it is hard to show the real scale of the scene. The use of wide angles with elements in the foreground will modify the dimensions.
Adding elements that are easily recognized with certain dimensions, will help your viewers to give the real size of your landscape.
Avoid this mistakes
As an extra chapter, we want to speak also about mistakes that you need to avoid when you compose your landscapes. If you are starting in landscape photography, try to remember these simple steps that will help your photos jump to the next level.
A sloping horizon can kill your image unless you are using it as a creative intention. Always correct your horizon with any image editor as Photoshop (or any other free online editor). It is annoying for the viewer to see an image that is unbalanced.
In case you want to use a twisted horizon, be sure that the intention is clear and easy to understand. For example, it can be a good way to show a hard climbing, but always be careful that the viewer see this intention.
Include elements that disturb
Once you have selected the focal point of your photo, try to avoid elements that disturb it. A stone or brush in the foreground can help you to compose your image. But it also can be a distraction if you use more space in your image.
Of course, elements that can be in the middle of your focal point will make that your photo lose power. Try to change the perspective, move forward, or to any side to avoid these elements.
Compose only horizontal
Usually, we start our landscape composition always horizontal. It’s a simple way as our eyes see the scene, but also because it is the natural way to take the camera. It’s fine, but try to compose vertically as it will give you more dynamism to your scene. Also, you can avoid elements on the sides that distract your photo.
It can happen that when you start to compose vertically, you don’t make horizontal photos. So, take your time to try to always compose both pics. You will not want to come back home and don’t have to choose another option.
Don’t change the perspective
Probably you will pay attention that last year’s drone photography became popular. We are not asking you to buy a drone, but you can always change the perspective of your photos to a different angle. Move your camera close to the ground or try to get a higher perspective.
When you use a different perspective, your photographs will win originality and fresh view of popular landscapes. Dont be shy or afraid to get dirty clothes, play with the perspective to move your photos to another level.
Good weather – bored background
When the day looks sunny, it’s a good time to go for a walk but probably not the best for landscape photography. A clear sky will make our landscape a bit bored. Go out when is cloudy, it will give your images a more interesting ambient and background.
Also, you will get more chances to get amazing colors during sunrise or sunset. Sometimes it is luck that the sky just opens to let the light enter, and makes an explosion of color in the sky. But when there are no clouds in the sky, these colors will never appear.
Skip the rules without intention
As we explain in our article about the rule of thirds, the rules are important to know. But there is no set of principles (or tools) it can be defined as right or not. In the same way, you don’t need to always use all rules to make your photo better. The important is to use these principles or rules in your landscape composition according to the feeling you want to capture in your photo.
But you need to know these rules, to break it. Think the landscape is already a beauty, and don’t follow the rules without intention is the biggest mistake you can make in landscape photography.
Look only through your camera
Sometimes, you can arrive at the location and start to prepare your camera immediately. You should spend time before start shooting to analyze the area. Use your own eyes to look around and choose the best element to compose your image. Only at the moment when you have a clean view, look through your camera.
Use all together in your landscape composition
As you could see along with the post, some images have different tools to help the landscape composition. Try to think about all these points, at the moment you are composing your landscapes. The result will be powerful photographs, with a strong focal point, correct weight, easy visual flow, and depth.