How-To's Landscape Photography Photography

10 Simple Tips to Improve your Landscape Photography

Check out all of our other how-to guides here. Every and each photographer has probably done landscape photography at least once in their careers as amateurs or pros. Landscape photography is simple one of those pictures that everyone raves about with all the bright colours and amazing scenery that makes eyeballs drop. No wonder it […]

Landscape Photography

Check out all of our other how-to guides here.

Every and each photographer has probably done landscape photography at least once in their careers as amateurs or pros. Landscape photography is simple one of those pictures that everyone raves about with all the bright colours and amazing scenery that makes eyeballs drop. No wonder it is by far the most popular category on 500px!

If you want to learn how to make amazing landscape shots but don’t know where to start, this guide is for you. 

10 Landscape photography tips

Although I no longer shoot as much landscape as I used to, many of my best shots were landscape photos and the technique, and rigour required for shooting landscape has certainly translated well into other fields of photography as well.

One aspect that can set your landscape photography apart is thinking about the the background, as well as the foreground. This way, you will give those viewing your picture a way into it and create a depth in your image. I have put together a few tips on clicking the perfect shot, ones that I learnt when I was a lot more  into landscape photography.

Without waiting, here are ten landscape photography tips to get you started.

1. Light is Everything

Although a landscape or particular scenery may seem static, it really isn’t. Light, just like exposure, can significantly affect the composition of your shot by shifting weight towards certain elements over others. You need to wait, observe as light brings about change in shapes and contours and how sun moves into forests and streams in varied ways. In a way, light gives an emotion and sets mood to a landscape. A forest, for instance, might be best shot during dawn/dusk or during some heavy mist, while waiting till the blue hour will often be best for water shots.

Jasper Sunrise
Jasper sunrise, shot during golden hour

2. Shoot During the Golden Hour

A follow-up to the rule 1 above, in most situations landscapes shot during the golden hour will look best. The golden hour, which is basically just lingo for dawn and dusk (ok, the standard definition is 1h before sunset/after sunrise), is the ideal time to shoot because that’s when light is at its best, with the sun hitting the Earth at near horizontal angles. The landscape simply seems to come alive in warm, golden tones. Besides, the light can really impact the land and create stunning textures, patterns and dimensions.

3. Shoot at a Small Aperture

By lowering your aperture size (which means using a higher f/stop such as f/8, f/11), you get increased depth of field that is very useful for landscape photography. As a plus, you also get optimum lens sharpness at smaller apertures. However, by lowering your aperture size your image or image sensor wouldn’t be hit with a lot of lighting, so either increase your ISO or increase the exposure time (aka longer shutter speed) (you can do both, as well), to compensate for it.

Do note that it is unwise to stop down the lens too much, below f/16, since it will create diffraction, lowering your overall sharpness. The optimal sharpness is often around f/8 to f/11, however the specifics will depend around your lens.

Long exposure
A long exposure shot on tripod at a narrow aperture

4. Consider Using a Tripod

For a perfect landscape shot, you are often left waiting. Besides, long shutter speeds and small apertures call for a still camera throughout the entire exposure. A tripod can ensure your camera isn’t shaken or moved during shots. You can also opt for a cordless shutter release mechanism to ensure camera is absolutely still. Alternatively, you can also use the self-timer and enable mirror lock-up (if your camera supports it) to get the same result if you don’t wish to buy a shutter release.

A tripod is a must if you shoot landscapes with lots of water in them; not only will it provide relief while crouching down the waters, but it will also allow you to smooth out the water in a creamy way if used for long exposures (2 seconds and up).

5. Focus on Lone Objects

Lone objects can be used efficiently to draw attention to the picture in landscape shots. For instance, creating focal points like a striking tree, a rock formation or even a windmill will it capture and retains viewer’s attention. Also, placing the said object at the right spot is very important. If you’re a beginner, consider using the Rule of Thirds for object placement.

A Windows XP Copy? The resemblance is uncanny

6. Draw Attention to the Sky

Sky plays a key role in landscape photography. Most landscape photos come with a dominating foreground or sky. If neither are a part of your photo, it is going look dull and boring. If the sky looks plain when you are planning to click, adjust so the horizon in the upper third of your image and make sure to have an interesting foreground. On the other hand, if the sky is filled with colors and clouds, place the horizon lower.

7. Focus on Capturing Movement

While landscape photography isn’t really associated with movement, it can add weight and drama to a picture. The best way to convey motion is by using long exposures of moving water and/or clouds in leading, dominant lines or pairs of lines, forming triangles. This picture is an excellent example of conveying motion :

Elowah Falls
Elowah Falls by Michael Matti (Flickr)

8. Look out for Weather Variations

Weather dictates or changes the end result of any picture you take, so it is very important, especially in landscape photography. If you want the perfect shots, play along Mother Nature, not against. Check weather forecasts in advance and prepare consequently. Rain can make excellent photos, especially during the mists shortly after raining, but be sure to take plastic bags and weatherproof your camera bag!

Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake, immediately after rainfall

9. Post-process Like a Boss

Taking the picture is only half the work. The other half is in post-processing. Fire up your RAW processor (Lightroom, in most cases) and straighten and crop your image. Use the basic tone sliders (highlights, shadows, blacks, whites) to maximize the dynamic range of the picture without overdoing it. Most importantly, use the graduated filter tool over the skies to shift emphasis over the main element of the scene.

10. Don’t be a Perfectionist

Do you know landscape photography is challenging because of the many possibilities you come across? You cannot really control light or how it affects a landscape outside of your exposure settings. ND filters may come in handy by allowing you to get long exposures in bright daylight, GND filters (or digital ones) may allow you to deemphasize the skies, but focus too much on gear and you might just ending up letting a great opportunity pass through. While you can do your best to get a perfect shot, only practice makes perfect. Don’t hesitate to take “bad” shots, because you’ll improve anyways. Rules are meant to be broken isn’t it! So, don’t worry about it. Just go ahead and take that image, when you feel everything is right.

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