Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres of photography among professionals and hobbyists alike. Why? Because it urges us to get outside and celebrate the beauty of our planet—the endless fields, tranquil lakes, magnificent mountains, and radiant skies.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at landscape photography, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll go over the basics of how to photograph landscapes, the equipment you’ll need, and important tips to keep in mind (along with some stunning photos, of course!).
What Is Landscape Photography?
Landscape photography captures the beauty of nature from a distance, showing its vastness and magnificence while inviting the viewer to imagine themselves in the scene. In today’s day and age, these photos are a much-needed reminder that our planet deserves to be appreciated, cherished, and preserved.
Landscape Photography Ideas
Before we get into the details of how to photograph landscapes, let’s take a look at a few impressive examples.
Black and White Landscape Photography
Black and white photographs place emphasis on the composition, rather than the colors of the scene.
Drone Landscape Photography
Impressionist Landscape Photography
Dreamy impressionist photos look like they belong in a book of fairy tales next to paintings in an art gallery.
Flowing Water Landscape Photography
Water seems to be frozen in time in these ethereal photos.
If you’re new to photography, you can start shooting landscape photos with any camera you have—even your smartphone. To take professional-looking photos, though, you’ll want to invest in a few pieces of equipment.
Any DSLR or mirrorless camera will work great, but if you have the budget, look for a full-frame sensor camera. Not only will it let you capture more of a scene, but the resolution and quality of your photos will be much higher, as well.
When choosing a camera, also consider the weather conditions of where you live or where you’ll be traveling to take photos. If you anticipate dealing with extreme temperatures, rain, mist, sand, or wind, make sure your camera is equipped to withstand the elements.
It’s a good idea to have a set of lenses with different focal lengths. A normal-range lens will probably be your go-to, but it’s also nice to have a wide angle lens when you need to capture even more of the scene.
You’ll also need to choose between prime and zoom lenses. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and tend to produce sharper images, while zoom lenses have a variable focal length and offer more versatility. This can come in handy if, for example, you’re standing at the top of a mountain and don’t have a lot of room to move around and adjust your composition.
Lighting can be difficult to control when you’re shooting a vast open space. This is where lens filters can help. Landscape photographers typically rely on the following three filters.
A polarizing filter helps reduce reflections, glare, and atmospheric haze. It also helps bring out the blue color of the sky.
Neutral Density (ND) Filter
An ND filter reduces the amount of light that enters the lens. This is absolutely crucial when you wish to capture a long exposure photo and use a slow shutter speed. Without the ND filter, your photo would be overexposed.
Graduated ND Filter
This filter gradually changes from dark on one side to completely clear on the other. This is particularly helpful when you want to avoid an overexposed sky without affecting the naturally darker elements of the photo.
A tripod is an absolute must-have if you ever want to shoot in low light conditions using a slower shutter speed. Without it, your hands won’t be able to keep the camera steady enough, and you’ll end up with a blurry photo.
You’ll also need a tripod if you want to intentionally slow the shutter speed to blur the movement of water, for example, or use bracketed exposure (we’ll cover this in more detail in a bit).
How to Take Photos of Landscapes
Now, let’s take a look at how you can use camera settings, lighting, and composition to make sure your photographs accurately represent the beauty of the nature surrounding you.
Many landscape photographers like to keep as much of the photo in focus as possible. To achieve this, use a small aperture like f/8.
There are some styles of landscape photography that throw certain background or foreground elements out of focus. If that’s the look you’d like to achieve, use a wider aperture for a more shallow depth of field.
To keep your photos properly exposed, learn the relationship between the three elements of the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
To keep your photos looking sharp, use a fast shutter speed. If you’re shooting in low light conditions, you can increase your shutter speed, but be sure to use a tripod to avoid camera shake. Try to keep the ISO as low as possible to keep your photos from looking grainy.
Try Long Exposure
If you’re photographing a flowing river or a waterfall, there’s an opportunity to capture moving water in a beautiful way using long exposure. Set your camera on a tripod and set the shutter speed to 3-10 seconds. The moving water will create a stunning blur, while the rest of the photograph will remain sharp. Once again, remember to use an ND filter to make sure the photo isn’t overexposed.
Try Bracketed Exposure
Landscapes often have a complex dynamic range. You’ll experience this if you ever tweak the camera settings to perfectly expose everything below the horizon, but then realize that this massively overexposed the sky.
Here’s where bracketing can help. Some cameras have auto-bracketing, but you’ll have a lot more control over how the final image looks if you do it manually. Simply take three to five different photos, adjusting the settings to properly expose different elements of the landscape. In post-processing, you can stitch together these elements into one perfectly exposed photo. Just be sure to use a tripod (and maybe even a remote shutter release) to make sure all the photos are properly aligned.
As with other genres of photography, one of the best times of day to shoot landscapes is during “golden hour”—the hour just after sunrise or just before sunset. The lighting at this time is soft and evenly spread, and it will give your photos a beautiful warm glow.
Of course, you can shoot at other times of day, too. Just try to do it on an overcast day when the clouds can help diffuse the sunlight and prevent any harsh shadows.
Get the Light Right
Outdoor Photography: Shooting at Sunset, Sunrise, and Night
Composition is incredibly important in landscape photography, as it can affect the photo’s atmosphere, the story it tells, and how it makes the viewer feel. There are really no set guidelines, but here are three things you can do to help your photos stand out.
Use the Rule of Thirds
Draw imaginary lines to split your scene into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Now, try to position the horizon, as well as any other notable elements in your photo along these lines.
Use Leading Lines
Leading lines in a photo are lines that draw the viewer’s attention to a particular focal point and help create a sense of depth. These can be roads, bridges, shorelines, tree trunks, or anything else that resembles a line.
Get a Unique Perspective
The best landscape photos offer a view that people wouldn’t otherwise get to see. To achieve this, see if you can get off the beaten path or climb an extra few feet for the perfect shot. Just be sure to do this safely.
Landscape Photography Tips
Here are a few more general tips on how to make the most of your shooting sessions.
Research Your Location
If you’re looking to photograph birds or wildlife, you likely won’t know for sure where you’ll find them. However, with landscapes, it’s easy to research your location in advance.
See what other photographers are photographing in your area or what attracts tourists and local hikers. You may even be able to find out what the scene looks like before you go, so you can better plan for when to go and what equipment to bring with you.
Take Your Time
Even if you’re just looking to get one perfect shot, expect to spend a few hours at the location. There are a lot of variables that are out of your control, but waiting for everything to align will absolutely be worth it.
If you don’t have your perfect shot right away, stick around and see what changes over the next little while. The clouds may drift into a different position, the sun might rise or fall to a different angle, or the wind might settle and stop disturbing the water.
Shoot in RAW
This is an important piece of advice in any genre of photography, but especially in landscape photography, where photos tend to get over- or under-exposed. Shooting in RAW will keep your photos uncompressed and maintain as much data as possible. In post-processing, this will allow you to have more freedom and flexibility to adjust things like exposure, white balance, and sharpness.
Start Shooting Landscapes
The best way to experience the joy of landscape photography is to go out and start shooting. Take a class to learn a few more photography basics, pick your location, grab your camera, and get out there!