Traditionally, landscape photography is defined as images of wilderness untouched by human activity. However, many photographers use a much broader definition that can incorporate not only natural but also rural and urban environments.
The World Landscape Photographer competition classifies landscape photography as predominantly nature-based, with people, animals or man-made features only included to help emphasise the landscape.
Photo by Marmun Srizon
Consider Timing and Location
Different lighting and climate conditions can completely transform how a landscape photo looks and feels. Wild grasslands might look nondescript in midday summer sun but reveal spectacular colour and texture at sunset, or in spring. Stormy skies or twinkling stars can make the most featureless horizon look extraordinary.
Likewise, an ordinary-looking or over-photographed spot could appear stunningly different from an alternative angle or vantage point.
For these reasons, it pays to research and plan your landscape photography well in advance. Travel guides, weather forecasts and astronomical apps can all help you to decide on ideal shooting locations, how to reach them, and what time of day or year to visit to get the results you’re after. It can also help you to avoid unwanted crowds.
Photo by Johannes Plenio
Select the Right Landscape Photography Settings
Many of today’s cameras will do a decent job in Auto mode – though this often won’t produce the look or effect you’re after. To get more control over your results, it’s best to switch to Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Priority (TV) or Manual (M) mode.
Every landscape is different, but many can be shot using similar camera settings. Here are some quick recommendations to get you started:
While not essential, shooting in RAW format (if your camera permits) will capture far more detail, and offer far more scope for editing, than shooting in JPEG format. Bear in mind though that RAW files require post-processing.
Unless shooting a long exposure, choose Aperture Priority (AV) or Manual (M) mode. This allows you to manually select your aperture to control depth of field, or how much of the scene is in focus.
Most digital cameras perform best at around ISO 100 (though it varies slightly by brand). Generally, lower the ISO setting, the less image noise you’ll capture.
Use a narrow aperture (f/8-f/16) to capture both foreground and background in focus. (Alternatively, if you want shallow depth of field – with just the foreground or background in focus and everything else blurry – set a wide aperture like f1.4-4.)
If you’re in AV mode, your camera will automatically select shutter speed. If you’re in Manual mode, adjust your shutter speed until you’re happy with the exposure levels (and motion blur, if shooting long exposures).
Tripods are essential for landscape photography. A solid, steady tripod will help keep your camera perfectly still, minimising unwanted blur. This is especially important when you’re using slow shutter speeds, like in low light or when shooting long exposures, time lapses, or bracketed shots (for editing or compositing).
Even with your camera on a tripod, the force of you pressing the shutter button can introduce blur into your images. To avoid this, activate the shutter remotely using a wired shutter release or your camera’s 2-second timer.
Photo by Luca Bravo
Great landscape photos usually capture a sense of depth. You can do so by including foreground, background and (ideally) midground elements – a mountain overlooking a forest overlooking a lake, for example – and capturing them all in focus. To do this, select a narrow aperture setting (f8-16) that renders each part of the image sharply.
Photo by Carlos Leret
Show Off Scale
However mighty the mountain range or endless the coastline, a landscape’s true magnitude can sometimes be lost in photos.
To create a sense of scale and perspective in your landscape images, try incorporating people, animals or buildings. Features like these will provide a reference point by which size and space can be judged.
Photo by Ruston Youngblood
Understand Landscape Photography Composition
The best landscape photographers are masters of composition. Identifying strong visual elements within a landscape, and understanding how to frame and/or arrange them effectively, can often turn good photos into great ones.
Photo by Sean O
Every image should have a focal point, or point of interest where you want your viewer’s gaze to rest. Whether it’s the sun peeking through trees, or an unusual rock formation, your focal point will help guide the rest of your composition.
Photo by Clay Banks
Rule of Thirds
Successful photos (landscape and otherwise) often follow the Rule of Thirds – a technique that creates a pleasing balance of harmony and interest. Under this rule, important elements like your focal point and horizon should ideally be placed on one of the dividing lines or intersections.
Photo by Mark Harpur
Are there any strong lines within the landscape you’re capturing? Try framing them in a way that directs the viewer through (but not out of) the scene. Whether formed by a meandering river or patterns in sand, these ‘leading’ lines can be used to powerful and dynamic effect, guiding attention from the foreground to the background or towards your focal point.
Photo by Koldunova Anna
Filter the Light
Bright outdoor light can pose all kinds of challenges in landscape photography, from overexposed skies to unwanted reflections. That’s why so many landscape photographers rely on lens filters.
A circular polarising filter will help cut glare and boost the richness of colours, and a graduated ND filter will help balance out the brightness of skies. A solid ND filter, meanwhile, will allow you to photograph long exposures (see below), even during the brightest part of the day.
Photo by v2osk
Whether it’s rolling waves or drifting clouds, elements of movement add a dynamic feel to landscape photos.
One of the best ways to capture movement is by slowing your shutter speed (a.k.a. shooting a long exposure). As long as your camera is firmly anchored in place, this will blur anything in the scene that’s moving, creating a painting-like effect while rendering static details sharply.
Photo by Cyrus Pellet
Allowing yourself to experiment often leads to unique, and sometimes extraordinary, results.
If you often shoot at eye level, try shooting right down low or from higher up – or even from a drone. If you usually use a wide-angle lens, play around with a telephoto or macro lens.
Try swapping daytime for night, or emphasising abstract elements like shape, texture, form and colour.
Photo by Jonatan Pie
Capture the Spirit of a Place
Landscapes aren’t just sky, earth, water, and trees. They’re powerful, ever-changing worlds that inspire wonder and myth. Landscapes affect people – and great landscape photos do, too.
When you photograph a landscape, imagine that you’re capturing its or story, or its portrait at that point in time. How would you characterise the landscape – tranquil, foreboding, mysterious, nostalgic? How does it make you feel – cold, adventurous, minuscule, free?
Approaching landscape photography this way allows you to capture not just the likeness, but also the spirit of a place.
Want more landscape photography tips? Get in touch or message us in the comments below.