An amazing landscape shot will look great anywhere. Whether it is in a magazine or newspaper, online or even as a framed poster, landscape photos have the power to wow the viewer. It doesn’t matter if it’s an experienced photographer or one who is getting started, the amazing landscape photographs you see have all got a few things in common. So here are 13 landscape photography tips that you should follow.
Research is key
The first step to capturing stunning landscape photos should be to research your location or area in detail. Landscape photography requires many aspects to come together. Leaving it to chance will usually leave disappointed.
Start by looking at maps of the area and work out where your lookout point will be. You’ll need to check that the particular point you have chosen is going to be accessible and safe. But also that it will give you a clear view of what you want to capture. It is pointless turning up somewhere and finding that your view is obstructed by a hill.
Once you have worked out your location, check the direction of the light. You’ll need to determine what sort of light you are looking for and plan your shoot accordingly. And don’t forget to always check the weather before you set off on any trip. The last thing you want is to hike to a location for a few hours and have poor visibility which won’t give you the shot you want.
What’s the weather like?
Landscape photography is not only reliant on your own ability and skill of seeing and composing an image. But also on Mother Nature. But regardless of the weather you encounter, there are countless opportunities to be able to capture spectacular landscape photographs. Checking the weather forecast can give you an idea of what to expect. It will also ensure you pack to suit the conditions.
Aim for the best light
Light is one of the most important factors in any photograph, but even more so in landscape photography. This is one of the most important landscape photography tips, so make sure you follow it.
It doesn’t matter how great the location, is or how you compose your photo. If the light doesn’t do the scene justice, then the image will fail. The best light for landscape photography is early in the morning or late afternoon. These periods are the “golden hours”. This is because on a sunny day the light is soft and golden. This sort of light can enhance shadows and give the whole scene a warm and beautiful glow. This is the opposite of say midday when the sun offers the harshest light.
But, part of the challenge of landscape photography is about being able to adapt and cope with different lighting conditions. For example, you can take great landscape photos even on stormy or cloudy days. The key is to use the best light as much as possible and learn to be able to influence the look and feel of your photos to it.
Be prepared to graft
One reason we are often stunned by landscape photos is that it is a view that we may have never seen before. A photo taken from the top of a mountain requires a huge amount of time and effort to get to. So it isn’t a view that most people will get to see for themselves. The lesson here is not to rely on only on accessible viewpoints, that everyone else can pull up to and see. Instead, look for those unique spots (providing they are safe to get to) that offer unique views. Even if that means that it needs the effort to get to.
Don’t forget your tripod
If you want to capture the best photographs, at the best time of the day, at the highest quality possible, then a tripod is essential. Photography in low light conditions (i.e. early morning or early evening) without a tripod would need an increase in ISO to be able to avoid camera shake. This, in turn, means more noise in your images.
So if you want to capture a scene using a slow shutter speed or long exposure (for example, to capture the movement of clouds or water) then without a tripod you won’t be able to hold the camera steady enough to avoid blurred images from camera shake. There’s a reason most photographers will tell you that their tripod is their favourite and most important camera accessory.
Maximise the depth of field
A common questions that I get asked is “why are my landscape photos not sharp”. There are lots of reasons that a photo may not be sharp. If your photos suffer from this then you should investigate further to find out why. It could be the hardware that you are using (i.e. your camera, lenses or even filters). It could be because you are not using a fast enough shutter speed for handheld photography. Or it could be because you haven’t set your depth of field correctly.
There are tons of material out there that can teach the technical elements and science behind depth of field. But in short, if you want more of the image to be sharp (i.e. the foreground and background) then you need a higher f-stop. If you want a shallower depth of field (i.e. the background more blurred) then you want a smaller f-stop number.
For landscape photography, the majority of the time you would want more of the photo to be sharp. So you should select a higher f-stop number. But be careful of going too high as this can have an adverse effect of the sharpness through diffraction. Start at around f/8 and work your way up. You will usually find that anywhere between f8 – f/16 will give you the desired effect.
Take your time to compose your shot
One of the amazing things about a landscape scene is that it leaves us stunned when we see it in real life. But sometimes transferring that to a 2D image can be difficult. The way that you compose your photo is vital in what the end result will look like. So take your time and be patient with it. Spend a few minutes sitting and looking at the view. Absorb what’s in front of you and begin to visualise in your mind what you want the final photo to look like.
Once you are ready, frame your shot and take a snap if you feel it works. Then evaluate it. Does it work? If you answer no, then try to work out why it doesn’t. Is it because it is missing a sense of scale? Is it because it needs a foreground point of interest? Or is it that you need to show more sky? Whatever the answer is then frame your shot again and take another photo. Keep running through this process until you feel that the photo is the best it can be.
Very rarely will I ever find that the very first photo I take at a scene is my best photo of that shoot. One of the most common landscape photography tips I give my students is to simply take their time more.
Neutral Density filters, graduated ND filters and polarizers are an essential piece of kit for any landscape photographer. Often you will need to manipulate the available light. Or at times even try to enhance the natural elements. For example, if you are taking photos which include water, you may find you get unwanted reflections from the sun. A polarising filter can help by minimising the reflections. But it also has another effect by enhancing the colours (greens and blues). It’s important to remember that a polarising filter often has little or no effect on a scene if you’re directly facing the sun, or it’s behind you. For best results, position yourself between 45° and 90° to the sun.
One of the other big challenges of landscape photography is getting a balanced exposure between the foreground, which is usually darker, and a bright sky. Graduated ND filters help to compensate for this by darkening the sky while keeping the foreground brighter. This can be replicated in post-production using Lightroom. But it is always best to try and capture the photo as well as possible at the time of the shoot.
Use your histogram
Histograms are an essential tool in photography which you should aim to learn how to read. Utilising the findings can help improve your photos. A histogram is a simple graph that shows the different tonal distribution in your image. The left side of the graph is for dark tones and the right side of the graph represents bright tones.
For instance, if you find that the majority of the graph is to one side, this indicates that your photo is too light or dark. So in other words overexposed or underexposed. This isn’t always a bad thing, and some images work perfectly well either way.
But, if you find that your graph extends beyond the left or right edge, then parts of the photo have lost detail. In other words, there are pure black areas if the histogram extends beyond the left edge. If your histogram extends beyond the right edge, then there are pure white areas. This is something you should avoid as it means there are no pixel details in that area. In extreme cases, you will not be able to recover these in post-production. So by seeing the evidence in the histogram, you are able to correct it by recomposing the image or compensating for the exposure.
Don’t “settle” for a good photo
This is true of any photograph that you are taking. It doesn’t matter if it is a landscape or a portrait. If you can do it better, then you should. But often because of the time and effort that landscape photography requires, people settle for a good photo. This is instead of waiting for the right conditions or even coming back to take a better one. You should always aim to photograph anything during the best possible time. Even if that means waiting or coming back later.
RAW format is best
If your camera is capable of capturing photos in RAW format than I recommend that you always capture RAW files. They contain much more detail and information. This gives you far greater flexibility in post-production without losing quality. Remember, you can always save RAW files in whatever other formats you need. But you will not be able to save JPEGs as RAW files. So ultimately you are limited to the quality at which the JPEG was taken.
If you need the JPEG at the time of taking the photo, then some cameras offer an option for both. So every photo is recorded on your memory card as a RAW and JPEG file. But keep in mind that this does mean extra space will be used up.
For all the landscape photography tips, techniques and rules that exist, there is also always room to experiment. Digital photography means that taking a photo isn’t wasting a negative (and costing money). So there is ample opportunity to break the rules and your own style sometimes. Even if the majority of the time it doesn’t work and the image doesn’t look great, every now and again you might uncover a gem.
Practice, practice, practice
The best thing you can do to improve your photography in any genre is to shoot more. The more you practice the better you will become. You will face more challenges that you will have to overcome and mistakes that you will learn from. But in the end the more hours that you spend photographing, the better you will become.
Landscape photography is a common genre that amateur and professional photographers get into. With practice, hard work, and patience you can capture stunning landscape photos that will look great in your portfolio. Follow these 13 landscape photography tips and you will be on your way.
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