I love taking breathtaking landscape photos. Are there anything more beautiful than magnificent sunrises, crystal clear rivers in the middle of nature, calm lakes surrounded by mountains or exotic, wild landscapes? Here’s how to turn your landscape photography from zero to hero. Ready for my tips for fantastic landscape photographs? Let’s get started
#1 Follow the light
Light is the most essential factor in photography. Photography is translated as “drawing with light”. Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of paying little or no attention to the light. Please do it differently. Explore the nature of light, how it looks at different times of the day, and how it affects your subject.
You’ll notice that light really does make a difference. Look at these two images. Both sceneries were captured in the beautiful Tyrolean mountains in Austria.
The left one was taken in the late morning. A beautiful photo but nothing really spectacular, right? For the one on the right I hiked up the mountain to capture the sunset.
So tell me, does light make a difference?
In general, light in the early morning, in the late afternoon and the evening is the most beautiful one and perfect for taking stunning photos. During these hours you will mostly be blessed with dramatic light, which provides nice contrasts and textures due to the low angle. The light turns golden just before sunset – this time of the day is also called the golden hour.
Soft light can bring out great photos in landscape photography. Watch out for fog or dramatic clouds. An overcast grey sky without structures or dramatic clouds is usually very boring. So will be the photos.
Light that comes from the side adds dimension, depth, and shape to landscape photos. It creates highlights and long shadows and also enhances textures well.
Backlighting can create drama in a photo, even if it is more difficult to photograph. A great example of the use of backlight in landscape photography is silhouetting.
#2 Pay attention to the composition
In addition to light, the composition of the image is a key factor whether or not a photograph stands out. In landscape photography, there are countless possibilities to compose an image. Through composition, you can turn a good photo into a stunning one.
An example: if you place an object in the middle of your frame, it will look static and rather boring. But if you move it away from the center, the eye goes with it and the photo looks more balanced. Often it’s the little things that make a photo stand out.
Follow these landscape photography composition tools and your images will be much more interesting:
The rule of thirds: It is the most famous and simplest rule in photography. Imagine two vertical lines dividing the picture into three parts. Do the same horizontally and you will get 9 squares. Position your subject along with one of the lines or the intersection. With the rule of thirds, you create a balance and your subject does not look boring or static. The rule of thirds is not always the cherry on the cake but you can make use of it in many landscape situations.
Leading lines: Lines lead the viewer into the photo and give the image a certain depth. In landscape photography, you can find lines everywhere: roads, paths, hedges, trees, walls, rivers… Lines add a dynamic to a photo and let the viewer remain in the image.
Foreground: Landscapes often appear very flat in photographs. One way to bring depth to a photo and create a sense of distance is to add a foreground. The foreground is the starting point of the eye, which then follows the rest of the scene.
Layers: Often, a photo does not need a foreground, especially if the scenery contains many different layers. The morning mist and the rolling hills of Tuscany – a great example for layers in landscape photography
Frame: Another way to give a landscape photo that certain touch is a natural frame. You can use hanging branches of a tree, archways, or a view from a cave. The frame draws the viewer’s gaze into the picture and onto the actual subject.
Experiment with perspective and point of view. Get on your knees or take a step to the side. Try to find a different angle for the familiar subjects.
Less is more
Take time to explore your location and for your shot
#3 Master exposure
Morning and evening light is the most beautiful light for landscape photographers. But it’s also a tricky light because you’re going to have to deal with a huge contrast between dark and bright. The light meter of your camera easily gets confused so you should rely on your knowledge of how to expose correctly.
Take your time to learn how to shoot in manual mode. Get off auto-mode NOW. If you want to know how, drop me a message. I’m happy to help.
Try exposure bracketing: take shots with different exposures and blend them in the editing software
Use a graduated filter to darken the bright sky
Work with the histogram. A perfectly exposed landscape photo shows a good distribution of all tones with the highest values in the mid-tones
#4 Sharpness of landscape photos
A great landscape photography is sharp from foreground all the way to the background. In order to achieve a large depth of field chose a small aperture. I recommend you to experiment with your lens and find out which aperture shows the greatest sharpness. You can also try google search and look for „sweet spot lens“. Typically an aperture range between f/8 and f/11 shows great results. If you have a fast lens, it might be at an even larger aperture. Look at the chart that explains depth of field and focus zones.
Use a tripod in order to take super sharp photos. Also, set the focus field manually and don’t let the camera choose the focus points for you.
Landscape photos in black and white
Is your scenery lacking colors or contrasts? Then try to convert your image to black and white. That doesn’t mean, however, that every bad color photo looks great in black and white – see the below example.
In fact, landscape images in black and white are often more difficult to capture because they need a great composition to stand out. Find leading lines, shapes, or beautiful textures and add them to your composition. Often great landscape photos are taken in bad weather. A black sky or thick clouds add some drama to your images.
Do you want to learn more about black and white photography? Hop over to this article.
Some ideas for landscape photos
You’ve got not idea what sceneries to capture? No worries. I’ve got you covered. Here are some ideas for every season of the year:
A flower field in spring (in general Spring is THE season for flower photography)
A rainbow. Rain and sun = rainbow. Keep your eyes open
The atmosphere and the light before and after a thunderstorm
Sunrise and sunset – the light is magic
In the evening or very late afternoon pretty much every place with nature is a great place
Poppy flower fields
Reflections! Look for lakes, ponds or even just puddles
Fall colors – fall foliage is one of my favorites
Creeks in woods
Frost – frosty fields or flowers
You can find so much inspiration on Instagram, Flickr, or 500px. Try not to copy but find your own style.
Some more tips for perfect landscape photos
Shoot in raw!
If you want to take your photography seriously, you should stop shooting in jpg. Shooting in raw does not necessarily mean that you have to edit your photos until you do not recognize them anymore. Absolutely not, unless this is your photography style. Most out of cam photos can use a little more contrast, vibrance, and sharpness. Instantly your images will look much more professional with just a few tweaks. If your photo has a strange color cast you can easily fix it in the editing software. The white balance setting is responsible for the color temperature. If you shot your photo in jpeg and it’s greenish, it’s screwed up.
If you want to step up in the game of landscape photography, there’s no way shooting without filters. A polarizing filter helps to enhance colors and reduces reflections. I never shoot landscapes without a polarizing filter. Just pay attention when you’re using a wide-angle lens. You might get a nasty effect where there blue of the sky is more intense on one side than on the other. A neutral density filter (ND) is a great tool for special effects. By using this filter you can shoot with long shutter speed and make clouds smudge or water smooth. A graduated neutral density filter (GND) helps to darken a bright sky. It is great for sunrise and sunset shootings.
Equipment for landscape photography
The gear plays a major role in landscape photography And I’m not only talking about camera and lens but the little helpers and clothing. Clothing and shoes are really important because it is super frustrating when you’re freezing like hell or your feet are soaking wet. Yuck!
Let’s talk about camera gear first.
Obviously you need a camera, ideally, one that lets you set ISO, aperture, and shutter speed manually.
A wide-angle lens is great to capture the great wide open of a landscape. It stretches the distance between far and close objects and lets the foreground appear larger
A standard lens, typically with a focal length of 50 mm, creates little to no distortion. Photos appear very „normal“ for the human eye.
A telephoto lens catches subjects in the far distance, depending on the focal length.
A tripod: In good light you can capture landscapes without using a tripod. Just make sure that the shutter speed is short enough to shoot sharp images. For a morning, late afternoon, evening, and long exposure shootings you definitely need a tripod.
As mentioned before, make sure to ramp up your photos by using polarizing, ND, and GND filters.
A remote control: when you shoot with a long shutter speed
Buy at least one more battery
Make sure to always have plenty of memory cards with you
Pack a cleaning kit for your lens and filters
And last but definitely not least:
Wear layers and waterproof shoes. Bring a cap and gloves.
Pack a windproof rain jacket
And the very last thing but the most important one: have fun!