For centuries, artists of every genre have been documenting the beauty of a natural landscape, starting with paint, pencil and pastel. It is a need that exists in people the world over to admire a natural landscape and create a creative representation of one. Painting a landscape scene took a masterful skill to recreate. While this art form surely still exists today, more and more people have been able to enjoy capturing landscapes through the power of photography.
Researching and travelling to an idyllic location is just as important a part of the process of landscape shooting as is what you do once you are on site. Having the right gear and understanding some of the fundamentals will see you well on your way. In this article, we will provide you with excellent knowledge about how to prepare for and shoot landscape photography. We will cover the necessary gear, settings and elemental compositions. Before long, your drive will be to enhance your landscape photography skills and get out with your camera as much as possible.
Succeeding at landscape photography involves researching your location, planning travel to and from, understanding camera settings, utilising foreground subjects, wide angle shooting and more.
What is Landscape Photography
As we mentioned, landscape photography is a genre that focuses on the capture of natural and exciting landscapes. For most of us, that means first being able to travel to a location by vehicle and then often a ways further on foot.
Finding a genuinely exceptional landscape generally doesn't happy by chance, and landscape photographers need to be prepared. Furthermore, a landscape photographer should always be aware of the weather and time of day, as the sun, it’s location and direction will always be a factor of the composition. Once a location has been found, next comes the need to set up your camera gear to frame your composition. This step is critical as you want to ensure that you are considering the dynamics of the scene in order to get the most of the composition. Taking the shot requires specific camera settings to ensure you are getting sharp detail. If followed from start to finish, the result is an exceptional image of your making!
Best Gear for Landscape Photography
The first thing we’ll talk about is what kind of gear you’ll want with you to shoot landscape photography, and afterwards we’ll discuss photography techniques.
While the saying "shoot with what you have" can certainly apply to landscape photography, if you want to master this genre and create truly amazing images, we have some advice. While landscape images certainly can be taken with any camera, most serious landscape photographers tend to shoot with full frame cameras that have high resolution sensors. Because a landscape often has so much detail in it, a high resolution camera ensures that you will capture all of these elements in sharp detail across the wide field of view that your landscape image will cover. Landscape photos also lend themselves well to being printed into enlargements to post on your wall and similar, and high resolution is an important factor in how large you can print your image. A camera like the Sony A7R IV is fantastic for landscape photography as it has a 61-megapixel full-frame sensor. That large sensor will ensure that a vast amount of light and image detail fills your final image with rich features. Further to this, this Sony is a highly capable camera fit for any photographic task, beyond just landscape.
Try experimenting with reflections for introduce symmetry into your images
Wide Angle Lens
Next, you need to consider a good quality wide-angle lens that will allow you to capture a wide field of view in your image. Ideally the wider the lens the better, as long as you aren’t introducing a high level of distortion in your image. Wide-angle lenses are important for landscapes as you can fit more of the scene in the composition. Making the most of a wide-angle lens can also add to the dynamic visual within the image. The lens can be either Auto Focus or Manual Focus driven as your subjects are not likely to be moving - which is why Samyang lenses are popular for landscape shooters, even though they are generally only manual focus.
Finally, one of the most critical components in a landscape photographers kit is a quality tripod. Tripods allow you to keep your camera steady which is important for framing and allows you to use long exposures, which is a particularly useful skill for landscape shooters. Tripods come in all shapes and sizes, but landscape photographers will typically want a tripod that is portable yet sturdy, as you’ll often be with your tripod. A tripod such as the Manfrotto 290 is ideal as at only 1.6kg in weight; it will be easy to carry with you. Plus, due to its aluminium frame, it is durable and sturdy and fit for purpose.
Basic Landscape Photography Techniques
Find Your Composition
The first step in successful landscape photography is to find your location and research the best way to get to it and the best angle to photograph it. We recommend researching locations near you through online photographic communities, but there are many ways to do this. You need to know how to get to your location and if there is hiking involved and how long it will take, keeping in mind your fitness level. Checking the weather forecast is a critical step as having the right weather pattern could make your shot amazing, and having the wrong kind of weather can ruin your shoot. Finally, be aware of time and how the light of the day will appear by the time you get to your location.
Finding the right angle to shoot your landscape from is important
Frame your Composition
Once you have found a suitable location and taken the time to travel there, it is time to frame your composition. If you are going before sunrise to capture the rising sun as part of your composition, then make sure you know from which direction it will appear and as a result what position you need to take to frame it. Equally, if shooting at sunset, then understand where the sun will drop and also watch for the changing colour in your composition. Knowing how the light will fall enables you to have your camera set up and ready to go. Equally, look for points of interest that can add movement or interest to your composition. Using a technique such as the Rule of Thirds can be of great help to frame your horizon, mountains and foreground points of interest.
Utilise Foreground Subjects
Shooting a beautiful snow-capped mountain range creates an exciting image, and many of the best landscape images have a dramatic land feature as a prominent element. But make sure not to neglect the foreground either, as this can add interest to your shot and balance the image. For example, having a lake in the foreground with a mountain range in the background builds upon the image and makes it more than just a photo of a mountain. Water in particular can be great because it allows you to play with reflections, but it doesn’t always have to be water. The foreground subject could be anything from a boulder, a small flower, a prominent tree, old farm equipment, abandoned buildings, people, or any number of other options. Building upon your image in this way creates greater interest and draws the eye of the viewer around the image.
Foreground subjects can be as simple as the rock in the front left of this image
With landscape photography, there are some reasonably typical settings that we will walk you through. However, over time and with more significant practice, you can be more creative with how you control the depth of field and potential movement in your composition. Aperture is probably the essential camera setting for landscape photography. When creating a landscape image, ideally, you want the whole picture to be in focus, and not have areas of the image that are out of focus. You want every detail to really pop and to do so you need to ensure you have a small aperture (as denoted by a larger f-stop number). Generally speaking, set your aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/11 to achieve this.
In landscape photography, you are generally not shooting moving objects. As a result, there is a limited need for faster shutter speeds. In most cases, landscape photographers will slow down their shutter speed - this can compensate for the decreased amount of light provided by the smaller aperture. A shutter speed of 1/60 or 1/30 is appropriate in most cases; however, trial and error will dictate what works for you.
In the cases where your composition features water, you may want to slow it down even further. This will achieve the “milky” look that is popular in water images. Essentially this is achieved by slowing down your shutter speed to iron out any turbulence on the water. A shutter speed of between 1/2 second and 2 seconds is usually sufficient to achieve this, depending on how fast the water is moving. Note that if shooting in daytime you will likely need to use an ND filter in order to avoid overexposure at these slow shutter speeds.
Using slow shutter speeds gives water a pleasing “milky” look. You will need a tripod to keep your camera steady at these speeds, and likely an ND filter to avoid overexposure.
ISO is not a major factor in landscape images. Because you have generally static subjects, you can compensate for decreased light by having a longer shutter speed, as mentioned above. As a result, stick to the rule of thumb of having as low of an ISO as you can. In very dark situations where you can’t use a long shutter speed you may need to increase it, but doing so will increase the noise in your image. Most landscape images can easily be shot with ISO 100 or 200.
Using a Timer
A final piece of advice with camera settings is always to use a self-timer setting to trigger your shutter release. It may not seems like it, but the very act of pressing the shutter button can shake the camera, and this is particularly exaggerated when shooting with slow shutter speeds or with high resolution cameras. As such, using 2 second timer allows you to press the button and then let go of the camera, so it is 100% stable once the shot is actually taken. You can also use handheld remote shutter releases that are either wired or wireless.
Get Your Hiking Boots On
We have already discussed that landscape photography may require some hiking time to reach a suitable vantage point. Before you even start that journey, we recommend a few simple steps to ensure a safe and enjoyable time. Researching where you are heading and how to get there are critical. Further to this, know your limitations and what sort of terrain you can travel across. Use an app or a physical map to keep track of your journey, and if moving to a precarious area, don't travel alone. At the very least let someone know where you are going and when. Aside from packing the essential camera gear, be sure to pack water and don't underestimate the time it can take to travel by foot. Speaking of which, wear comfortable and appropriate walking shoes.
Timing your shoots to take advantage of dramatic lighting can elevate your images
Bearing the Weight
To further maximise your comfort, you will need to ensure you can comfortably carry all the required gear. Having a good quality camera backpack will allow you to store your equipment in individual compartments safely, so they don't bang together as you walk. Also, your camera backpack should have a means of carrying a tripod. Most bags of this nature will have side straps or pockets. We recommend putting your tripod in one pocket and ensure it is held tight with a cinch strap. On the other side, you want another pocket to hold a water bottle. This way, your backpack will be well balanced between the two sides. Avoid packing unnecessary gear as, despite your endurance levels, that bag will still grow heavy over time. There are many good backpacks on the market, and one of the best is the Lowepro Protactic 350 AW II.
Landscape photography is an incredibly fun and rewarding genre as not only are you out and about in the natural world, but you are using your skill to capture a moment of nature. By being well prepared and researching your opportunities for locations, you can then begin to build upon your landscape photography skills. That is not an easy step, but with patience, the right equipment and trial and error, you can start to understand how to capture amazing landscape images. Your goal is to create images that are dynamic and draw the viewer in closer to admire the composition. Before long you will be creating images that are worthy of an enlarged and framed print for all to see!