How to Become a Landscape Photographer and Take Great Scenic Pictures
There is a common misconception that it is easy to take great scenic pictures because the subject is permanent and accessible It requiring no instruction and you can shoot it from any angle you like. However, the reality is that is really difficult to create good landscape photography. This is down to the complexity of the equipment required and difficulty in turning a mundane scene into something exceptional.
It is a natural step to turn a love of nature into a desire to photograph nature. In this article we hope to show you how to become a landscape photographer.
Best Settings for Landscape Photography
Expose Scenic Pictures Carefully
Be careful with your exposures, especially in winter when snow and ice are present. Snow is notoriously difficult to photograph because it confuses the metering system. The meter tends to see snow as grey and provide an underexposed photograph. To compensate for this, bracket you shots and add one or two stops of light. See our tip later in this article about the use of photography brackets.
Best Depth of Field Settings for Landscape Photography
Depth of field is basically how much of a photograph is in sharp focus. Shallow depth of field concentrates its focus on a specific area of the photograph. Longer depth of field shows more of the image in focus. Landscape photography attempts to reproduce a view exactly as it appears in real life. Therefore, most photographers will tell you that the best settings for scenic pictures of landscapes include a long depth of field.
Depth of field is an important setting because we can use shallow depth of field to lead the viewer to focus on a specific part of the image. The human eye is naturally drawn to sharply focussed areas of an image rather that blurred areas. Portrait photography is better suited to narrow depth of field than landscapes.
Best Aperture Settings for Landscape Photography
Longer depths of field are achieved by reducing the size of the aperture and smaller apertures correspond to larger numbers. F22 is a small aperture with a great depth of field, whereas F2.8 is a large aperture with a shallow depth of field. There are numerous settings in between that can be used to set the depth of field.
Control Depth of Field with Your Camera Lens
Depth of field can also be controlled if your camera has a lens that can be tilted backwards or forwards. In this case a depth of field can be achieved without adjusting the aperture by aligning the subject to the plane of the lens. If you use a camera with a tilt lens, you can have immense power of depth of field.
The focal length of your lens can also control depth of field. Assuming you are using a wide-angle lens for your landscape images, this will have a longer depth of field than, for example, a telephoto lens.
Recommended Photographic Filters for Scenic Pictures
It is not always possible for a camera to capture an image in the way we see a particular scene. In these circumstances we use photography filter. Filters can also maximise the potential of a landscape scene and create a particular feeling. They are placed in front of the lens and several can be used at once. Filters are easy to carry and are an essential tool for any landscape photography expedition.
Use Polarizing Filters to Enrich Landscape Photographs
Polarizing Filters is probably the most important filter you will use and should be the first filter you pack on any landscape photography assignment. It is useful for both black and white and colour images and can also darken blue skies to enrich and strengthen the colours. It will help to make shades of grey darker in the final composition. Polarizing filters are great for adding atmosphere to scenic pictures because they help to make mist more prominent in the composition and add a misting effect to running water.
Polarizing filters are best used when the light comes from the side. The filter comprises two parts of glass which when switched, eliminate glare. The number of light waves that enter the lens are limited by the polarizing filter. By rotating the filter, you can control the number of waves that enter the lens.
Sometimes clouds can reflect against water and create a distraction in the composition. By adjusting the filter, you can remove the distracting reflection. Remember that you do not have to rotate the filter completely to get the desired effect. Use your viewfinder to ensure that you get the correct image.
The polarizing filter should be used with care and exposure should be calculated properly, adding two stops of light.
The polarizing filter is useful in many areas of photography. When property photographers are taking pictures of buildings, glare from glass windows can be removed by using the polarizing filter.
Use Natural Density Filters to Restrict Light to the Lens
Neutral Density Filters reduce the amount of light that gets through to your lens. They can provide help for shots with difficult exposure whilst maintaining colour levels and can come in a number of settings such as 0.3 (reduces brightness by one stop), 0.6 (reduces light by two stops) and 0.9 (reduces by three stops). These filters reduce brightness. One half is clear and the other half is darkened.
For example, if you take a light reading at the sky of a scene and get a result of F/22 at 1/8 second, then you get a reading of F/22 at one second from the ground. The difference here is three stops of light and therefore the light of the sky needs to be reduced by 0.9 with the neutral density filter. This reduces the brightness from the sky by three stops but does not reduce the ground light.
Warm-Up Filters Add Warmth to Scenic Pictures on Dull Days
Overcast weather can provide ideal conditions to take landscape detail images but these can appear anaemic and uninspiring on cloudy days. This is where a warm-up filter can be priceless because they eliminate any dull effects when taking pictures without the sun. Try using an 81-series warm-up filter to add a warm effect when the light is low.
Best Filters for Black and White Landscape Photography
Filters can also be useful for black and white photography. We have already discussed polarizing filters but several other filters can be used when shooting landscapes in black and white. Another example is the red filter which projects red light and restricts light of other colours. The most popular red filter is red filter number 25.
Don’t Use Colour Graduated Filters
There are a large number of filters available that can enhance landscape photography. However, be careful to choose the correct filter and avoid those that add nothing to the image. Do not use colour graduated filters as this project unnatural colours into the image and can ruin any composition.
Tips and Techniques for Landscape Photography
Best Camera Position for Landscape Photography
One of the biggest decisions you make is the camera position for landscape photography. The quality of your final image is dictated to a large extent by this position. Pay special attention if there is a horizon in your view. In these situations, ensure that the horizon is level.
Take pictures of your subject from different angles to measure their effect on the composition. Try placing the camera at an oblique position to the sun when shooting pictures at dawn to give your compositions interesting shadows and create a mood in your images. Add depth to the photograph by paying special attention to the foreground.
Best Lighting for Scenic Pictures
Pay attention to the light, its direction and the kind of light in the composition. Scenic picture shoots can be enhanced greatly by properly balanced light. Factors such as weather and the time of day have a bearing on this so plan ahead if possible.
The three basic qualities of light are; direction, colour and intensity.
The placement of the light is what we mean by direction. The light can come from the front, back or from the side. Light from the side can be used to manipulate the textures between light and shade.
Different times of day produced different colours of sunlight. Sunshine at the start and end of each day produces warmer light and can add to the atmosphere of the composition.
Sometimes light can be too strong, too intense, such as at midday, when the sun is high. Days when there is some cloud cover bring soft, diffused light more conducive to landscape photography.
Always evaluate the light in your chosen location for the landscape shoot. Go the extra mile by taking into account the amount of light you may have at various times of the day. You can decide upon the optimal time to shoot the picture. If you have the time, you can even take pictures from the same scene at different times of the day.
Eliminate Shadows by Shooting Landscapes in the Early Morning or Late Afternoon
Shooting images early in the morning or late in the afternoon can help you to eliminate distracting shadows and unwanted darkness in your images.
The landscape is clear at down at dusk when people and animals are either getting ready for the day or going home. Fields and skies are open and the light can help add depth to your compositions.
Capture Natural Details in Your Compositions
Look for details that create atmosphere and texture in your compositions. Early mornings in winter are usually frosty and perfect for close-up nature images. Patterns emerge in the mornings that may not be visible at other times of the day.
Try to add natural phenomena to you compositions to make your images stand out. Sunsets, for example, look stunning when the horizon is touched by the sun. For the best effects, shoot the picture roughly five minutes after the sun first hits the horizon. See the section in this article about filters as a polarizing filter is perfect for sunset images to enhance the colour of the sky. You can produce postcard-quality landscape images with this method.
Black and White Landscape Images are Difficult!
Black and white landscape photography is more difficult than taking landscape photographs in colour because you must make use of shadows and light rather than colour to make a striking image. In this case, the composition of the image is very important and you must pay close attention to tones, textures and edges. Emphasise shadows and highlights in the picture.
Water can help create an interesting composition when shooting black and white scenic pictures. Try taking photographs including water set against rocks and trees to create a contrast.
Preparation and Equipment for Shooting Scenic Pictures
Let Someone Know You Are Leaving to Photograph Landscapes
Tell someone you are leaving on a photography trip and give them your location before you leave. This could help you if you get lost, injured or are caught up in bad weather.
Wear Warm Clothing When Shooting Winter Scenery Photography
Winter scenic pictures are very rewarding but it is very important to wear warm clothing when shooting landscapes in winter. Always be prepared to face the elements with winter scenery photography.
Get a Weather Forecast Before Leaving on a Winter Scenery Photography Shoot
In addition to wrapping up warm its important to plan ahead and get a weather forecast when shooting winter scenery photography. Imagine travelling a long way to a location only to discover it will be raining for a couple of days. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather during the winter.
A Headlamp is Useful for Night Landscape Photography
This is a practical tip for shooting landscapes in the dark. A headlamp will help you to see in the dark and see into your camera bag while keeping your hands free. See our section below for more tips for taking landscape photographs at night.
Pack Spare Equipment
Make sure you pack essential spare equipment such as a flash, extra memory and basic personal supplies such as a water bottle. You really don’t want to arrive at a location only to find you have forgotten something important.
Take Only The Photography Equipment You Need
Be prepared but take only what you need. Don’t be tempted to pack unnecessary equipment because it will only slow you down. If you are going to be carrying a bag all day to capture landscape images you can save energy by travelling light. Remember that you could be climbing hills or walking rough terrain. A good piece of advice is a warm flask might be more useful than an extra camera on a landscape shoot.
Best Landscape Camera for Scenery
Unlike street photography, you really need to use a digital SLR to take scenic landscape pictures. The type of camera you use, together with the lens and shade are very important and you really need the wide range of lens afforded by and SLR to ensure the best possible results. Any composition can have a great view when taken with a wide-angle lens. The amount of light in any scene dictates whether a landscape will make a great scenic picture or not. Therefore wide-angle lenses generally produce the best landscape photography.
Use a Tripod for Landscape Photography
To avoid blurring and ensure the highest technical outcome for your images, always use a tripod. This really is must for any landscape photographer. Use a tripod to avoid shaking and a light meter to gauge the amount of light before setting shutter speed and aperture. This will ensure that you capture the beauty of the location.
A GPS Device is Useful for Exploring Expansive Landscapes
A handheld GPS device can help you to mark spots on a map that you can return to repeatedly to capture images under different conditions. They can also prevent you from getting lost!
Protect Your Photography Equipment
Make sure you use a good quality hood for your lens or shade to protect it.
Landscape Techniques and Tips on Location
Scout Locations With the Potential for Great Photographs
Whilst serendipity can lead to some fantastic photography, you can’t beat a bit of forward planning for the best results. If the conditions aren’t ideal when you first arrive, try to imagine the location in different conditions such as better weather or light. Make a note of the location and you can return later.
Don’t Dismiss a Location Too Quickly
Consider foreground elements that may enhance the final composition and make sure you don’t rule out locations that might not appeal at first. Sometimes the best scenic pictures come from places that you wouldn’t normally think about.
Get Out of the Car and Examine the Landscape Thoroughly
Walk around the area to identify features and elements that you might want to include in your composition. Spending time doing this means that you are more likely to take notice of details that might first escape your attention and give you a better perspective to make better decisions with your photography.
Some locations give great results under a variety of conditions in any season and at various times of the day. Some may have a more limited range and by taking this into consideration in advance, you are more likely to come away with a compelling result.
Use Natural Lines to Lead the Viewer into the Photograph
Draw the viewer into the image by leading with the natural lines. Bear in mind that lines could be based on a riverbank, a fence or tracks and they do not need to be straight.
You Can Find Different Images by Looking Through Different Lenses
You can find inspiration by looking at a scene through your camera with different settings and focal lengths. This gives you some idea of what the final composition might look like and can help eliminate certain scenes so you can concentrate on better options.
Use Natural Elements to Frame the Image
As with natural lines, use natural elements such as trees to frame the scene and to focus attention on the subject of the image.
Take Notes on Photography Composition
Taking reference photographs and accompanying notes can save time further down the line and give you several options for the final composition. You can often predict how the final image might look. This tip can be combined with our tip on scouting the area first to predict how a scene might look under different conditions.
Night Landscape Photography
Don’t be tempted to follow the majority of photographers who head home after sunset. Whilst night-time landscape photography brings its own problems and challenges, you can try some new photography tricks at night and find a whole new perspective on the landscape.
Plan Your Night Landscape Photography in Advance
As with day time landscape photography, check the weather forecast before you leave. You can also check out these websites to help you get the best conditions for night landscape photography:
International Dark Sky Association – This website lists areas with dark skies free of light pollution from cities.
AccuWeather – Essential weather forecast information.
Stardate Moon Phase Calendar – Plan your shoot around the available moonlight.
Visit the Location in Daylight Before Shooting in the Dark
Even if you are familiar with the location, you should visit while there is still some light to give you some ideas as to what to include in the picture. There are practical advantages too. Finding out where to leave your car and walk to the location in daylight makes the night-time operation easier and more efficient. If you arrive just before sunset then you can start setting up your equipment while there is still some light.
Bring the Right Equipment for Night Time Landscape Photography
Be prepared and make sure you take the right equipment. You’ll probably need a flash and will certainly need a tripod and extra batteries. The long exposures required to capture scenic pictures at night are power-hungry and a drain on your battery.
Begin Taking Pictures Before Sunset
You can get some bonus images by starting the shoot while there is still a little light. During sunset, the sky is a constantly shifting scene of colours before darkness descends and you can capture silhouettes much better than in total darkness. Start the shoot a little early and you will get some magical images.
Incorporate an Interesting Object in the Foreground
It’s a good idea to have a suitable foreground element in your landscape scene shot at night or during the day. This could be a building, rocks, trees or water. This can add interest for the person looking at the image and can create as silhouette against the night sky.
Use a Tripod for Night Scenic Pictures
Its more important than ever to use a tripod when shooting landscape photography at night. The longer exposure settings mean that you need to make sure the camera is steady for longer periods of time.
A Cable Release is Useful for Night Time Landscapes
In addition to using a tripod to get a good image with longer exposure settings, a cable release should be considered. A cable release is a relatively inexpensive piece of kit and can help reduce shaking by avoiding the need to press the shutter release manually.
Best Aperture Settings for Night Landscape Photography
A good starting point for photographing landscapes at night is generally the f/5.6 setting. The absence of light means there is a trade-off with depth of field. It is difficult to fit everything in focus in one exposure and you may need to take several shots.
Best ISO Settings for Scenic Pictures at Night
When taking pictures at night, most cameras try to avoid slow shutter speeds and default to a high ISO level. This is the opposite to what you need as ISO must be kept low to avoid grainy pictures. It is essential to know your camera’s ability because the results from high ISO have improved greatly in modern cameras. Make sure you take pictures at night in a range where you know your camera will perform well.
Use a Histogram to Determine Exposure
Remember that your camera’s LCD display will look different to the image on a screen or in print. Therefore, use a histogram to determine exposure.
Use a Flash to Photograph Landscapes at Night
It is difficult for the camera to focus at night because of insufficient light. To generate enough light, use a flash or spotlight to light up the scene. Careful with this one, though. If you are shooting pictures in a popular location with other photographers, you might irritate them with constant use of your flash.
Use a Distant Light to Create Focus Deep Within the Landscape Scene
A light in the distance from a car, building or street can provide a focus deeper within the composition. Make sure you use your camera’s manual focus once you have found the right settings so that the focus doesn’t change and spoil the image. Auto focus is normally useless when shooting in the dark. Practice the use of your camera’s auto focus when shooting in the dark.
Clear Skies are Best for Night Landscape Images
A few clouds are best for day time landscape photography but clear skies provide the best conditions for night-time landscape images. Try for clear skies with plenty of stars but no moon or city lights. If you’re lucky you can get an ideal starry photo background with a hint of the Milky Way.
Test Your Night Landscape Images
Take plenty of test photographs and gradually adjust the settings so that you arrive at the ideal ISO, shutter speed and light settings. This allows you to perfect the composition and make sure the horizon is straight and take home some great scenic pictures.
Consider Bracket Exposures
Most cameras have some form in-built bracketing exposure which can help you to blend several exposures and thus obtain a better dynamic range. You can also avoid bad exposures because you can choose from several exposures.
Use RAW Files
RAW files are generally better that JPG and this is especially true at when photographing in the dark. RAW files give you more options when editing and the difference between RAW and JPG can be spectacular.
Landscape Photography Editing and Post Processing
Post-processing landscape images is very important and its application can make or break a scenic picture. It is worth spending time to learn how to manipulate your images to get maximum results.
Don’t Try to Turn a Bad Landscape Photo into a Good Landscape Photo
It is difficult, if not impossible to rescue a bad landscape image and turn it into a great photograph. The aim of editing and post-processing is not to fix your photography, but to enhance what is already there. You the quality of the composition and certain fundamental qualities must be already present before you begin the edit.
Apply Lens Correction to Tweak the Exposure on Scenic Pictures
Most landscape images are shot using a wide-angle lens and lens correction is important in such circumstances. This alters the exposure somewhat and its a good idea to apply this early in the editing process.
Adjust the White Balance and Exposure
There is more room for experimentation with white balance in landscape photography than with other forms of photography. Both white balance and exposure are a matter of personal choice rather than a rule set in stone.
Use the Blacks Slider in Lightroom
The blacks slider is a vital setting in landscape photograph. This makes the blacks bold and helps to add contrast to the scene.
Use the Hue and Saturation Settings With Care
Hue and saturation are powerful related tools that should be used with care. An image can easily be spoiled by being too liberal with any of these adjustments. Overuse of the saturation setting in particular can result an a gauche image where the colours are too strong.
When used well, however, this setting can really enhance your scenic pictures. You can adjust the hue and saturation of each colour individually. The key is to adjust the settings until the colours look good but not to go too far so they don’t look real.
Denoise and Sharpen to Enhance Your Landscape Image
Only sharpen details of the image that bring out the best of the composition. If you apply this setting over too broad an area you will create a lot of noise.
Remove Unwanted Distractions from Your Landscape Image
Distractions can creep into any photograph, no matter how careful you care when taking the image. You can remove these in Lightroom with Spot Removal and in the Patch tool in Photoshop.
Remember to Crop Your Landscape Image
The image cropping tool can also be used to remove distractions from your image if they are in the margins but it is best used to create balance and enhance the image composition.
Landscape Photography Conclusion
Becoming a landscape photographer and learning how to take great scenic pictures takes experience as well as skill. Be patient and practice hard. Don’t expect to master landscape photography immediately. The best photographers have patience, skill and persistence to find the ideal location with a stunning view. So don’t worry and don’t give up if you can’t shoot the ideal landscape image at first attempt.