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Landscape Photography Tips

Purcellville, Virginia

September 14, 2020

Time to go back to the basics! These are stunning photographs. But I sure wish they told use more about each one - like location, time of day, time of year, equipment used (camera, lens, filter), ISO, aperture, shutter speed, metering (center weighted, etc.), RAW or JPEG and what kind of Photoshopping was involved.

Whether your pastime is to capture majestic snow-capped mountain peaks, the orderly structure of a metropolis skyline, or calm waves lapping at a palm tree-lined island beach, these landscape photography tips will help you make the most of your next photo expedition.

Here are the top 25 landscape photography tips on everything from planning to composing the images, and from gear to post-processing techniques:

1. Plan Where To Go

Researching locations might just be one of the most fun parts of shooting landscapes. Whether it’s a favorite place that you’d been to a million times or an entirely new location far away from your home base, a little research can go a long way in planning to take the best shots possible. You can use online maps to plan your route to the spot and different vantage points that you think will make the best shots.

2. Plan When To Go

Once you have an idea of where to go and how to get there, consider when you want to be there. You’ll want to plan quite a bit of time to scout the location in person, set up your gear, and move around the place. But beyond that, you’ll want to plan for the best light. You might wind up taking some sample shots and realizing that you really want to come back at sunset, or even after dark.

On an even bigger scale, some vistas are perfect at certain times of the year. The Smoky Mountains are beautiful anytime, but in the fall when the colors turn they are magical. And what about the rainbow that is made at Yosemite Falls only once a year? Think about your expedition with the seasons in mind.

3. Consider a “Do Over”

Just because you have shot a location doesn’t mean you have to be done with it. If you had a great time shooting a location and were super impressed with the photos afterward, consider a return trip. Photography, like any endeavor, is a learning experience. With each trip into the field, we learn more and more about ourselves, our equipment, and our environment. By returning to the same location after we have seen some results, you will be inspired with new ideas for new angles and new approaches to try out. You also might be inspired to hike a little farther and dig a little deeper.

4. Choose the Best Camera for Landscape Photography

Give your camera choice some thought. The best camera for landscape photography is definitely one with a full frame sensor and a nice wide angle lens, but occasionally the best lens for landscape photography might be a zoom or telephoto lens. For the sharpest landscapes, you’ll want to shoot at f/16 or even f/22. A high f-stop allows the photographer to capture details in both the foreground and the background. Having everything in focus in your landscape shots is important. Point and shoot cameras seldom have the ability to exceed f/8. Digital SLR cameras, with their many choices for lenses and manual settings, will produce the best landscape images. What is more, DSLR cameras feature larger sensors that will produce much more detail and sharper images, making them the best camera for landscape photography. Newer mirrorless cameras are also great for landscapes, and they have the added benefit of being smaller and lighter than the old school SLR cameras.

5. Polarize

The circular polarizer is one of the most powerful landscape photography technique in the professional landscape photographer camera bag, so don’t leave home without one. This magical piece of glass makes all the difference between the professional artists and the point and shooters, and there are few situations where the polarizer won’t make your photos shine. In every daytime scene, the polarizer allows you to manipulate the light in the sky, making blues pop and clouds more dramatic and more defined. When near water the polarizer will enable you to control, limit, or even eliminate reflections. You can see fish swimming over tropical reefs or rocks at the bottom of a mountain stream.

6. Make it Dark

Neutral density filters are another great tool in a photographers arsenal. ND filters make a scene darker than it appears by reducing light that reaches the camera. If you want to capture a long-exposure photograph but the scene is too brightly lit to allow it, an ND filter is just the thing. ND filters are invaluable when you are seeking to make water smooth with motion or when looking to make clouds streak across the sky. When used correctly, ND filters can create a surreal, painting-like quality, especially with seascapes and waterfalls.

7. Graduated Filters

Sometimes we don’t want a filter to affect the whole photo, so graduated filters come in handy. If you need an ND filter to darken an overexposed sky, reach for a graduated density filter. They come in pretty much any combination you could desire, but the primary go to would be a half ND filter of 1 or 2 stops.

8. Wide-Angle Lenses Are King The best lens for landscape photography is not always a wide angle one, but it usually is. There are times when you will want to focus on small details, like the moon rising over a distant mountain peak. For these rare examples, a zoom or telephoto lens will come in handy and will help you think outside the box regarding your compositions. But regardless, the workhorse lens for shooting landscapes will be your favorite, good quality wide angle lens. Even when your subject is small, you may be best served by getting closer to it with your wide angle lens rather than zooming in with a longer lens.

9. Three Legs are Better than Two

One of the most significant aspects of shooting landscapes is to capture the sharpest detail possible over a wide area. When shooting at the low shutter speeds common in landscape photography, your tripod will become your new best friend. Pick a tripod that is beefy enough for your heaviest gear, but also portable enough to not be a burden. If your tripod is too heavy and too cumbersome, you will find yourself leaving it at home more than you should.

10. Dramatic Skies and the Importance of Clouds

A blah sky makes a blah photo. While the Golden Hours around dawn and dusk can make even the most dreary vistas beautiful, consider all your options.

Clouds often add interest and drama to a photo. Even just a few fair-weather cumulus puffballs can make a world of difference to an otherwise uninteresting landscape. Streaky cirrus clouds reflect pinks and oranges during sunset, and dramatic and contrasty cumulonimbus thunderheads change the tone of a photo entirely.

11. Night Shots

Another option is to shoot at night. Newer digital cameras have fantastic light capturing abilities in low-light settings. Astrophotography is no longer just for folks with telescopes and specialized equipment. A wide-angle lens, set on a sturdy tripod and mounted to your favorite DSLR, can capture amazing, captivating nighttime scenes that will make your landscapes look like a science fiction fantasy land.

Star photography takes a little practice and some special planning. If you are too close to big cities, you are more likely to get bright skyglow rather than the Milky Way prominent in your photos. Research dark sky areas and parks nearby where you can get away from light pollution.

Of course, astrophotography is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shooting after dark. Cities and towns, with their bustling cars, trains, and airplanes making a continuous, flowing light show, provide ample opportunities for photographers to capture stunning images too.

12. Add Foreground Interest

A great landscape photograph really stands out when it is balanced with depth to it. This means something needs to be in the foreground: a character tree, a piece of driftwood, a sailboat, or a mountain creek. Where ever you are, look for foreground objects that help tell your story. An island in the distance is pretty, but a sailboat passing an island in the distance is epic. A mountain range is nice, but a lake surrounded by forest, reflecting those mountains is majestic.

13. Try Including People or Wildlife in Your Shots

Of course, people and wildlife are perfect subjects for adding depth and interest to landscape photos, but they are sometimes disregarded in favor of capturing pristine, untouched postcard looking scenes. Instead, consider letting hikers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts tell a story in your images. While a beautiful view is gorgeous to look at, seeing a person in the scene invites us in as we imagine ourselves in their shoes.

14. Camera Settings for Landscape Photography

Modern DSLR cameras are fantastic in their ability to capture images quickly and to work in very dim light. There is a tradeoff, of course, in that pictures taken at higher ISO settings are very grainy. This is another reason why tripods are so crucial to landscape photographers. Keep the ISO numbers as low as possible. This will result in longer exposure times, but you will be rewarded with higher quality and sharper photos.

Landscape photography invariably requires high f-stops. Apertures of f/16 or f/22 are not uncommon. This ensures that the lens focuses details in both the foreground and background with a very deep depth of field. To achieve both high f-stop and low ISO, slow shutter speeds are a must. At low shutter speeds, remember that a tripod must be used to avoid blurry images from camera shaking.

The histogram display on your camera can be a great help to all photographers. When used correctly, this informational display can tell you if the bright whites have been clipped or if the blacks are underexposed. This can be invaluable when setting up the shot and picking your camera settings for the perfect exposure.

15. Use RAW Formats

RAW files contain more information than their JPEG counterparts. While it might seem simpler to save in the camera as a JPEG, you will be losing valuable information that could be important during post-processing. With the ability to adjust color balance and exposure details much more accurately, developing a good workflow with RAW files can be invaluable.

16. Composition

The rule of thirds pertains to landscape photography just as well as to any other form of photography. The advantage with landscapes is that the photographer has much more time to reflect on the scene and compose the photograph. If your camera can overlay a grid, turn on the feature and use it to help compose your pictures. Work on creating a flow in the photograph that takes the viewer on a journey through the scene you are capturing. Where do you want them to visit? It is your job to guide them there.

17. Minimalism

Minimalism is the reduction of everything unnecessary. It is an excellent benefit when shooting landscapes to keep a minimalist's eye. Often capturing the whole scene is just too much for one photograph. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip about composition: in keeping the composition simple and embracing minimalism, we can use small details to tell the whole story without overloading the viewer.

18. Change Viewpoints

As landscape photographers, we can’t really ask the mountains to change poses. Our models don’t move, so we have to. Try as many new viewpoints and vantages as possible. Move around a lot. Try way up high and way down low. Be creative.

19. Use Leading Lines

Leading lines are some form of visual interest that lead the viewer into the image. Roads, rivers, rocks, bridges, or anything else that might provide a path for a viewer to put themselves into the photo. Once you understand the concept, you will find leading lines everywhere you shoot. It’s a simple composition technique that can pay dividends in your photography.

20. Find Movement

Another great way to add excitement to a scene is to focus on movement. Water in a stream, cars on a road, or waves on a beach all blur with longer exposure speeds that are common for deep, luscious landscape images. An ND filter can help you achieve just the effect you are looking for while keeping the scene’s details sharp and interesting.

21. Camp Out and Move In

Plan on spending some time in locations that you love. Come back when the light has changed. Come back after dark. Come back with different lenses. If your spot of choice is too far off-the-grid, consider staying for an entire afternoon with a picnic or even camping overnight. Make the photography just one part of the adventure.

For this very reason, you may find that your favorite landscape locations are close to home. If they are easy to access and you travel there often, you will see the best lighting, season, and angles for a location. Keep this in mind on your next photography trip. Don’t rush.

22. Get off the Beaten Track

Roadside pull-offs in the mountains and photos spots in the parks have been done. Sure, you haven’t put your twist on it, but chances are spectacular photos have been taken there before. Get off the trail and find new spots where fewer photographers tread. Seek out a different perspective and show the world what’s out there if you just look a bit deeper!

23. Don’t be Afraid to Try New Things

A beauty of shooting with a digital camera is that there is never any harm in trying. Got a wacky idea for an awesome photo? Just try it. In photography, maybe even more than other hobbies, there are no real rules. Try out your crazy ideas, have fun, make mistakes, and most importantly learn from those mistakes.

24. Focus on Small Details

As landscape shooters, sometimes we get overly focused into our wide-angle view of the world. Look for small details in a scene that have their own story to tell about that place at that time. What is unique and special about a place, and how can you zoom in on the special quality that it provides? This is not necessarily suggesting that you should adopt a new hobby in macro photography, just that it is often a lack of focus on individual details that make some landscape scenes cluttered and confusing.

25. Consider Alternatives to Traditional Color Photos

High dynamic range photography is becoming all the rage. It is well suited for landscapes because it adds detail and depth to your photos. Bad HDR is everywhere: it can be gallingly unrealistic and oversaturated. But done well HDR can produce beautiful results that cannot be duplicated as well from a single exposure. With a practiced eye and a little patience, HDR can take your landscape photography to the next level. Even if you don’t use the technique every shoot, you will eventually find certain locations and lighting situations that are made to be shot in HDR. HDR photography is accomplished by taking multiple bracketed exposures of the same image and combining them into one correctly exposed image during post-


If you’re looking for a more classic look in your photos, consider shooting black and white landscape photography. While many photographers today alter their pictures after the fact during post-processing, anyone who has shot black and white images will tell you that it requires more thought and planning than that. Without color data, the way you view your landscape changes. Deep contrasts become much more important. Dark shadows are a benefit, and dramatic lighting only helps the scene take shape. While shooting, give the black and white photography option some thought and consider it part of the shooting rather than part of the post-processing.

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