In this complete guide to landscape photography, we’ll look at what landscape photography is, what kit you need, what camera settings you should be looking at, and what elements go into taking and making great landscape photographs, including light, composition, editing, competitions and more!
What is landscape photography?
Landscape photography is the art of capturing the natural scenery or landscape. It can be your way of showing how you see the world around you, and a way to capture the beauty of the landscape and environment, whether that’s local, or when travelling.
What camera kit do I need for landscape photography?
- A camera plus a lens that has a wide-angle view of 28mm or wider is a great place to start, but some will want an even wider view, so a 24mm or wider lens could be a good choice, particularly if you want to capture vast scenes and big open spaces. Find the best camera for landscapes, plus the best wide-angle lenses.
- A tripod will help, especially if you want to capture scenes with water, as you can use longer exposures to smooth the water, or when you want to use a lower ISO speed for maximum image quality. You can also worry less about the shutter speed you need to use when your camera is stable and steady on a tripod.
- Filters – if you want deeper blues, and fewer reflections from leaves and water, then a polariser will help, and graduated filters can be used to darken bright skies when needed. If you want even longer exposures, then an ND filter will be needed.
Here are the top 3 filters you need for landscapes.
Landscape photography is all about light, location and composition, where you place objects or frame the scene before you, but also what camera settings you use, play an important part in getting a sharp, detailed shot.
Camera settings for landscape photography
Remember the elements that make up your exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO speed, as there are some recommendations here that will help you when shooting landscape photography. If you need a refresher, have a look at our guide to exposure.
Here are the 4 main camera settings to pay attention to in landscape photography:
- ISO speed
- Shutter speed
Aperture and depth-of-field
Depth-of-field – to ensure you get a lot of the scene in focus, with as much as possible sharp and in focus, with plenty of detail, you’re going to want to use a smaller aperture. Closing the lens aperture down to f/8 – f/16 will help you get more of the scene in focus from the front of the image (things close to you) to the back of the image (things furthest away). This is known as pan-focus (Canon), where everything in the image is in focus.
But beware of diffraction – if you stop the aperture down too far, such as f/18-f/22 or more you’re going to suffer from diffraction, and get softer images. When diffraction becomes an issue depends on your camera sensor size – see our macro photography guide if you missed our definition of diffraction.
Side note: Diffraction tends to kick in at f/11 on Micro Four Thirds, f/16 on APS-C, and f/22 on Full-frame cameras.
As we’ve said previously, the lowest ISO speed available will give you the best results (with the most detail, and lowest noise), however, be aware that the camera you use may have a different low ISO speed to another camera.
On most, the lowest ISO speed is ISO100, but on some the lowest is ISO200. If you are tempted to use a “LOW” or (L) ISO speed on your camera, be aware that this is often an “extended” ISO speed, and results in reduced dynamic range.
So check what your actual low ISO speed is on your camera, if you’re not sure where to find this information, have a look at our review of your camera as it will say what the standard ISO range is, and what the extended ISO range is. Normally you want to avoid using the extended ISO range.
On many Olympus and Panasonic cameras, the low ISO speed is ISO200, and ISO100 is extended, which is shown as “Low” or L.100. You’ll also need to check on Fujifilm cameras, as some of these have the lowest (native, non-extended) ISO speed as ISO160.
With a tripod, you can use slower shutter speeds, and by using the self-timer you don’t need to worry about camera shake when pressing the shutter release button. Another thing to be aware of is your camera strap – if this is big, then this could cause the camera to move if it’s a windy day. If you use slower shutter speeds, you can blur the water, but with a slower shutter, any movement (in trees or scenery) will become blurred. If you want to get really slow shutter speeds on brighter days, then you’ll need to use an ND filter.
Focus and front-to-back focus
To keep things simple, by using one focus point, you can control and know where you are focusing in your image. You will want to focus so that you can get as much as possible from the front of the image to the back of the image in focus. Don’t worry too much if you don’t achieve perfection but try and focus on the main area of interest in the frame.
What makes for good landscape photography?
Light and location play a massive part in landscape photography, but are not the only aspects to think about when shooting landscapes. Thinking about what you include in your image can take your landscape photography from average to spectacular.
Here are 6 main things to consider when composing your shot:
- Light (and weather)
- Leading lines
- Level (Horizon)
Shooting in the “golden hour” (the hour before sunset or dusk, and the first house after sunrise, dawn) will give you warm golden looking landscapes, or “blue hour” after the sun has set or before the sun has risen, with give you images with a blue tone. Just before or just after sunrise or sunset is also a great time to shoot, as the sky changes different colours. For more examples have a look at our guide to outdoor light with David Noton.
Weather can dramatically change the light in the scene, as well as the look of a landscape image, so don’t be afraid of shooting when there is mist, fog, or even during or after a rain shower. A break in the clouds can turn a dull image into a striking image as can be seen in the example above. If your camera and lens are not weather-sealed, make sure you have a waterproof backpack or plastic bag to offer some protection for your kit in the worst of the weather.
Shoot somewhere dull, and even with the best lighting possible, the best camera possible, and the best settings, you’ll still most likely end up with a dull photo. Landscape photography tends to include travel, and finding the most pleasant looking locations and landscapes is part of the exciting appeal of landscape photography, whether that’s near you, or further away.
To include people or not? By including people you can give a sense of scale, as well as potentially date the photograph to a certain period – depending on how visible the subject’s clothing/style/fashion is. The same goes for any other man-made objects included, such as buildings or vehicles. By including a subject or a person in the shot you add an additional element, and give a sense of balance to the image.
If you think of the elements in an image as guiding the viewer through the frame, you can look for leading lines in your scene, such as a road leading towards an impressive mountain range, a river leading to a waterfall, or even the formation of rocks and land leading you through the image.
On the level?
Watch for the horizon and keep the camera level – use the camera’s built-in axis or dual-axis level if it has this, or look for the spirit level built into your tripod. If you don’t have these features, then you could pick up a simple spirit-level hot-shoe attachment for not much money. Alternatively, you can switch on an on-screen grid display if your camera has this feature. If you don’t manage to get it perfect in-camera, then you can always edit the image later to straighten up the image. Some modern cameras have a built-in horizon correction feature, so check your manual to see if yours has this.
All of these factors play a part in how you compose and frame your image, and how you place the elements in front of you into the photograph. If you’re just starting out in landscape photography, then using the “Rule of thirds” is a great place to start, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different framing. See our guide to the art of photography and composition for more ideas.
Other things to think about: You don’t always have to shoot vast landscapes, instead you could zoom in to look at the finer detail, and this is where a macro or telephoto zoom lens could come in useful. If there is water in the scene, then look for reflections.
Aerial landscape photography: If you have access to a drone, then shooting from a high-angle can give a totally different look to your images. See our guide to aerial landscape photography for more information.
Editing Landscape images
It’s likely that you’ll need to (or want to) edit your photos to ensure you’re showing the landscape how you want to show it. Slight tweaks to contrast, saturation, and exposure to improve dynamic range in the image can make your images look better. You can also correct the image if it’s not entirely level.
Expanding dynamic range – If you shoot using raw you have the ability to correct for any errors in exposure or white balance, you also get the ability to expand the dynamic range in the image, which means you can recover shadows and dark areas in the image as well as recover highlights in the brighter areas. Another option is to use exposure bracketing to help with this, but make sure you use a tripod so your images line up. Have a look at our guide to maximising dynamic range. Shooting raw also gives you the ability to tweak the sharpness and noise levels to get the very best out of the photo.
Landscape Photography Competitions
You can enter competitions to win prizes and recognition, as well as learn from others. Look out for landscape photography competitions such as the famous Landscape Photographer of the Year, and the landscape photography round of the Amateur Photographer of the Year Competition (APOY). Other general photography competitions feature Landscape categories, so have a look at our complete guide to photography competitions to enter.
More Landscape Photography Inspiration…
You’ll find a range of landscape photography articles here, including how to avoid clichés in your landscape photography, and you can learn from professional photographers, as well as famous landscape photographers.
Famous landscape photographers include Ansel Adams, William Garnett, Michael Kenna, Colin Prior, with AP contributors including Jeremy Walker, David Clapp, Verity Milligan, Rachael Talibart and Lizzie Shepherd to name a few. If you want to learn from the greats, make sure you have a look at their work.
For even more inspiration have a look at some of the landscape photography books available. You’ll find AP’s own book on “Landscapes” is a great resource for learning even more.
Frequently asked questions (for reference)
What is RAW? – What is a raw image? Cameras will by default save images as JPEG files, which are processed by the camera to produce the best-looking image, but this results in less control to edit and adjust the image. Shooting in the raw file format, you are getting the “raw” (uncooked, unprocessed) image from the camera, and therefore can edit it to your own personal tastes, as well as recover shadow or highlight detail that might have otherwise been lost if you’d only taken a JPEG image.
What is exposure bracketing? – Exposure bracketing is when you take several different images, but at different exposures. Most mirrorless and DSLR cameras have this feature, and it lets you take the same shot at different exposures, so for example, you could take one at -1EV, one at the normal exposure, and one at +1EV, allowing you to capture the darker and brighter parts of the image with more detail. You can then combine these images later in a photo editing package for an extended dynamic range. However, to get the best results your camera needs to stay in the same position for every shot, which is why a tripod is extremely useful for this.
What is dynamic range? Dynamic range in an image is the record of light levels from dark to light. The great the dynamic range in an image, the more the camera has been able to capture the tones from dark black to bright white. In landscape photography, this becomes particularly important as there is often a big difference in light levels between the brightest area of the image (often the sun), and the darkest areas of the image.
The AP Improve Your Photography Series – in partnership with MPB – This series is designed to take you from the beginnings of photography, introduce different shooting skills and styles, and teach you how to grow as a photographer, so you can enjoy producing amazing photography (and video), to take you to the next level, whether that’s making money or simply mastering your art form. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, make sure you check out all the articles in this series.
- Part 1: Beginners guide to different camera types.
- Part 2: Beginners guide to different lens types.
- Part 3: Beginners guide to using a camera taking photos.
- Part 4: Beginners guide to Exposure, aperture, shutter, ISO, and metering.
- Part 5: How to get perfect colours – white balance explained
- Part 6: 10 essential cameras accessories for beginners
- Part 7: Beginners guide to the Art of photography and composition
- Part 8: Beginners guide to Photoshop Elements and editing photos
- Part 9: Complete guide to Portrait Photography
- Part 10: Complete guide to Macro Photography
- Part 11: Complete guide to Street Photography
Find the latest Improve Your Photography articles here.
Lead image credit: Scott Robertson, Getty Images