10 Steps to Better Landscape Photography

10 Steps to Better Landscape Photography

Learn how to become better at landscape photography fast by following these 10 simple steps.

Landscape photography is one of the most loved genres of photography and for good reason. It affords photographers the ability to venture to new places, discover spots they would never have found without the purpose of taking a picture, and it gets you outside, experiencing what the world has to offer.

Sunset landscape lake

Landscape photography gives a reason to venture out into the world and explore

Though it's one of the first genres new photographers head towards, it's actually one of the hardest to master. With so many technical and creative challenges to face, including timing it right with lighting and weather, it's no wonder only a few go on to become full-time landscape shooters. However, if you want to get better results and fast, then follow the below 10 tips for better landscape photography.

1. Steady the Camera

Nikon Camera on tripod

A tripod can help steady your camera during longer exposures

The first thing aspiring landscape photographers should be aware of is that even on bright, sunny days, you'll still want to bring a tripod. The bigger and sturdier, the better. That's because you may need a slightly longer shutter speed than you were expecting. That might occur if you've stopped down your aperture or are using a heavy filter. You might not want to carry around something big and heavy, though, so a travel tripod is a lot better than nothing. The downside of travel tripods is that they're often a little flimsy, carry a lighter payload, and can move if it's particularly windy.

2. Drop Your ISO

Back of camera with settings

The lower your ISO, the less noise you'll get in the final shot

More ISO equals more noise. S,o it pays to keep ISO to the camera's base (minimum) ISO. For most cameras, this is around ISO 50 or 100. The best way to do this is to use a longer exposure to compensate for the lack of light sensitivity. You might be tempted to use a wide aperture to let more light in, but that will affect depth of field, and quite often in landscape photography, we attempt to retain as much detail in the scene as possible in order to keep ISO low and not have it impact your other settings refer to step one.

3. Nail Depth of Field

Flowers in forest

Here a shallow depth of field was used to isolate the flowers in the foreground from the forest backdrop

Depth of field refers to the slice of focus apparent in any given image. A wider aperture such as f/2.8 will give a smaller slice of focus than a narrower aperture of say, f/16. The aperture you stop down to entirely depends on what you want in focus. Most landscape shots display the whole scene in focus from front to back, and as such, you'll likely want to use a narrower aperture to achieve this. However, there are certain situations where you'll want an out-of-focus foreground or background in order to draw the viewer's attention to something specific in the scene. In this case, I'd recommend using a wider aperture. You will have to adjust your shutter speed accordingly to retain a good exposure (given that you're following step two's suggestion of keeping ISO at the lowest value).

4. Be Precise With Focus

Adjusting focus ring on camera

If you can't get the right focus with autofocus you can always use the focus ring to adjust things manually

As well as aperture affecting the slice of focus or depth of field, so too will your focus point. Do you want the flowers in the foreground in focus or blurry foreground with sharp mountains in the distance? Depending on the lens' focal length and your chosen aperture, you will have to accommodate the subject and surrounding environment by placing your focus point in a specific place.

If you're attempting to maximize the focus to get the entire scene sharp throughout, then you might want to think about using the hyperfocal distance. There's a long, boring way to calculate this, but for those less technically inclined, you can rely on an old rule of thumb, which is to focus about a third of the way into the frame. That will increase your chances of keeping the foreground and background tack-sharp simultaneously.

5. Focus Stack for Sharper Shots

Say your narrow aperture and the hyperfocal distance don't do the job in terms of keeping what you want in focus sharp. Well, some cameras have built-in focus stacking abilities. This allows users to take a series of photos with sequentially adjusted focal distances. For example, a series of images will be captured of the same scene, with the focus moving from foreground to background with each shot taken.

The amount of focus shift between shots is determined in-camera by the user, and different cameras offer varying levels of adjustment. You can also do this process manually, but since it takes a steady hand and can take a little while, landscapes with changing conditions (swaying trees, windswept sand, and moving clouds) are often not done by hand.

6. Turn on the Grid

Grid overlay on back of camera

A grid like this will help you compose your scene and it also represents the rule of thirds to add some structure to your composition

On the rear screen or via the viewfinder, turn on the grid to display the rule of thirds outline across the frame. This grid will enable you to compose your shot more effectively, particularly if you have trouble deciding on how to compose. Work by placing subjects of interest along the lines or at the points where they intersect. This structure can help convey form to the viewer and keep attention towards the center of the photograph.

7. Set Exposure Delay

Exposure delay mode on rear camera screen

Exposure delay mode postpones the shutter release after you've pressed the button in order to avoid camera shake. You can also use a self-timer if your camera doesn't have this feature

If you've followed the previous steps you'll by now have realized that what's required to take a good exposure with the given settings is a longer shutter speed or at least one that's longer than you can handhold and still retain sharp focus. With that in mind, you will be using a tripod to keep the camera steady during the photo-taking process, but even that may not be enough to prevent the camera shake when depressing the shutter release button on the camera.

Well, there's a way to remedy that without any extra equipment. Turn on exposure delay mode, or use a self-timer if your camera doesn't have that feature. What this does is allow the user to press the shutter release button, the camera then waits for a pre-determined amount of time (say a few seconds), and then takes the picture. That way, the vibration from your finger doesn't affect the exposure.

8. Use a Remote Release

Canon Remote shutter release

A remote release, whether wired, or wireless as pictured, is a great way to release the shutter button without having to touch the camera, avoiding camera shake

The downside of using an exposure delay mode is that if you're trying to capture a landscape in a specific moment, then it's hard to get it exactly spot-on using a delay method. Let's say you've got a misty woodland scene in front of the camera and there's a deer walking through the undergrowth. You want to time that shot so that the deer reaches one of the intersecting points on your viewfinder grid that you set in step six. Well, you have no way of knowing exactly when that deer will reach the point you want it on, because each time you press the button, it'll wait for a few seconds before taking the photo, and by then, the animal could've wandered off.

So, in order to prevent the camera from wobbling but determine the exact moment of capture, you can use a remote shutter release. The remote release lets you avoid moving the camera during exposure. Some even have extra features built in for other exciting landscape techniques, such as a release lock function (for when you're shooting in Bulb mode), and some even double as intervalometers if you want to create a time-lapse.

9. Take Filters

Filters on fujifilm camera

There are still some filters that editing software just can't replicate, and it's worth taking them with you for landscape photography

Editing software can do a lot these days, from simple color grading to fully rendered composites that depict castles in the sky. However, there's yet to exist a decent and realistic plug-in for these three filters: the polarizer, neutral density filter, and graduated neutral density filter. Lightroom's graduated ND works pretty well, but it doesn't actually help bring back detail if you've already clipped highlights before importing.

So, when you're heading out for your next landscape shoot and need to tame bright reflections on the water or need to darken that bright blue sky, then use a polarizing filter. A neutral density filter will work by making the entire frame uniformly dark and therefore allow longer exposure values. Depending on the strength of the ND filter you can do long exposures of several seconds or minutes even during the day.

10. Be Good at It

Landscape at night sky

It took me several trips back to the same location before I managed to find the right composition on a clear night that showed the shining stars hanging above a crisp silhouetted landscape

As flippant as the subheading is, what I'm really talking about here is the repetition and practice required to be good at landscape photography. Going out into the landscape, repeated trips, getting up early, or staying up late will pay dividends in the years to come, because you'll be learning about the way the light moves across the land in a way that no web page or book can teach you. And what's more, every moment is unique, so you may just capture something completely original that no one else will be able to replicate.

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2 Comments

Klaus Noergaard's picture

Do we really need another article on the internet writing about X steps to get better at this and that which already had been written about a million times before? Same goes for Youtube videos with same kind of titles for that matter.