Improve your photos with our expert help. Here are 10 quick landscape photography tips to help you give your pictures a breath of fresh air. Whether you’re new to digital photography or just searching for new photo ideas, our quick and easy landscape photography tips and camera tips will help you take better pictures with the minimum of fuss.
1 The magic hour
Beautiful landscape photos are often defined by the quality of light they were taken in. As a consequence, photographers tend to shoot early in the morning or during late afternoons when the sun is lower, less contrasty and often displays a subtle colour palette of moody hues. For this reason, the hours after dawn and before dusk are known as the ‘magic hours’. If rising at dawn doesn’t sit well with your idea of a relaxing weekend, don’t panic – there are plenty of great landscape opportunities throughout the day.
Composition is key to successful landscape photography, and if you don’t know where to start, use the ‘rule of thirds’ to get things going. Perhaps the king of all beginner landscape photography tips, it’s an easy principle to apply – simply divide your frame into imaginary thirds on both the horizontal and vertical axis. Now simply place areas of interest at the points at which the lines intersect or – in the case of a horizon – along one of the lines. However, don’t be afraid to throw away the rule book and totally disregard the conventions of composition. While you might have some awful failures, you might also create an original and striking masterpiece. Be bold and experiment.
3 Get out there
There’s no substitute for putting in a bit of groundwork before embarking on a photographic adventure. Research and find the best photo locations, get a map, a compass and remember that you’ll probably have to get out of the car and walk to get the best shots.
4 Polarising filters
Most landscape photographers will have a circular polarising filter in their kit bag. There are many uses for filters like this, but for the landscape photographer the two key characteristics are their ability to cut out reflections and nasty glare from a scene and the increased colour intensity, saturation and contrast they create. You’ll really notice the effect in clear blue skies.
5 Depth of field
Many landscape photographers desire an image that appears sharp throughout the scene, so that elements of foreground interest, such as a rock in a lake, look just as sharp as the distant horizon. This can be achieved relatively easily using the principles of depth of field, whereby the smaller an aperture you use, such as f/22, the greater the area both before and beyond the point of focus also appear to be sharp. This principle can be taken one step further with hyperfocal distance focusing. Generally, when you’re using small apertures you’ll need to compensate with slow shutter speeds, so it is essential to (know how to) use a tripod.
6 ND grads
One of the great problems for landscape photographers is the difference in brightness between the sky and the land. While the human eye is capable of perceiving detail across this tonal range, a digital sensor isn’t capable of recording it. So ND Grad filters (neutral density graduated filters) were created and have been avidly used by landscape shooters ever since. Their gradual transition from clear to dark neutral density allows the photographer to balance the exposure between the sky and the land to make a more even exposure in which detail remains in both the highlight and shadow areas. An alternative to this is exposure blending, where different exposures are made of the scene and combined in software later.
7 Man and the landscape
Great landscape photography is not necessarily about hunting out the most picturesque scene, in the most wonderful light and at the most perfect time of day. Indeed, there are many aspects of the world’s landscape that are less glamorous, such as the effects of heavy farming, rapidly expanding suburbs and sprawling industrial wastelands, that can make a poignant subject for the concerned photographer. Take a look at the effects of man on the landscape near your home and use them as photographic subjects.
To maximise on quality and also to allow you to edit your original images non-destructively, always shoot raw files when taking landscapes. RAW processing software, such as Adobe Camera Raw, is now so sophisticated that unless you want to significantly manipulate your image you rarely need to switch to traditional image-editing software, such as Photoshop.
9 Slow exposures
Slow exposures are regularly used by landscape photographers, whether it’s to optimise depth of field with a small aperture or to create smooth and milky seascapes by taking long exposure pictures of the sea. Exposures can be seconds (rather than fractions of a second) long, so a sturdy tripod is a must. To further minimise camera movement during the exposure consider using a cable release or your camera’s self-timer, as well as locking the mirror up.
10 Inspirational photographers
There are many great landscape photographers to draw inspiration from, as a simple Google search will prove. However, it’s worth looking at the work of Ansel Adams, who is often considered the old master of landscape photography and one of the best photographers of all time. If you get the chance to see his work in a gallery, make sure you go! Closer to home, the work of Fay Godwin reveals aspects of man’s influence on the land in a unique way. And, of course, the work of favourites such as Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite and David Noton is sure to inspire…
49 seriously good Canon DSLR tips, tricks, shortcuts and time savers
44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
10 rules of photo composition (and why they work)
Digital camera effects from A-Z
Stop Wasting Pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time