The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

Commandment 10: Use a low ISO setting

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Adam Burton

A low sensitivity setting is a passport to smooth, noise-free images with plenty of detail. Failing to observe this commandment can turn uniform areas such as a blue sky into a mottled mess, and leave deep shadows speckled with colour.

Unless you’re trying to blur movement, there’s usually little to be gained from using a low sensitivity expansion setting, such as ISO50.

Even at the low end, straying from the native sensitivity range usually results in some compromise in image quality – often reducing the dynamic range. For most DSLRs the lowest native sensitivity value is ISO100, but for some older models it’s ISO200.

Using a low sensitivity setting along with a narrow aperture usually demands a slow shutter speed, and in most instances this means a tripod is required to get sharp images.

Most images benefit from post-capture sharpening, but it’s particularly true of landscape shots because it enables the treatment to be applied selectively. Selective sharpening allows details to be made crisp without introducing artefacts in even-toned areas such as the sky.

Software packages such as Nik’s Sharpener Pro enable different levels of sharpening to be applied to specific image areas, but it can be achieved with any software that enables images to be combined using layers.

Selective sharpening involves creating a duplicate layer and applying sharpening just to the land on the top layer. The eraser tool, or a layer mask, can then be used to remove the sky of this layer to reveal the unsharpened sky of the background layer below.

To learn more about using different ISO settings, check out our in-depth guide to What is ISO: when to increase sensitivity, types of noise and more.

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Alison Shaw

Break The Rules: Everything to grain
If you’re shooting a misty landscape or you’re shooting in stormy conditions there’s often little point in getting too wound up about using a low sensitivity setting. In fact, using a high ISO setting to introduce some noise can really bring out the atmosphere of the scene.

If you decide to go down this route, you may need to push your camera to its maximum setting to get the levels of noise you want.

As usual, the best results are achieved with raw images because they provide the most control over noise. You might want the light and shade speckling of luminance noise, but occasionally coloured noise is desired.

Use your raw conversion software to reduce the level of chroma noise while keeping the luminance noise.

Monochrome images can work especially well with a bit of ‘grain’, and they transform coloured noise into luminance noise.

Commandment 1: Shoot during the golden hour
Commandment 2: Use a wideangle lens
Commandment 3: Use the Rule of Thirds
Commandment 4: Find foreground interest
Commandment 5: Use a steady tripod
Commandment 6: Focus one third in
Commandment 7: Balance the exposure
Commandment 8: Boost greens and blues
Commandment 9: Use a narrow aperture
Commandment 10: Use a low ISO setting


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  • jmeyer

    Thanks for the kind words, durand! Glad to have you here!