Whether you’re a novice landscape photographer or have sold thousands of your photos through stock agencies, there are some fundamental rules of landscape photography that stay with you as a photographer, even once you’ve honed your craft and learned how to break the rules to develop your own style (to learn how to break the rules, see our guide to The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography – and how to break them). Below we’ve pulled 26 of the best landscape photography tips that working pros have told us they still use on a daily basis.
Incorporate these lessons into your own landscape photography and you’re soon to be taking better pictures in no time.
1 Map out locations
You should never head out on landscape shoots in new locations without a good map; we like the Ordnance Survey Landranger series. Before you leave home, use your OS map to do a recce of the area you are planning to photograph. OS maps are invaluable, because they enable you to plan your route, working out elevations and exactly where the mountain peaks, lakes and scenic spots are, which road or trail you’ll need to reach them, and the best positions to photograph them from. This means that once you get there, all you need to think about is taking brilliant pictures.
2 Get in position
Think about your scenes and find out where you should shoot from to make the most of them. Working out where the sun will rise and set, and the sun’s position in relation to you and your landscape, will ensure you’re in the right place at the right time.
3 Read the landscape
Before you start taking landscapes, stop and survey the lie of the land. Make sure you’re in the best spot in relation to the position of the sun. Also look for an ‘anchor’ – a focal point that leads the eye into the image, whether it’s a farmhouse, a line of trees or foreground interest.
4 Don’t be lazy!
When photographing landscapes, beginners often pull up at a viewpoint car park, get out of the car and take a few hand-held snaps of the scene, before driving off again. To improve your shots, use your feet. Walk around, get down to the lakeside or base of the mountain, or walk up to a higher viewpoint, so you’re involved in the scene rather than just a passing viewer. This will really help to improve your compositions.
5 The golden hours
Sunrise (and an hour or so after) and sunset (and an hour or so just before) are the best times of day for capturing beautiful landscape shots with spectacularly colourful skies. Watch the forecast beforehand and try to avoid overcast or cloudy days – clear skies with only a smattering of clouds usually create the most colourful skylines. Set an early alarm or stay out late and be on location ready to capture moody, vibrant skies just as the sun rises or sets.
6 Shoot in RAW
Some amateurs are more comfortable shooting JPEGs. However, it’s always best to shoot landscapes using your camera’s RAW quality setting, because the resulting images will contain much more ‘information’. This allows you more scope to increase or decrease the exposure or enhance the tones and colours in Adobe Camera Raw or similar RAW processing software afterwards, without compromising quality.
7 Use a tripod
You’ll often find yourself shooting landscapes in low light, with shutter speeds too slow to shoot hand-held without risking camera shake (1/10 sec to 10 secs, for example). So, for the best results using a tripod is essential.
8 Follow the light
Landscape photography is all about making the most of the light. You need to shoot not only at the right time of day, but also at the right time of year. Early morning sunrises and late evening sunsets are best, as they produce softer, more colourful light with longer shadows that will give your landscape shots extra depth and dimension.
9 Mirror movement
Even the mirror moving up and down inside your DSLR can create enough vibration during long exposures to cause unwanted camera shake. Enable the Mirror Lock-up setting available on your DSLR (usually hidden in the custom functions menu) to make doubly sure your shots will be sharp.
Before setting up, visualise the photo you’re trying to capture. Take sample shots by shooting handheld, moving around, getting up high and kneeling down really low. Take several photos until you’re sure you’re in the best spot for a good, balanced composition of foreground and background elements. Once you’ve found the best position, keep your camera in the exact spot and reach for your tripod before you shoot.
11 Get perfect colour using white balance
You’ll generally find that your camera’s Auto White Balance setting is fine for shooting landscapes, because it’s so good on modern DSLRs and 99 times out of 100 it will set the best temperature colours for the scene. However, if your shots don’t do justice to the scene you saw, don’t panic – you can warm up or cool down the scene back home by shooting in RAW and using the Temperature slider in Adobe’s Camera Raw editor. Below 4000K cools a shot down and makes it bluer; above 6000K warms up the colours and makes the whole image more orangey.
12 Maximise the depth of field
For successful, sharp landscape photos, you’ll want to ensure your entire scene appears in focus from front to back. To achieve this, select a narrow aperture of around f/16 or f/22 to get maximum depth of field, then focus one third into the scene to ensure your photos are acceptably sharp from the foreground to the horizon.
13 Get sharper shots
When shooting landscapes, it’s best to use your camera’s manual autofocus (AF) point selection. If you leave your camera on auto point selection, chances are it will only focus on the objects closest to you, which is not ideal when shooting landscapes. If in doubt, select the central AF point, then focus ‘one third up’ the scene to ensure your photos are sharp from front to back.
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