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10 landscape photography pro tips: How take amazing shots of the great outdoors

Landscape
(Image credit: Future)

Landscapes has to be one of the most accessible and enjoyable genres that photography has to offer, so it's no surprise that it's hugely popular. However, taking a great landscape can be trickier than initially thought, as lighting, composition and photo equipment can all throw a spanner in the works. 

So we caught up with UK-based professional landscape photographer, Bilal Hussain, so he could shed some light on what kit to get and top tips for winning landscape images.

• Read more: Best tripod heads for landscape photography (opens in new tab)

Bilal is a photographer and dental surgeon who loves nothing more than to unwind outside with his camera in his spare time. He’s taken pictures from deep-sea diving to soaring Cessna planes, and has a very adventurous spirit. He’s been to every continent on the planet and yet, as well travelled as he is, the UK’s Lake District is still one of his favorite places to shoot.

We teamed him with reader of PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab), Adrian Thomas. Here, you'll find Bilal's top 10 tips for landscapes, along with some of the images that Adrian was able to take by applying them to her own photography. 

You can find out more about Bilal's work on his website (opens in new tab)

01 Dial in some key settings

(Image credit: Future)
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To begin, Bilal put Adrian’s camera into manual mode and set a shutter speed of 1/160 sec to remove camera shake while shooting handheld. An aperture of f/11 was used for a decent amount of sharpness throughout the scene, and an ISO of 100 would deliver the best image quality with low levels of noise. Manual mode will also enable Adrian to lock the settings in, which means they don’t change between frames even if the light is slightly different.

The water was absolutely still on the morning and there was no cloud in sight so a long exposure wasn't needed for this awesome landscape taken at Rydal Water. (Image credit: Future)

02 Check the histogram

(Image credit: Future)
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Bilal advised Adrian to always check his images on the rear LCD of his camera to ensure that they’re sharp and correctly exposed. He brought up the histogram on Adrian’s camera in the playback mode to check the exposure – if the histogram is tightly bunched up on the left or right it means your shot is over- or underexposed and you’ve lost some detail. If either of these is the case, it’s best to adjust your exposure to retain more detail.

It's also worth shooting in the Raw format to record as much exposure information as possible at the point of capture.

03 Use an L-bracket for easy framing

(Image credit: Future)
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Bilal uses an Ellie L bracket from 3 Legged Thing, which is compatible with his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (opens in new tab) and allows him to quickly switch his camera between portrait and landscape orientation, using the Arca Swiss connection on his tripod. His L-plate is bright orange, too, making it easy to find in his kit bag when shooting in low light!

Best L bracket for your camera (opens in new tab)

An L-bracket makes it easy to shoot in both the landscape and portrait orientation on your tripod and keeps the centre of gravity directly above the tripod head, too. (Image credit: Future)

04 Invest in a set of high quality filters

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Bilal uses a whole range of filters from NiSi with his 16-35mm wide angle lens. He always has a circular polarizer attached to help cut down reflections in water or boost the blues in the sky. He also has a filter holder to add his NiSi 10-stop neutral density filter to, which blocks out 10 stops of light, turning a regular shutter speed of 1/30 sec into 30 secs, blurring moving elements in the scene.

• Best neutral density filters (opens in new tab)
Best polarizing filters (opens in new tab)

"Take the time to clean the front element of your lens and any filters before you use them. This will reduce the chance of dust spots or fingerprints appearing in images – this can save you a heap of time when editing." (Image credit: Future)

05 Get a wide-angle lens

(Image credit: Future)

Any optic with a focal length below 50mm is considered wide angle, as it provides a wider perspective than what the human eye can see. This makes them perfect for squeezing in expansive vistas. Bilal’s wide-angle optic of choice is Canon’s EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM, which has a super-wide 16mm end and can be zoomed to 35mm for less distortion. It also has a front filter thread, so filters can be applied easily.

Best wide-angle lenses (opens in new tab)

06 Go mono

The lighting in the original shot was quite flat and dull but by converting to black and white it's much more dramatic and full of contrast. (Image credit: Future)

Landscapes are well suited to a black-and-white treatment, therefore it can be beneficial to make your Live View mono, which will help you visualize your scene without color.

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On a Canon camera, for example, this can be done by changing the Picture Style in the menu and will enable you to compose your scene focusing on the shape and contrast within the frame, rather than any colors. If you shoot Raw you’ll still have access to the color version if needed, too.

07 Use a shutter release cable for long exposures

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Bilal uses a shutter release cable that plugs into his camera body and enables him to fire the shutter remotely, to avoid any camera shake from pressing the camera shutter button.

(Image credit: Future)

A shutter release cable also enables you to lock the shutter button down. This is useful when shooting in Bulb mode, as the shutter will stay open for as long as the shutter is pressed down so you can shoot exposures that are several minutes long, rather than the stock 30 seconds - the maximum exposure time that many cameras top out at otherwise.

Best camera remotes and cable releases (opens in new tab)

08 Get an aerial perspective with a drone

(Image credit: Bilal Hussain)
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To get a fresh perspective Bilal often brings his DJI Mavic Pro (opens in new tab) drone with him on landscape shoots to get an angle you simply can’t from ground level, like this moody and atmospheric high angle shot aiming down the lake at Coniston Water.

(Image credit: Future)

A fully charged battery gives roughly 20-30 minutes of flight time, though Bilal always carries spare batteries to keep his drone going if one battery gets fully drained. Always stay up to date with the latest drone flying laws in your country. If you're in the UK like we were for this shoot at the Lake District, check the CAA website www.caa.co.uk (opens in new tab)

• Best camera drones (opens in new tab)

09 Use photo apps

(Image credit: Future)

Bilal uses The Photographer’s Ephemeris (opens in new tab) app on his phone to work out the direction the sun will be setting and rising throughout the day. One of its brilliant features is that you can drop a pin anywhere on the map and it will show you the direction the sun will be approaching throughout the day. This makes it an incredibly powerful tool for planning landscapes, as you can work out where you need to be to capture your scene with the best possible lighting.

Best photo apps (opens in new tab)

10 Get a professional tripod

(Image credit: Future)

As a well-versed explorer of all four corners of the globe, it’s no surprise that Bilal’s tripod is the Gitzo GT2545T Traveller, which collapses down to just 44.5cm and can be extended to an impressive 154.5cm. It also supports up to 12kg of kit! More than enough, even for Bilal’s telephoto zoom lenses. He’s paired his tripod with a Gitzo ball head so he can make adjustments fast, unlocking and locking off the composition with a single knob.

Best tripods for photography (opens in new tab)
Best ball heads for tripods (opens in new tab)

A tripod is essential for long exposures like these where you want the stationary parts of the image to come out pin-sharp and blur moving elements like the clouds and water. (Image credit: Future)
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PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab) is the world's only monthly newsstand title that's 100% devoted to Canon, so you can be sure the magazine is completely relevant to your system. 

Read more:

Best cameras for landscape photography
(opens in new tab)Best lenses for landscapes
(opens in new tab)Photography tips (opens in new tab)

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