Landscape photography tips every aspiring landscape photographer needs to know.
As every aspiring landscape photographer already knows, when trying to capture beautiful landscapes that draw people in, you can’t simply go out into nature and hope for the best. Professional landscape photography requires careful planning, attention to detail, and an expert eye.
Thankfully, for those of you who have goals of building a landscape photography business, these skills are all things that can be taught. From learning how to use the settings on your camera to understanding the best lighting for your subject, today we’re going over all the essential skills an aspiring landscape photographer needs to cultivate prior to launching their business.
Introduction: landscape photography basics.
We want to help you get professional results from the get-go. Ensuring you have all the landscape photography basics under your belt is an excellent place to start.
Work through these three key landscape photography aspects one by one, and before you know it, your career will take off.
You can have the most beautiful subject in the world, but if you’re not able to get the right light, your photo is doomed. If you have too many shadows, the subject will be obscured, but if your photo is too bright, the subject will be blown out and unrecognizable.
Either way, having the right balance of light and dark can make or break your image.
We’ll dive deeper into landscape photography lighting later on.
Subject and focus.
Landscape photos tend to be expansive. In other words, rather than getting up close and personal with a subject, a landscape photographer generally stands back and attempts to capture a wider scene.
This is why having a subject or focus with your photos is essential to landscape photography. Without it, your image can feel pointless, just a scene with no unique visuals or point of interest.
Prior to shooting a scene, ensure you’ve taken the time to narrow in on your subject so the image feels intentional.
Landscape photography composition.
You’ve narrowed in on a subject and you feel confident about lighting it, but if you don’t carefully consider how you’re going to compose the image, you can set yourself up for failure.
Composition in landscape photography needs to be aimed at capturing a viewer’s interest. Because the subject can be so expansive, if we don’t consider composition, the subject will likely get lost and the image will feel pointless. It’s important to consider what’s in your foreground to ground the image, as well as how the rest of the image is composed to draw in the viewer and guide their eye through the scene.
Composition in landscape photography.
If you’re confused about why composition matters so much in landscape photography, think of it this way: If you have a sunset scene you’re shooting, and you don’t carefully consider where the sun is in the shot, the image will likely just feel like a mash-up of different colors that don’t have a point.
Alternatively, if you capture the sun at the perfect angle and consider what is framing the shot, you’ll likely end up with a gorgeous sunset image that immediately makes viewers feel nostalgic for warm, beach days.
If you’re unsure about how to compose an image, these ideas are all worth keeping in mind:
- Golden ratio landscape photography.
The golden ratio in landscape photography is a composition guide that uses a ratio of 1.618 to 1. To use it, subjects in your composition should be placed so that they follow this ratio. Doing so will help draw people into your image, making it more visually interesting, balanced, and pleasing to the human eye. The golden ratio is based on the Fibonacci spiral
It can take time to see the golden ratio grid lines in your eye, but with time and practice, it will become second nature, and you’ll begin shooting perfectly composed images.
- Rule of thirds landscape photography.
If you want to use the rule of thirds in landscape photography, you’ll begin by shifting your focus to the right or left quadrant of an image rather than straight on. You want to leave the other two-thirds of the image left more open and expansive.
In addition, you want to begin seeing imaginary gridlines in your mind, splitting the image up into nine quadrants with four gridlines. If you have more than one subject, place your subjects along these gridlines and you’ll end up with a more visually appealing piece of work.
- Leading lines landscape photography.
Landscape photography is all about drawing people in, and leading lines can significantly help. Using this composition guideline, your goal is to find lines within your scene and compose the image so that the lines lead the viewer’s eye around the scene in a visually interesting way.
For example, if you see a beautiful set of trees along the side of the road, rather than standing parallel to the road and taking a picture of the trees straight on, you could stand in the middle of the road so that the trees are on either side, and the perpendicular lines from the road lead the eye into the image.
Landscape photography settings.
As a professional landscape photographer, you’ll have a variety of settings to keep in mind in order to capture your best work. To begin, though, these are the three that we recommend paying particular attention to:
Finding the best ISO for landscape photography is a balancing act. A low ISO will give you a clean image, while a higher ISO will keep things sharp even in low lighting. At the same time, if you go too high, you’re likely going to end up with noise in your image.
The best rule of thumb is to always go with the lowest ISO you can get away with. In many cases, this will mean an ISO of 100; however, if you’re shooting in low lighting, you might have to go higher. If there is any movement in the image, this will often affect the ISO. Use your best judgment, but in general, we would say start with 100 and adjust from there without sacrificing quality.
With landscape photography, because you’re often not focusing on one particular subject, your goal is likely to get as much of the landscape in focus as possible. As a result, the best aperture for landscape photography is usually on the higher end with an f-stop between f/8 and f/11. This allows enough light in to keep the image in focus, but not too much that the scene is only sharp at one particular point.
- Shutter Speed
Your shutter speed is directly impacted by what f-stop you choose. At the same time, you might need to first consider your shutter speed and then determine your f-stop. This is common if there is motion in your image. For instance, if you want to freeze motion on your shot, your shutter speed will need to be set at 1/100th of a second. On the other hand, if you’re shooting at night and want to capture a dark landscape scene, shooting at a slow shutter speed will let more light into the camera.
Landscape photography filters.
To use a filter or not to use a filter? This is one of the biggest question beginning landscape photographers have when they start shooting. Use these tips to help you determine whether or not a filter is the right choice for you and your shot.
- ND filter for landscape photography.
When it comes to picking an ND filter for your landscape photography, there are three options that are most popular: the 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop.
When trying to choose between the three, we recommend the 3-stop for those scenes where you want to create a realistic sense of motion. Alternatively, if you’re working with a longer exposure and you want to avoid motion, we would recommend either the 6-stop or 10-stop.
Just remember, no matter what ND filter you choose to work with, you will likely find that the image is affected in terms of quality and color. In addition, keep in mind that cameras can be very advanced, and you may not require an ND filter to achieve your desired outcome.
- Using a polarizing filter for landscape photography.
A polarizing filter can be particularly useful for landscape photographers because it helps reduce reflections and glare that might come up in your landscape composition (i.e. wet surface or water). More specifically, we recommend all landscape photographers invest in a circular polarizer.
Polarizers can also help make colors pop more, showing off contrast, and giving an image more dimension.
- How to use graduated filters in landscape photography.
Graduated filters are best used for darkening a background. For instance, if you’re shooting during a sunset, the light from the sun might make your background very light, making your foreground difficult to make out. To avoid this, a graduated filter will darken the background and make the foreground more visible.
Keep in mind, in some instances, you may want that bright background, but when the brightness of the background is taking away from the overall composition, use a graduated filter to help balance things out.
Seasonal landscape photography tips.
As a landscape photographer, you’ll be shooting exclusively outdoors. Because of this, you need to pay special attention to the seasons and the unique shooting conditions that each season brings.
Pick what season you’re currently shooting in, and follow these tips to help ramp up the quality of your landscape photography.
Autumn Landscape Photography
- Don’t make fall foliage the sole focus of your image. While all the fall colors and textures might be hard to resist, if you focus exclusively on this, your image could end up looking fairly standard and conventional. To give your composition more depth and interest, let the fall colors and textures be secondary, framing elements.
- Use a long focal length lens. While you might be tempted to use a wide-angle lens that captures an expansive shot that shows off the beautiful fall leaves, oftentimes, this can be overwhelming to the eye. Instead, don’t be afraid to compress the scene so that you get more detail in your shot (i.e. focus on pattern and texture rather than just color).
- Take advantage of golden hour. Golden hour is prime time for shooting, no matter what the season, but it makes for particularly stunning photos during the autumn months. You’ll get that beautiful soft glow, which will help to warm up the scene even further, while also simultaneously making the colors in the scene pop.
Winter Landscape Photography
- Seek out contrasting colors. If you’re photographing the standard winter scene, snow is more than likely a part of your composition. Without careful planning, this can make for a dull image. To avoid your composition from looking like a blur of white, seek out contrasting details (i.e. a pop of color that you can work into the composition).
- Shoot during the blue hour. While golden hour is great for autumn photography, blue hour is optimal for winter photography. This is the time of day just before sunrise or just after sunset. It’s a fairly low light time to shoot in, but because there’s so much white in the scene already (i.e. snow), less light is necessary.
- Plan to shoot fresh snow. Fresh snowfall in your images is going to look the best. This means checking the weather and planning accordingly. If you wait for a day or two after snowfall, you’ll likely end up with footprints and disturbances in the snow from both humans and animals.
Spring Landscape Photography
- Bring life to your images. Having lively photos is important all year round, but it becomes particularly important in the spring months after a presumably long, cold winter. Look for signs of life with blooming flowers, greenery, and animals. You can even shoot in early spring and show signs of life coming up through the melting snow.
- Shoot in the early morning. This can be a particular advantage because you get beautiful sunshine breaking through trees in heavily wooded areas, you often see animals during this time, and if you’re lucky, you might even have early morning fog or mist, which can help bring even more visual interest to your image.
- Get up close and personal. When we think of landscape photography, we often think of wide, expansive shots, but spring can be a great time to turn this idea on its head. For instance, shooting up-close shots of flowers tends to be a popular shot. You can even shoot dew drops in the early morning.
Summer Landscape Photography
- Make use of filters. One of the most difficult things about shooting landscapes in the summer is the intensity of the light. You’ll find that the days are longer, the sun is brighter, and the vegetation can be less lush during particularly hot summers. To combat this, use a polarizing filter to help fight the harsh summer light.
- Seek out unique locations. Summer tends to be one of the best times to seek out new shooting locations. Because you’re not dealing with snow or extreme weather, getting to the locations is more doable. The days also tend to be longer, which can be convenient if there’s travel involved.
- Take advantage of summer sunsets. It might seem a little cliche, but there’s a good reason why summer sunsets are so popular. Because they are beautiful! With the most amazing colors and a beautiful afterglow, it’s hard to complete with a summer sunset when it comes to picking a subject for your landscape composition.
Landscape photography tips by location and lighting.
Where you shoot your landscapes is going to significantly affect your shooting strategy. Being prepared and understanding how these different locations affect your photography will make changing locations less stressful and more seamless, while also simultaneously improving your work.
Sunset Landscape Photography
- Keep your ISO low. Why? Because the lower you keep that ISO, the less chance there is of having noise in your image. With sunset photography, you want to achieve a clear, clean image. In general, we suggest trying to keep the ISO between 100 or 200.
- Aim for a high f-stop. In particular, somewhere between f/11 and f/16 should be sufficient. Doing so will give you the largest depth of field possible. You also might find that doing so gives you a unique starburst effect in your composition.
- Try using a tripod. Because you will likely want to capture the details of the sunset, the stability of a tripod can be invaluable. It will prevent any shake in your image, while also giving you the opportunity to play with long exposures. These long exposures can be particularly visually appealing if you have water in your image.
Mountain Landscape Photography
- Utilize the foreground. While the mountain may be the star of your image, there’s no rule that says you can’t include other elements. In fact, we highly encourage you to do so to help make your image more visually interesting. Solely focusing on mountains and not considering other elements of the image can be limiting. Foreground elements might include wildflowers, streams, and even wildlife.
- Use other elements to help indicate scale. One of the most impressive features of mountains is their size. In photography, this doesn’t always translate, but if we incorporate other elements into the composition, we can help provide scale (i.e. how large the mountain is relative to this other subject). In particular, adding a carefully-placed person in your landscape can be impactful.
- Be aware of lighting differences. If you’re not accustomed to shooting mountain landscapes, keep in mind that the natural rise and fall of the sun will be on a different schedule than your typical landscapes. This is because of the height of the mountains. For instance, if you want to get golden hour lighting, you’ll need to plan to shoot several hours before the typical golden hour, because once the sun goes behind the mountains, your lighting source will be significantly reduced.
Forest Landscape Photography
- Shoot early in the day. One of the most popular times of day for forest landscape photography, early morning light creates a soft glow. In addition, when the sun is low in the sky, the light streams through the trees, which can make for great photos. Early morning mist can also be a bonus. Alternatively, you can shoot during golden hour (i.e. an hour before sunset) for a similar effect.
- Try adding a polarizing filter to your lens. This will help reduce any glare from water or other reflective surfaces. In addition, even if you don’t have any reflective surfaces in the image, it’s still worth trying. This type of filter can help make colors look more vibrant, which can be particularly appealing if you’re shooting in the fall when fall foliage is at its peak.
- Don’t forget your tripod. While it is possible to shoot forest photography without a tripod, having one could save you. The low lighting that is inevitable in a heavily wooded forest could make shooting difficult, especially if you want to avoid any motion blur or noise in your image.
Landscape Beach Photography
- Seek out clouds. We know that having “not a cloud in the sky” might sound ideal, but the reality is, when it comes to landscape photography, having some clouds in your composition will make the image more interesting.
- Don’t forget about the foreground. While the sky and water are important in your image, your foreground is equally important. The sky should act as a complement to your image and not the focus. For example, rocks tend to be a good foreground focus for beach photography.
- Place your camera down low. You want your camera to be at eye-level with the subject, but because landscapes don’t generally have specific subjects, you should aim to bring your camera to the level of your main focus. For instance, if you’re shooting rocks in the foreground, bring your camera to the level of those rocks. Doing so ensures that the foreground is emphasized, as well as ensuring that we have a good portion of water and sky in the composition.
Ocean Landscape Photography
- Seek out storms. While you’re probably not going to want to shoot in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm, seeking out storms with ocean photography can make for great lighting situations. In particular, storm clouds can create a lot of visual interest. Even just after a storm can be a great opportunity for ocean landscape photography.
- Be aware of your exposure. While you might think that all that sunshine will put you at risk of overexposing your image, there’s actually an even greater likelihood that you underexposure your image. This is because your camera’s meter is not smart enough to understand that you’re by the ocean. We recommend exposing your image a stop brighter than your camera thinks it needs to be.
- Try creating silhouettes. A great way to play with light at the ocean is to create silhouettes. Your goal should be to properly expose the water and sky, but then to let the foreground and subjects in your scene go dark. We recommend trying this trick when you have easily recognizable silhouettes in your image (i.e. sailboats, birds, people, palm trees, etc.).
Night City Landscape Photography
- Use a longer shutter speed. Because you are shooting at night, you will need to make use of a longer shutter speed that allows more light into your camera. We recommend anywhere between 30 seconds and 60 seconds. In addition, because the shutter is open for so long, you will need a tripod to reduce noise and motion blur.
- Make sure you’re shooting in raw. While shooting in raw is recommended for most images, it is particularly important with night city landscapes. Shooting at night means there is a good deal of range between pure black and pure white in your image. When you shoot in raw, you capture more range, which can be manipulated in post-production using a program like Lightroom.
- Increase shadows and pull down highlights. As a professional photographer, post-production is key for creating a visually appealing image. This is particularly true with night city landscapes where the colors won’t be as vivid without editing. By simply increasing shadows and pulling down highlights, you’ll create a more vivid image.
Rural Landscape Photography
- Seek out cool subjects. One of the best parts about rural landscape photography is the amount of creativity you can bring to your image. Rather than just shooting vast landscapes, look for landscapes that have unique elements you can add to the image. For instance, old barns, towers, churches, farm machinery, old buildings, horses, etc.
- Consider the sky/the weather. The weather has the potential to completely shift the mood of your image. For instance, if you want a moody feel, shoot in the rain, when it’s cloudy, or even better, when there is fog. If you want something more bright, vibrant, and playful, this dark weather won’t be appropriate.
- Play with composition. Before you just go ahead and start shooting, consider the elements of your photo. Do you have the main focus? Can you easily identify what is most interesting about the scene? If you follow the rule of thirds, you’ll want to put that main subject about a third of a way into the shot. Play around with this to avoid a composition that is boring with no real point of interest.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where to focus in landscape photography?
Traditionally, landscape photos tend to be wide and expansive with no distinct focus. Having said that, if you don’t have some focus in your composition, the image can end up feeling pointless and not very interesting to look at. A good rule of thumb is to focus a third of the way into the photo.
How to improve landscape photography?
Hopefully, some of the tips above have given you inspiration on how to improve your landscape photography. In general, though, we would say think outside the box with your composition, be intentional about your subject matters, and take the time to research and plan out your location shoots. A balance between spontaneous and intentional can be tremendously helpful.
How to shoot landscape photography?
Landscape photography might seem easy because it doesn’t require a specific focus. Having said that, oftentimes, nailing the balance between an effortless and intentional composition can be tricky. To shoot landscape photography you need to know the scenery, to consider the weather, and to manipulate your composition while working within the bounds of nature.
With landscape photography, which depth of field do you normally want?
Generally speaking, a larger depth of field is preferred for landscape photographers. This is because landscape photographers generally want the majority of their composition to be in focus. With that in mind, there are no rules with landscape photography, so don’t be afraid to play with a narrow depth of field if you want to focus on a particular subject.
What f-stop do you use for landscape photography?
As with any style of photography, what f-stop you use will be entirely dependent on the unique circumstances you find yourself in. In most cases, we find that being between f/8 and f/11 works well, but again, this always depends on the scene (i.e. if you’re shooting in the morning, you’ll be working with less light than you would be if you were shooting in the middle of the day).
What is the best aperture for landscape photography?
F-stop and aperture are essentially the same things. We measure aperture in f-stops. That being said, you’ll want to use higher aperture for landscape photography. Again, somewhere between f/8 and f/11. Just keep in mind that there are no rules, and the unique circumstances will determine what aperture you use.
What are the best settings for landscape photography?
There is no one set of settings that works for all landscape scenarios. Where you shoot and the time of day will greatly impact what settings you use. When in doubt, though, an f-stop between f/8 and f/11 is ideal. Your shutter speed will depend on the amount of motion in your image, and your ISO should be your base camera setting (rely on the shutter speed for more light, if necessary).
How to learn landscape photography?
The best way to learn landscape photography is to practice. The more landscapes you’re exposed to, the more likely it is that you’ll master your camera’s settings. In addition, if you haven’t already, we recommend taking a basic photography course to help you become familiar with more complex topics. Beyond that, you’ll learn mostly through practice.
How to start landscape photography?
Start by investing in a quality camera that will allow you to experiment with things like aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Next, we recommend taking a basic course in photography to help familiarize you with your camera. From there, get out there and start shooting various landscapes. The more variety and scenarios you’re exposed to, the better equipped you’ll be as a landscape photographer.
How to use a light meter for landscape photography?
A light meter for landscape photography is crucial for getting a properly exposed photo. To use a light meter, simply hold the meter out in front of your subject, ensuring that you’re directing the meter towards the light that is illuminating the subject (don’t point the meter towards the camera because this likely won’t be the same lighting as what is illuminating your subject).
What filter should you use for landscape photography?
We would say that a polarizing filter is the most popular option for landscape photography. A polarizing filter is great for reducing reflections and glares, as well as making colors seem more vibrant and rich. A circular polarizing filter can be particularly helpful because it simply attaches to the lens of your camera. All you have to do is adjust it clockwise or counter-clockwise to change the amount of polarization.