This article outlines some top tips to improve your Landscape Photography. By the end, you will have a foundation in the best equipment, preparation before your photo shoot, the use of tripods and filters, and general tips on composition.
Equipment for Landscape Photography
Why have I started with a tripod in the kit list and not a camera you may ask? Well, if you are serious about Landscape Photography you need to use a tripod. Yes, I hear you saying, you can take great photos of Landscapes without a tripod, and it’s true, you can. But to take consistently great photos you need to mount your camera on a tripod.
1) A tripod allows you to shoot longer exposures; which is vital in low-light scenarios. This is really important, as some of the best shots are at dawn and dusk.
2) A tripod removes camera shake, which is inevitable however steady your hands are due to the effect of distance.
Regarding which tripod, you need something sturdy enough to support your kit. Personally, I tend towards the full-size tripods for this as opposed to the light-weigh / travel types. This is a matter of personal choice, and also what you are prepared and/or able to carry around with you.
If you are serious about your Landscape photography, then a DSLR (either mirrored or mirrorless) is a must. Other types of cameras are coming into their own, but generally, the DSLRs still outperform the other types of cameras in low light. I am not going to go into camera recommendations, as the world is your oyster here, and depends on budget and preference. However, whatever camera you choose, you need to look for one with as low an ISO as possible. The reason for this is that you need to shoot with a low ISO to reduce noise in your image, and because we already ascertained that we are working on a tripod, then we can afford to dial the ISO right down. I always tend to work at ISO 100 for Landscape Photography.
The good news with Landscape Photography, as opposed to some of the other photographic genres, is that you don’t need expensive (fast glass) lenses. The reason for this is that you are in no hurry to take your photographs, and our camera is firmly attached to the tripod.
I recommend two lenses in your kit bag. Firstly a wide-angle, and by wide-angle you want to get the widest angle your budget can stretch to. My go-to lens is a Canon EF 17-40MM F/4L USM. There are obviously hundreds of alternative lenses out there, but I am not suggesting you buy this exact lens. The effect we are trying to get through is a big expansive feeling to your image. You only get this on really wide-angle lenses, and because I am using a full-frame sensor with this lens, I get the maximum from it in terms of that expansive feel.
Secondly, and this is if you have room in your kit bag, I like to take a telephoto zoom with me. Zoom lenses are not the first option on a lot of landscape photographers’ minds when they are selecting their kit for a shoot, but they are actually quite versatile; because you can isolate sections of the scene out, e.g. when taking pictures of water, and secondly because you don’t get the compressed feeling that you get with wide-angle lenses, so gives a different perspective on a scene.
My go-to lens for this is a Canon EF 100-400MM F/4.5-5.6L IS USM. Again, there are multiple lenses to go for out there. I went for a telephoto zoom because it gives me more flexibility, and to reiterate the point above, we don’t need fast glass, so a relatively high F Stop is a penalty of carrying a zoom as opposed to the equivalent fixed focal is not a problem for us.
The only filters I carry around with me these days are to capture effects in-camera, that you can’t capture post-process. I carry 3. Ok, there are some others out there for e.g. special effects, but you will find these 3 filters in many Landscape photographers’ kit bags.
A polariser as its name suggests is used to remove glare from water surfaces by absorbing light perpendicularly to a reflected light source. Or put more simply, is a great filter to remove reflections from water, and to darken skies by cutting through light reflections. A polariser is a circular filter that sits on the front of the lens, which you rotate until you visibly see the hot spot where reflections are eliminated.
A Neutral Density (ND) filter allows you to reduce the amount of light getting to the camera sensor. This is a great way of slowing the shutter speed down. They range in intensity, and you can stack them. Examples of use are:
1) Blurring the surface of the water.
2) Adding motion blur to subjects.
3) Extended-time exposures
Graduated Neutral Density
A graduated neutral density filter is similar to a standard ND filter, but as its name suggests is graduated across the diameter or width of the filter. Their use is principally in lower light conditions, where the sky is much brighter than the ground and allows you to balance the exposure. The reason for needing these filters is that cameras struggle to balance the exposure themselves where the exposure range is large. This is why you get either an under-exposed foreground or an over-exposed sky. A graduated neutral density fixes this problem.
Preparation for Landscape Photography
To get great photographs, you need great locations. So if you are not lucky enough to live in a really photogenic/picturesque location, then you are going to have to travel. In this case, it is worth doing some location preparation before you go. Do some internet searches of locations, and seek out the best places to capture great photos. Sites like Flickr are a great resource for this, as many photographers leave the geotag data on their images. Obviously, don’t limit yourself to this, when you turn up on location, get there early and scout around for a new great angle.
As an example, for the feature image of this article, I did some research on the best spots to take photographs; there are a few. I turned up about two hours before sunset with a place in mind, got an idea of where to shoot from, set my camera down in a few different places before making my mind up, and then settled on the viewpoint illustrated.
If you do post-processing in programs like Lightroom or Luminar, then I recommend you shoot in RAW. If you don’t do post-processing then stick with JPG. That said, my personal preference is to work in RAW at all times, because when you work in JPG, your camera not only compresses the image (making it less editable afterward), but it makes many of the decisions for you like white balance, tone, balance, etc. With RAW, you get ultimate control. Also with RAW, you can edit your images post-process non-destructively.
Landscape Photography Composition – Top Tips
1) Use the lowest native ISO setting available for your camera.
2) Always shoot using a tripod.
3) Shoot in RAW if you do post-processing and JPG if not.
4) Don’t forget to move around to experiment with different angles and viewpoints. Something many photographers forget, particularly when working with a tripod.
5) Take some images and then zoom in on your display to see if you captured the image how you wanted. There’s nothing worse than getting back from a shoot to find that all your images are blurry!
6) If shooting water, it is best captured (more dramatic) with the water flow coming towards you and not away. Also when shooting water, experiment with your zoom lens, as you can isolate clutter from your image and focus on interesting aspects of the water flow.
7) Landscapes are best taken in the Golden Hour, which is the period of time about one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. The ambient light is softer and redder during this time.
8) Landscapes need a foreground, middle, and background interest. This sounds like stating the obvious, but many photographers forget this.
9) Linked with the above point, clouds in the sky really add interest and depth to your image.