Landscape Photography

David Coultham

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In this article, we will talk about Landscape Photography. By the end, you will have a foundation in the best equipment to use. Some tips on preparation before your next photo shoot. Plus, useful tips on composition to take your Landscape Photography to the next level.

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Video | Landscape Photography – A Complete Guide

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 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. In other words, even a tiny camera movement is magnified many times at the horizon meaning your photos will look blurred

Canon DSLR

Regarding which tripod, you need something sturdy enough to support your kit. 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.

Mirrorless/DSLR Cameras

If you are serious about your Landscape photography, then a DSLR (either mirrored or mirrorless) is a serious consideration. Other types of cameras are coming into their own, but generally, 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.

Smartphone Cameras

Some of the newest smartphones are a viable alternative to avoid lugging around heavy cameras. Low light performance seems to improve year on year as new models are released and in many tests, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between what was taken on a phone versus a traditional DSLR or Mirrorless Camera. This is particularly true for wide-angle shots, though for telephoto zoom shots; a good DSLR or Mirrorless telephoto lens still outperforms a phone hands down.

The only other exception to this recommendation is when you need to use specialist filters such as Polarizers and Neutral Density Filters. At the time of writing, the only viable way of buying optical quality glass filters (as opposed to cheap plastic) is for Mirrorless & DSLR camera.

Mirrorless/DSLR Lenses

Canon 17-40 USM

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. 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.

Canon EF 100-400

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 quite versatile; because you can isolate sections of the scene out. For example, when taking pictures of water. Additionally, when using a telephoto you don’t get the compressed feeling that you get with wide-angle lenses, so gives a different perspective on a scene. 

The only filters I carry around with me these days are to capture effects in-camera, that you can’t capture during post-processing. I carry 3. Ok, there are some others out there 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. 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.

Neutral Density

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.

Other Equipment

The final equipment recommendation is a remote shutter cable. These help by removing the risk of camera shake when you press the shutter button.

Landscape Photography

Preparation for Landscape Photography

To get great photographs, you need great locations. So if you are not lucky enough to live in a photogenic location, you will have to travel. In this case, it is worth doing location preparation before you go. Do some internet searches of locations, and seek 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.

Landscape Photography


1) Use the lowest native ISO setting available for your camera. Because we are shooting on a tripod, it doesn’t matter what the shutter speed is because the camera is stable. Conversely, the higher the ISO, the more ISO noise you get in the captured image. So it makes sense to keep noise to its minimum.

2) 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 JPEG. That said, my personal preference is to work in RAW at all times, because when you work in JPEG, 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.

3) With Landscape Photography we are normally controlling the depth of field, so shoot in Aperture Priority mode. There are of course exceptions to this for example when photographing flowing water and wanting a specific speed, but even in these cases you can still shoot in AV and adjust the aperture until you get the speed that you desire.

4) If you are trying to achieve the maximum depth of field possible then shoot with the smallest aperture possible for your lens. This is typically f18, f22, or even higher. Conversely, if you want to limit the depth of field then open the aperture up

Composition – Top Tips

1) Don’t forget to move around to experiment with different angles and viewpoints. This is something many photographers forget, particularly when working with a tripod. It’s an easy mistake to make, you set up your tripod, compose your shot, and it is almost as though the tripod became rooted to the ground.

2) Take some images and then zoom in on your display to see if you captured the image as you intended. There’s nothing worse than getting back from a shoot to find that all your images are blurry! 

3) Landscapes are best taken in the Golden Hour, which is the period about one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. The ambient light is softer and redder during this time. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but for the main part, you want to try and target your shots for this period if you can.

4) Landscapes need interest in the foreground, middle, and background. This sounds like stating the obvious, but many photographers forget this. If you have a scene that looks great but lacks a foreground, then consider either moving position so that you have something in the foreground of the scene such a rock or piece of wood or something. You might even consider adding an item to the scene such as a lens ball!

5) When photographing skies, remember that clouds in the sky add interest and depth to your image; especially in golden-hour shots as they reflect the light.

6) When photographing scenes that contain skies, experiment with a circular polarizer filter mounted onto your lens. To use them, you first compose your scene as normal, then rotate the polarizer until you see the hot spot. This is the point at which the sky is visibly darkest. The polarizer will not only cut through any UV haze but also helps your camera balance the overall exposure.

7) Similarly, when photographing scenes where you are looking across bodies of water in the foreground, you can use your circular polarizer to eliminate reflections in the water. This adds impact to your scene by making elements under the water surface such as rocks visible to your camera.

8) If you are photographing flowing water, it is more dramatic with the water flow coming towards you and not away from you.

9) Water is also best photographed using relatively slow shutter speeds such as 1/30s or 1/60s or even slower. These speeds make the water look more natural to the eye as opposed to really fast shutter speeds which freeze the water and make it look less natural.

10) If you want to achieve water shots where the surface of the water almost looks like cotton wool, try experimenting with ND filters. These restrict the light by several stops, enabling you to achieve extremely slow shutter speeds like 1m or even longer. To use an ND filter, you first set up your composition including focus; without the ND filter attached to your lens. This is because neither you nor the sensor of your camera can see anything when the ND is attached. Then set your camera to manual focus and be careful not to move the focus ring as you mount the ND onto the lens. Put your camera into manual mode and load the settings from your setup stage for aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. Then adjust the exposure time according to the strength of the ND filter, so e.g., an ND10 is 10 stops. The easiest way to go about this is to download one of the many Apps onto your smartphone that work out what your exposure time is.

Incidentally, the use of ND filters in this way is not just limited to water. You can use the same technique with clouds for an ethereal feel to your images, and they are also great for removing signs of people in your photographs, as people tend to move about, and if your exposure time is long enough they are not picked up in the photo.

11) When shooting water, try experimenting with your zoom lens as opposed to your wide angle, as you can isolate clutter from your image and focus on interesting aspects of the water flow.

12) If you are photographing scenes where there is extremely high contrast between e.g. the sky and the land, then consider using a graduated ND filter to balance the scene out. If you don’t own one, however, you can bracket the exposure with say 3 shots at different f-stops and then combine the photographs during post-processing.

13) You can achieve starbursts when pointing into the sun without the need to use filters. You do this by using the smallest native aperture on your lens e.g. f22 or higher. This is because the light refracts on the lens shutter and creates stars of light.

Hyperfocal Distance

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