Design, Photography, & Fashion

A Complete Guide to Landscape Photography

Written by MasterClass

Aug 16, 2018 • 7 min read

There is little that compares to the grand majesty of nature. The allure of impossible rock formations, the breadth of expansive beaches, and the fairytale feel of canopied forests never ceases to stun even a well-seasoned landscape photographer.

Capturing stunning landscapes is an art in itself. Landscape shots require a deep knowledge of sense of scale, and how best to utilize the right time of day to one’s advantage. Follow the landscape photography tips below to land a great shot.



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What Is Landscape Photography?

Landscape photography is photography that occurs in the great outdoors. It is separate from what we know as nature photography. Usually, landscape photography captures an impressive natural scene—an imposing mountain range, a serene, sprawling field, a river roaring by—untouched by human presence (besides the photographer’s, of course).

For all beginner landscape photographers seeking to explore the earth while capturing their own magnificent images, here is a complete guide to get started.

What’s the Best Camera for Landscape Photography?

While it is possible to take photographs with any camera, consider investing in a mirrorless digital camera or DSLR for your landscape photography needs.

  • Mirrorless and DSLR cameras provide maximum control over camera settings, which means not only is the baseline quality of the image automatically superior, the possibilities of creating professional-looking pictures are endless.
  • Mirrorless and DSLR cameras also allow the photographer to swap lenses.
  • For sweeping landscape images, like canyons and caverns, go with a wide-angle lens such as Nikon’s 14-24mm.
  • For more detailed and close-up images, don’t be afraid to use a zoom lens or telephoto lens, like Canon’s 70-200mm.
  • Experiment with different focal lengths (the distance in millimeters between the lens and the camera’s sensor) to see how the same vista can render in different ways.
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Do You Need a Tripod for Landscape Photography?

A sturdy tripod is a landscape photographer’s best tool. Manfrotto manufactures a professional-grade line at an affordable price point. The basic function of a tripod is to act as an extension of the photographer. The tripod stabilizes the camera so you can take the exact shot you want.

A tripod is ideal in low-light situations or during night photography, as the steadiness allows you to lower the shutter speed without sacrificing ISO, or grain. A tripod is also useful for experimenting with angles and perspective; depending on the landscape, you may choose to photograph shooting up, across, or down to produce the desired effect.

What Are the Best Settings for Landscape Photography?

A competent landscape photographer possesses the fundamentals of good photography: knowing how and when to adjust exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It is particularly important to have a good grip on these elements since most landscape photography occurs in the great outdoors, where weather and light can change dramatically—and quickly.

  • Aperture is the size of the lens opening, which lets in light.
  • Shutter speed is the duration of time the lens is open; low-light or long exposures depend on lower shutter speed to bring in as much light as possible.
  • ISO increases brightness, however, depending on the strength of light, ISO might also add grain. Know the difference between a lower ISO and higher ISO and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Some photographers use grain to their advantage, but for a crisp image, try not to rely too heavily on ISO to compensate for light. All of these elements lead to exposure, which is the combined light that enters the camera sensor after adjusting aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Manual mode controls each element separately, aperture priority favors the lens opening over other settings, while Automatic mode adjusts all elements automatically.


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How to Focus on the Subject in Landscape Photography

Most landscape photography relies on wide-angle lenses and a large depth of field to adequately capture the subject. A high aperture, adjusted with the f-stop, allows most of the subject to come into sharp focus.

  • Use the gridlines in your viewfinder or screen to find focus.
  • Begin at either the top or bottom third of the frame, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • While there are some examples of landscape photography that prioritize the foreground, resulting in a blurred background (known as a shallow depth of field, or portrait effect), most landscape photography captures the entire scene at once.
  • If you have trouble getting clear focus across the entire frame, it is always possible to take a few shots with different areas of focus then layer them together in Photoshop during the editing process.

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RAW vs. JPEG: Which Is Better?

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There are a variety of file formats, the most popular and familiar of which is JPEG. JPEG files automatically compress details, which results in image quality loss. RAW files, however, retain all data and information.

While the processing time for RAW files is longer, the resulting images are easier to edit and higher in quality. All DSLR and large format cameras offer RAW as a file format. Advances in smartphone technology means your iPhone or Android can also shoot in RAW, with assistance from camera apps like Lightroom or ProShot.

How to Properly Compose a Landscape Photo

An easy tip for beginner landscape photographers is to build your scene around the horizon. Refer to the Rule of Thirds, which is a popular trick for composing perfectly balanced and aesthetically-pleasing photographs.

  • The Rule of Thirds crosses three horizontal lines with three vertical lines
  • You can set these up through your viewfinder or on the back screen of your camera
  • The points where those lines meet are the points of interest; place the most dynamic or compelling parts of your subject here
  • Take care to keep the horizon along that middle horizontal line, and you should have a foolproof formula for a picture-perfect scene.

Find more photography composition tips and tricks with our guide here.

How to Find the Best Light

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The best light is soft and diffused, with a dreamy quality to it. True tones pop against that subtle light, which makes natural landscapes look all the more breathtaking. Early mornings before sunrise and late evenings, just before sunset, offer this “golden hour” light that photographers chase. When preparing for a shoot, make a note of sunrise and sunset times to plan accordingly.

You can also buy some lens filters to aid when the light is not to your advantage. A neutral density filter, for example, reduces the intensity of light and color coming through the lens, while a polarizing filter can help with things like darkening the sky and suppressing glare from reflective surfaces, like bodies of water.

Once the sun goes down, an entirely unique scene emerges. Experiment with long exposure photography to capture shooting stars, light trails left by passing cars, and other natural phenomena. Long exposure builds upon the basics of photography, but requires a few extra tools along with some additional know-how.

  • In order to take a proper long exposure photograph, set up your tripod and set the frame.
  • If the tripod is in a precarious position, weigh it down with a bag filled with rice, sand, or rocks.
  • Next, you’ll want to set the camera to bulb mode through the DSLR camera settings. Bulb mode manually forces open the shutter past the typical standard of 30 seconds. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the exposure.
  • A remote shutter release or cable release connects to the camera so you don’t physically have to hold down the shutter button to capture the exposure. Once you’re ready, click down to open the shutter and start the photograph. Once you’re done, click down again, and you will have completed a long exposure photograph.

Find more night photography tips and tricks with our complete guide here.

How to Edit Landscape Photos

Post-processing is an important finishing step for landscape photography. Upload the RAW files into Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, where you can adjust everything from exposure to contrast.

  • If the perspective angle is off, use the Edit > Perspective Warp tool to adjust the plane.
  • Lightroom is good for making quality edits to an image, whereas Photoshop offers a larger variety of options for transforming an image, down to the pixels. This is useful if you need to airbrush, smooth, or add other effects.

How to Become a Better Photographer

Being in nature is a pleasure and a privilege. There is an unspoken rule to leave the environment as you found it. But that being said, exploration is key to landscape photography. For beginners, it may seem daunting to go off the beaten path; this, however, is precisely where you will find the best scenes. Take hundreds, if not thousands, of photos experimenting with different techniques, perspectives, and angles. The best way to become a better landscape photographer is to simply get out there, enjoy the great outdoors, and capture as many images and experiences as possible.

Master photographers like Jimmy Chin honed their craft for decades before embarking on full-time creative careers. With Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass, learn to form the principles of your visual narrative, how to pitch, land, and work with clients, and which gear is essential for shoots--and how you can leverage the editing process to full effect.

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