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Design & Style

6 Tips to Help Improve Your Landscape Photographs

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 20, 2020 • 5 min read

From sweeping vistas to delicate flower fields, the great outdoors offers endless possibilities for beautiful landscape photos.

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What Is Landscape Photography?

Landscape photography is photography of the great outdoors. It is a subset of nature photography—or the photography of any subject in nature. 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).

What Tools Do You Need for Landscape Photography?

If you want to shoot landscape photos, you’ll need the right gear. Here’s what the pros recommend:

  • A good camera: While you can take decent landscape pictures with a point-and-shoot camera, mirrorless and DSLR cameras provide maximum control over camera settings. The baseline quality of the images from these cameras is automatically superior to point-and-shoot, making it easier to capture professional-looking photographs. (Manual mode controls each element separately, aperture priority favors the lens opening over other settings, while automatic mode adjusts all elements ) Mirrorless and digital cameras also allow you to swap lenses. Learn how to pick the right camera in our complete guide.
  • A wide-angle lens: For sweeping landscape images, like canyons and caverns, select a wide-angle lens (such as one with a 14-24mm focal length). For more detailed and close-up images, use a zoom lens or telephoto lens, like one that goes from 70-200mm. Check out the differences between a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens here.
  • A tripod: Depending on your shots, it’s a great idea to bring a sturdy tripod or monopod. They can help you avoid camera shake or unintended motion blur, offering suitably sharp images even when working with slow shutter speeds or low light environments. Tripods are essential for long exposures, timelapse photography, and night sky shots. If you’re going long distances, look for compact tripods and monopods made from a lightweight material like aluminum.
  • Power: When you’re out in the field shooting, the last thing you want to see is a low battery signal on your camera. Before heading out, fully charge your camera batteries, change out your lighting batteries, and pack extras (if you have them). A solar charger is a practical investment if you’re planning on being outdoors for long periods.
  • Adventure gear: Some people capture great landscape photographs right outside their front doors—but if you’re planning on venturing a bit farther, bring the right gear. Activity-suited clothing you can move around in and proper footwear are essential; other great gear includes a headlamp, sunscreen, a hydration bladder, a pocket knife, a GPS, and high-protein snacks. An adventuring backpack will help keep it all organized—choose a waterproof backpack that can handle the weather and fit all of your gear (a 35-liter backpack is a safe choice).
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6 Landscape Photography Tips

Whether you’re shooting to become a professional photographer or want to take your landscape photography to the next level, here are some tips and tricks before you head outside:

  1. Do your research. While you don’t need a PhD in biology or earth science to take great landscape photos, a basic understanding of nature will help you get that perfect shot. Do some research before you take out your camera—are there particular plants in bloom or animals that are active during specific times or seasons? Is there an impressive feature (like a waterfall or rock formation) nearby? Being familiar with the environment in your shooting area will help you be in the right place at the right time to capture spectacular photos.
  2. Pay attention to the light. Photography is all about light—and when you’re shooting in nature, you’re entirely at the mercy of the lighting conditions around you, depending on the time of day. In the middle of the day, direct, unfiltered sunlight creates harsh tones and lots of shadows, while shooting at nighttime means you’ll need to lower your aperture and ISO to keep the photos from being too dark or grainy. If you’re just starting out, the best light to shoot landscape photos is the golden hour, which is just before the sun rises and just after the sun sets; the natural light is soft and indirect with a dreamy, romantic quality, which allows true colors to pop. Overcast skies are another great time—they provide mood and drama to images while providing just the right filtered light.
  3. Add a filter. Add different qualities to the light by using a neutral density filter (which reduces the light that hits your camera) or a polarizing filter (which adds contrast or color). There are a couple of other ways to adjust light quality: you can manually set your white balance (which changes your image’s tone) or try high dynamic range photography, which refers to taking multiple shots of the same subject with different exposures to stitch the best pieces together in post-processing.
  4. Use the rule of thirds. Shooting a landscape can feel like a large task—for instance, how do you know where to point your camera when taking a picture of a vast mountain range? One of the most straightforward landscape photography tips is to compose your image according to the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a composition technique that helps a photographer position points of interest along an invisible grid. When looking through the viewfinder or screen, envision two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Placing your subject along the points where these lines meet will, in theory, will yield the most aesthetically pleasing and balanced image, especially when shooting landscapes, which often don’t have an immediate focal point. Some cameras provide grid camera mode, which overlays the 3x3 grid onto the screen to help photographers capture a great shot.
  5. Find a focal point. When shooting something as vast as a beautiful landscape, photos can quickly begin to look the same or feature too much detail sprinkled across the photo, making it hard for the viewer to know where to focus. For a good starting point, look for landmarks that can serve as focal points in your landscape shots. For instance, a unique tree in the middle of a field can give viewers an interesting spot to zero in on when looking at your photo. When shooting a vast or faraway subject, like a mountain or ocean, a great way to incorporate a focal point is to include it in the foreground—the viewer’s eyes will immediately lock on to that detail while still taking in the impressive subject in the background.
  6. Use a long depth of field. While your depth of field can vary from shot to shot, most landscape photographers aim to capture vast areas or subjects. Using a long depth of field (a large aperture number or a high f-stop) will allow you to get as much of the scene as possible in focus, allowing you to get the sharpest shot of landforms like mountains and canyons.

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