Landscape photography is probably the most popular type of photography. You can do it anywhere. I often get asked questions on the subject, so I created a Landscape Photography How To.
Deciding where to go
Research the desired location and plan for things like the weather, time of day (sunrise and sunset) and tides if it’s a seaside location.
Get maps of the area and work out where the sun will be and when, what will be in shadow. Better still, visit the location and take notes if you can. This will help give you a clear idea of what to expect on the day of the shoot.
Make sure you are prepared for all weather. I recommend long trousers at all times, a hat and layers.
I often get asked, “What equipment should I take?” My answer is always the same: no more than you can carry. If you are using a DSLR, something wide, around 17-40mm, is good for sweeping landscapes and good depth of field. A 50mm with large aperture will be useful. You will also want a mid range zoom, around 70-200mm.
What is in my bag?
I carry two Canon 40D DSLR cameras with a Sigma 10-20mm F3.5, Canon 50mm F1.8 and Canon 70-200mm F4L. I almost always carry the Canon 60mm 2.8 Macro. I also carry a Canon flash.
I carry camera cleaning equipment, a cable release, spirit level and tripod. The tripod is the one item I cannot be without.
You will be lucky to come across a scene where you can expose the sky, the background and the foreground without using any filters and get a correct exposure.
I normally take some ND neutral density grad filters, ND neutral density solid filters and a polarizer. The ND filters will help me to balance the exposure. The solid ND filter will allow me to use slow shutter speeds to show movement. The polarizer will help to saturate colours and cut down on reflections on non-metallic objects.
Get the basics right
The rule of thirds, leading lines, and things like foreground interest and use of colour come into their own in landscape photography.
When you know what works and why it works, it is a good idea to try things that break the rules. If it does not work out, it’s no big deal; you will not know until you try. Sometimes it pays off to be unconventional.
Setting up your camera
Modern DSLR cameras are clever, but you have to set the camera up for the best results. When you are doing landscape photography, you are normally looking at a wide area including the sky. Get an average reading and adjust for any highlight or shadow areas. Use multi-zone metering for the best result.
I normally have my camera set to aperture priority mode; this allows me to set the aperture, and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed to get the correct exposure. I use exposure compensation when needed for control over the exposure. Take meter readings before attaching filters.
Use the lowest ISO setting to get the best quality of image you can. There is nothing wrong with increasing the ISO to allow you to get the shot, but the higher the ISO, the more noise you are likely to get. Night images are more likely to suffer from noise. This will not be an issue if you have your tripod.
If you want to get images with front-to-back sharpness, set a small aperture, around F11-F16 or F22, with a wide-angle lens to maximize depth of field and have everything in the shot appear sharp. With a longer lens, you can expect to use F22 to get the same depth of field.
Shutter speed will be set automatically by the camera. Make sure it is not beyond the limits of the camera, or you will get images that are too dark or too light. Always check the exposure and make adjustments.
Time of day
Morning and late evening
Time of day will play a big part in what images you take home with you. Get up early and on to your location for early morning light. The warm colours in the early morning and late evening (after sunset) can make or break an image.
Middle of the day
This is when many photographer pack up and head home. In the summer months, if you don’t mind working with strong light and harsh shadows, don’t stop taking photographs. In the winter months, this is normally not a problem because the sun does not rise as high in the sky.
The weather can be your friend or your worst enemy. There is no feeling in the world like sitting in a car waiting for the rain to stop when you have not taken one good shot all day. On the other hand, when the weather plays along, you will get some of the best shots of your life.
Make the most of the weather. Use the sky as part of the shot, use the clouds, use sunlight and shadows to make your images stand out.
Aim for a mixture of sunshine and clouds to maximize your opportunities to get the best images. If all else fails, resort to black and white for some very nice images.
What to photograph?
What you have to do is not only look, but see. Look at the big picture, and by all means take a panorama shot, but consider how many other shots you see within that image.
A few steps to the left or to the right can have a big impact on the scene. For the same reason, nobody said you had to stand up for all your photographs.
Add movement in your images. Use a small aperture that allows you to use a slow shutter speed to catch movement. Water looks great when you use a shutter speed around 1/15 of a second. Use a faster or slower shutter speed to get the effect you want.
If you can’t get a slow enough shutter speed, use your neutral density filter or polarizer filter to do the same thing.
Don’t be afraid to use a small aperture to enhance your shots. Not all landscapes benefit from a large depth of field.
You might face these problems when out doing landscape photography:
You should use a tripod when out taking landscape photographs, but shake can be a problem if the wind is too strong. Weigh down the tripod with your camera bag to make it more stable.
If using a tripod and lens with image stabilization, turn it off. This feature can cause images to be blurry. Turn it back on if hand holding your camera.
Flare can be caused when shooting into the sun, most often when it is low in the sky. Avoid this by using a lens hood.
Where you go and what you shoot is up to you. Landscape photography is an art, and like anything, you must practice to see improvement.