How do you capture stunning landscape photography?
Taking amazing landscape photos can be a real struggle–but it doesn’t have to be. Because there are a few simple tips that will instantly improve your landscape photography and get you shooting like a master in no time.
And in this article, I’m going to share these tips with you.
Are you ready to discover 15 easy landscape photography tips that will take your photos to the next level?
Let’s get started.
1. Only Shoot During the Best Light for Amazing Easy Landscape Photography
Great landscape photos always, always, always start with great light.
There’s no way around it.
Which means that you have to get out there and shoot when the light is good, and you’ve got to put your camera away when the light is bad. (Though you can still spend the time location-scouting.)
In landscape photography, two types of light work really well:
- Golden-hour light, when the sun is just barely above the horizon, and
- blue-hour light, during the period after the sun has gone down
You should try to shoot during these times pretty consistently. In fact, pretty much every stunning landscape photo you see online was taken during these two periods!
This photo was taken during the golden hour:
Related Post: Natural Light Photography Tips
However, there’s another aspect of the weather you should always consider:
2. Look for Clouds to Add Interest to Your Sky
As seasoned landscape photographers will tell you:
A sky without clouds is hardly worth shooting.
You see, the best wide landscape shots incorporate clouds into the frame–because clouds add interest. They don’t just leave you with an empty sky.
Now, you don’t want the cloud cover to be overly heavy. You don’t want a true cloudy day.
But you do want at least a few clouds in the sky. And clouds are what help you get the ‘cotton-candy sunset’ that all landscape photographers dream about.
Note that you can often predict whether clouds will materialize in your sunset shots based on the conditions a few hours before the sun goes down. If there are some nice clouds in the sky, there’s a good chance they’ll stick around until sunset. But if the sky is completely clear, you’re probably looking at a failed photoshoot and should think about staying inside.
3. Use a Wide-Angle Lens for Sweeping Vistas
Every landscape photographer’s gear bag has a wide-angle lens.
Because wide-angle lenses are what give you that ultra-compelling landscape look–like you could step forward and straight into the scene.
In general, the wider the lens, the better. Unfortunately, high-quality, ultra-wide lenses tend to be more expensive, so you may want to start out with a less-wide, cheaper lens, before upgrading later.
You should also note the limitations of your camera. If you’re shooting with a crop sensor (APS-C) camera, your focal lengths are effectively magnified by about 1.5. This means that a 20mm lens becomes a 30mm lens on a crop-sensor body. So purchasing a wide lens is more important if you’re working with a crop-sensor camera.
And speaking of important gear:
4. Use a Tripod for Maximum Stability
If you want to capture wide, stunning landscapes, you’re going to want to use longer shutter speeds, in the area of 1/16 of a second and beyond.
Longer shutter speeds will allow you to use a narrower aperture (as explained below). It will also let you create a beautiful blur in moving water.
But if you want to use longer shutter speeds…
…you’re going to want to use a tripod. This will prevent camera shake, and will keep your photos nice and sharp.
Go ahead and pick your tripod carefully. You tend to get what you pay for, so don’t grab a cheap tripod, expecting it to get you rock-solid photos in all conditions. Tripods vary a lot in terms of stability, weight, and ease of setup, so choose wisely!
Related Post: Best Beginner Tripods [6 Top Picks for 2019]
5. Use a Narrow Aperture for a Deep Depth of Field
In landscape photography, aperture is key.
Because aperture is what determines how much of your image is sharp–otherwise known as depth of field.
If you use the right aperture, you’ll end up with a photo that’s sharp throughout, like this:
But if you use the wrong aperture, you’ll end up with a photo that only has a small area in focus:
Or a photo that’s just blurry everywhere, due to an effect called diffraction.
So what aperture setting is best for landscape photography?
First of all, you’re going to want to evaluate the photo you want to take. Ask yourself:
Is this a fairly narrow composition, all things considered? Or is there a lot of depth to the shot?
And also ask:
Are the components of the image off in the distance? Or are they close to your lens?
Here’s why this matters:
If the scene is clustered together with very little depth, you can use a wider aperture and still keep the photo sharp throughout.
If your image doesn’t involve much depth, then you can use an aperture with a wider range: f/8, maybe f/7.1, maybe even f/6.3.
This is also true if the components of your image are farther away. The more distant the image components, the more that even a shallow depth of field will keep them sharp.
On the other hand, if your image has a lot of depth from foreground to background, and if the foreground subject is close to your lens, then you’re going to need a very deep depth of field. You’ll want to use f/11 at a minimum, and you’ll probably need an aperture of f/16 or even narrower.
Now, the narrower your aperture, the more you expose your images to diffraction, an unfortunate blurring effect that landscape photographers have to contend with. So once you move past f/16 or so, you’re stuck dealing with diffraction–or you can use a technique used by many landscape photographers, called focus stacking.
Focus stacking allows you to combine several images taken at wider apertures–in order to create one image that’s sharp throughout. But while this approach has the benefit of reducing diffraction, it also has some drawbacks. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to focus-stack without a tripod. Plus, it also requires a dedicated software program such as Helicon, or at least Photoshop, to combine the images.
Here’s the bottom line:
If you’re shooting a fairly narrow scene, then a wide aperture should be fine, especially if the components are far from your lens.
But if you’re shooting a deep scene, then you’ll need the narrowest aperture you can get away with. And if you’re concerned about diffraction, you may want to try focus stacking.
That’s how you’ll end up with a perfect landscape photo.
By the way, it is occasionally possible to get a beautiful landscape shot using a shallow depth of field.
But it’s quite tough–so I recommend sticking with a narrow depth of field, especially when you’re starting out.
6. Carefully Compose Your Landscape Photos to Engage the Viewer
Here’s another landscape photography tip that you need to know:
Composition is essential.
Composition refers to the arrangement of elements in your photos. For instance, do you put the horizon toward the top of the frame? Do you include a foreground element? Do you incorporate layers into the shot?
If you don’t carefully compose your landscape photos, then you’re just not going to end up with anything interesting.
But how do you create engaging compositions?
One tip for stunning landscape photography compositions is to use layers.
Look for overlapping elements in nature:
White trees below dark trees.
A lake below fall colors.
An ocean before a cliff.
You see, overlap adds depth to a scene.
And depth serves to suck the viewer straight into the photo.
Note that, regardless of your compositional approach, you’re going to need to carefully arrange the elements in your scene.
Otherwise, your images will turn out drab and boring.
Instead, compose to engage the viewer.
And your photos will pop off the page!
7. Include Foreground Interest for the Best Landscape Photography Shots
If you want a stunning landscape photo, then you should strive to draw your viewers into the frame.
And one of the best ways to do that…
…is to include foreground interest.
I’m talking about a clear element that fits into the foreground of your photo. This could be a rock, a patch of flowers, or some lines of sand. The important thing is that it’s simple and whole–you don’t want the foreground interest to feel like a mess.
Once you’ve chosen your foreground interest, you want to use it to anchor your composition. Place it boldly in the foreground of the photo, and let it engage the viewer. Let it draw them in like a magnet.
Now, one of the best types of foreground interest is leading lines, which are discussed in the next tip:
8. Use Leading Lines to Bring the Viewer Into the Frame
Leading lines are the best trick in a landscape photographer’s composition toolkit, hands down.
Because leading lines capture the viewer’s attention. They suck in the viewer. And they take them straight toward your main subject in the background.
Now, a leading line is basically any type of line–but it has to lead into the frame.
Rivers are an especially popular leading line. You put the river in the foreground, and let it wind its way into the background, straight toward the mountains in the background (your main subject).
But a leading line can be all sorts of things. Fallen trees make great leading lines, as do ferns. You can also use lines in the sand, or the edges of snowdrifts.
Once you’ve found a nice leading line, it pays to get down low over that line with your camera. Set up your composition so the line leads straight toward your subject.
And then snap a gorgeous photo!
9. Use the Rule of Thirds to Position Your Main Subject
Composition is all about arranging the elements in your frame for a pleasing photo.
And the rule of thirds is one of the oldest rules of composition out there.
Here’s what it says:
The best compositions put the main subject a third of the way into the frame. In other words, if you want a stunning composition, you should place your main elements (the things that stand out in the photo) along these gridlines:
Now, the rule of thirds is meant for all genres of photography. But landscape photographers can use this rule to position your horizon line. Make sure it goes across one of the rule of thirds gridlines, rather than directly through the middle of the frame. That way, your photos will look far more balanced and beautiful overall.
You can also use the rule of thirds to position any prominent elements in the photo. If there’s a beautiful tree off in the distance, try placing it along a rule of thirds gridline.
For the photo below, I placed the dominant cattail a third of the way into the frame:
Your photos will turn out far more satisfying.
Related Post: The Golden Ratio in Photography
10. Use Live View and the Two-Second Timer to Prevent Blur Due to Camera Shake
Camera shake is a consistent issue in handheld landscape photography. Anytime you drop your shutter speed below 1/80s or so, you’re at risk of blur due to your camera moving.
And blur is quite possibly the easiest way to ruin your landscape photos.
Now, a tripod will handle most of the camera shake. But there’s still two things you need to watch out for:
Blur caused by your camera mirror flipping up (if you use a DSLR).
And blur caused by pressing the shutter button.
While these actions may seem tiny, they really can create noticeable blur. Which is why you have to take steps to counteract both of these issues.
So what do you do?
First, you put your camera in Live View before taking a shot. Live View causes the mirror to flip up in advance, preventing any camera shake when the actual photo is taken.
(Live View also allows you to preview aspects of your image, such as the point of focus, the exposure, and the depth of field, which can be invaluable for landscape photography.)
Second, use the two-second self-timer on your camera.
This works by adding a two-second delay between the moment you press the shutter button and the moment your camera takes a photo. Hence, any vibrations caused by your finger punching the shutter button will dissipate before your camera starts exposing for the shot.
11. Use Manual Focus to Nail the Hyperfocal Distance
These days, complex autofocus technology is all the rage. Photographers love using all sorts of tracking algorithms–including face tracking and eye-tracking–to nail the focus in their images.
But here’s the thing:
Landscape photography doesn’t require all that.
In fact, if you overuse autofocus in your landscape photography, you can easily mess things up and end up with out-of-focus images of your subject–which is not ideal.
You see, when you’re using a narrow aperture and attempting to keep the entire scene sharp, it’s important you focus at the point known as the hyperfocal distance–the point that maximizes the depth of field throughout the scene.
If you focus in front of the hyperfocal distance point, you’ll end up with an out-of-focus background.
(The same as if you used a very wide aperture.)
And if you focus behind the hyperfocal distance point, you’ll end up with an out-of-focus foreground.
But if you focus on the hyperfocal distance point exactly, you’ll end up with a photo that has as much as possible in focus.
Now, to nail the hyperfocal distance, you’re going to want to focus about a third of the way into the scene. So you should start by sizing up your composition and identifying the first foreground element you want sharp and the last background element you want sharp.
Then, you should focus a third of the way past that first foreground element.
And you should do it manually.
The problem with autofocus is that it’s easy for things to go wrong. You could initially nail the focus, but if you don’t hold down the shutter button halfway, your lens will reacquire focus when you go to capture the actual shot. And it might hit on a different point of focus entirely, causing you to get an out-of-focus image.
Whereas manual focus is consistent. You focus using the focus ring on your lens, and it doesn’t change, no matter what.
That’s why I pretty much always use manual focus when doing landscape photography, and so should you!
The one exception to this is if you have back-button focusing set up on your camera.
Because back-button focus allows you to grab focus with a push of a button on the back of your camera (often the AF-ON button), but your camera won’t reacquire focus when you tap the shutter button.
(You can also make adjustments via your lens’s focusing ring.)
So either use manual focus or back-button focus.
But don’t use standard autofocus.
That way, you can consistently come away with sharp, in-focus photos!
12. Use Graduated ND Filters to Create a Perfectly Exposed Landscape
If you’re planning on shooting a lot of landscape photos…
…then you’re often going to be photographing sunrises and sunsets.
But here’s the thing:
During a sunrise/sunset scene, the sky tends to be far brighter than the elements below it. Because cameras are more limited than the human eye, you’ll often find that the sky becomes overexposed and it loses all detail.
(Exposure refers to the brightness of a scene. If a scene is overexposed, it’s too bright, and loses details in the whites. If a scene is underexposed, it’s too dark and loses details in the shadows.)
So what do you do when you’re shooting sunrise and sunset scenes?
You use a graduated neutral density filter.
These filters are split so that the top half is darkened while the bottom half remains transparent. That way, you can use the filter to bring down the brightness in the sky–but you don’t have to worry about the bottom part of the frame.
In other words, you can capture a perfectly exposed photo!
That said, there’s another easy method of dealing with sunrises and sunsets:
And that’s what I’ll discuss in the next tip:
13. Use Exposure Bracketing to Preserve Highlights and Shadows
As I explained above, landscape photographers often run into a serious problem:
The sky is very bright.
And the foreground is relatively dark in comparison.
In fact, this is true when you’re shooting at sunrise, sunset, midday, you name it (with the exception of photography done a few minutes after the sun sets).
And it’s a big problem.
Because if there is too great a distance between the lightest tones and the darkest tones in your image…
…well, you’ll end up losing detail in one end of the image, or the other end of the image (or both).
In other words, you’ll lose detail in the highlights:
Or you’ll lose detail in the shadows:
And this just doesn’t look good.
And losing detail due to a large tonal range is often considered unacceptable.
So what do you do?
You could use a GND filter, discussed in the previous tip.
But another option is to use a common technique for capturing high dynamic range photos, called exposure bracketing.
Here’s how it works:
First, set up your photo and carefully select your composition. Make sure you’re using a tripod, because this technique won’t work well without one.
Second, set up your exposure for the darkest points of the image. Take a photo.
Third, set up your exposure for the midtones of the image, making sure not to change the composition, and making sure not to change the aperture. To do this, I recommend raising your shutter speed. Then take a second photo.
And fourth, set up your exposure for the highlights of the image, again making sure to keep the same composition, and making sure the aperture stays the same. Then take a third photo.
When you get back home, upload all three images to your computer, and use a program such as Lightroom, Photoshop, or Aurora HDR to merge the images together–in order to give yourself detail in every area of the image to work with.
It may take a bit of post-processing work–playing with the highlights and shadows, for one–but in the end, you’ll end up with a landscape image full of detail.
Note that if you have a scene with an unusually high tonal range, you can always take more than three photos. For instance, five, seven, or even nine photos will work (though the more photos you have, the more time and processing power it takes to blend them!).
Personally, I rarely use more than three photos for high dynamic range scenes, and even two is sometimes enough. Though you should also be aware that different cameras have different dynamic range specs, so that one camera might require more bracketed shots than another to keep everything well-exposed.
So when in doubt, create more bracketed images, not less. You can always get rid of them later!
14. Use a Low ISO to Prevent Image Noise
If you want to capture the best possible landscape images, remember this:
Use a low ISO–in order to prevent noise.
You see, camera ISOs span from around ISO 100 to ISO 12800, ISO 25600, even ISO 40000 and higher (the particulars depend on your camera model).
The higher you boost your ISO, the more noise that’ll end up in your photo.
And for landscape photographers, where every detail matters, noise can easily ruin a shot.
Unfortunately, landscape photography isn’t so easy as resolving to only ever shoot at the lowest ISO on your camera (which is usually ISO 100, but sometimes ISO 50, ISO 200, or somewhere in between).
Because while boosting the ISO exposes your image to noise, it also increases the overall brightness of the image. And this is sometimes very important, especially when you’re shooting in low light and want to avoid a shutter speed of 15 seconds or more.
It’s also important when you’re shooting handheld and need to avoid camera shake, or when you’re shooting a scene with a lot of movement that you’d like to freeze in place.
Situations like the ones described above require a fast shutter speed–and if you want to end up with a well-exposed image, you’re going to need to boost the ISO to compensate.
So here’s what I recommend:
Shoot with the lowest ISO you can get away with, but don’t be afraid to push the ISO up if need be. It’s better to get a well-exposed, noisy image than a poorly-exposed clean image (at least, it is with a lot of cameras).
Try to lower the shutter speed before you raise the ISO, but don’t lower it so much you end up with unwanted blur. Just always be aware of your shutter speed and your ISO, and carefully navigate the tradeoff.
In the end, you’ll get some beautiful landscape photos–you just have to persevere!
15. Use a Long Shutter Speed to Get Beautiful Motion Blur
Here’s your final landscape photography tip:
If you’re working with moving objects…
…why not try to create motion blur?
You can capture some incredible shots of flowing waterfalls, rivers, oceans, even grass blowing in the wind–if you use a long shutter speed.
You see, the shutter speed refers to the length of time the camera sensor is exposed to the world. The longer the shutter speed, the more of the world the sensor takes in. So if you use a lengthy shutter speed, then you’ll get some beautiful motion blur.
Now, short shutter speeds will freeze motion. While the specifics depend on how fast your subject is moving, you’ll freeze your subject from anywhere from 1/100s to 1/2000s and above. Whereas you’ll get motion blur if you shoot at around 1/20s and below.
If you’re working with long shutter speeds, you absolutely need a tripod, or else you’ll get blur throughout the entire photo (which is not the goal–you just want blur in the moving areas, and you want the rest to be pin-sharp).
I also recommend you do a lot of experimentation when it comes to using longer shutter speeds. Don’t take a single shot and move on. Instead, take a number of shots, using different shutter speeds. And then, when you get home, check them out. See what you like–and make sure to do that again, the next time you’re out shooting!
15 Easy Landscape Photography Tips: Conclusion
You should now know exactly how to capture stunning landscape photos.
Because you know how to find good light, create the best subjects, and choose the best settings.
Now you’re ready to get out and start shooting. So go have some landscape photography fun!
Capturing amazing landscape photography isn’t hard–it just takes a bit of know-how. You should carefully choose the best light (which is generally the golden-hour or the blue-hour, as discussed in this article). You should carefully compose the shot, so that you put the main elements of the photo carefully within the frame. And you should be aware of the different camera techniques you can use to create images with perfect detail, such as exposure bracketing.
I recommend using a narrow aperture (in the area of f/11 to f/22). The shutter speed is less important, but slow shutter speeds will require a tripod.
You don’t need a tripod for landscape photography. However, a tripod is extremely helpful, especially if you want a photo that’s completely sharp throughout the frame. A tripod will stabilize your camera and allow you to capture all sorts of beautiful shots.
You don’t need special gear to be an amazing landscape photographer. But I do recommend using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, if possible. This will ensure you get the highest-quality images. I also recommend a wide-angle lens, which will allow you to take sweeping scenic shots.
To capture sharp landscape photos, make sure you choose a shutter speed that’s fast enough for your camera setup. If you’re using a tripod, you can use any shutter speed you like. But if you’re shooting handheld, then you’ll want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/100s to capture a sharp shot.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.