In order to take a great landscape photograph I believe you have to tell a story and capture the spirit of a location. To truly achieve that you have to use different photography gear and apply different photography techniques.
I always say that nature is rarely perfect. Your images need a helping hand and with the right techniques you give yourself the best chance of taking one of those shots you want to show off to the world. The 10 landscape photography tips below will help you make more of the photo opportunities that you’ll come across, when you are in search of that perfect landscape photograph.
1. Early morning and late evening are the best times for shooting landscapes. Blue hour photography and golden hour photography are the only time I venture out to take my landscape images. The reasons; the sun is not as harsh as a stronger high sun and the low angle of the light reveals shadows and textures otherwise missed.
2. When it comes to a location; the best landscapes are rarely found at the side of the road. So be prepared to go for a hike with a map or a GPS Unit in an effort to seek out the most interesting locations that not everyone captures. You can also download Photographers Ephemeris and do some pre-planning before you leave home.
3. When it comes to lenses for capturing breathtaking scenery, use a wide angle lens. A wide angle lens will allow you to include more in the frame and open up the vertical perspective. But, the wide angle lens pushes the scene away, so you can also consider using a longer focal length lens and compressing the depth of just a part of the entire scene.
4. If you have a DSLR camera that gives you control over settings such as shutter speed, aperture and exposure values “EV”, set your camera on “Aperture Priority” and use a small aperture of f/16 or f/20. This will let you keep everything in focus and the camera will set your shutter speed automatically. For the advanced photographer, use your manual settings and adjust your EV setting to achieve proper exposure after you set your aperture and desired shutter speed.
5. Because we will be photographing in low light you should anchor your camera to a tripod. Your exposure times will be elongated, forcing you to mount the camera to eliminate camera shake. This will also slow down your pace of working when shooting landscapes. This means you’ll take fewer but better pictures.
6. To further eliminate camera shake, you should carry a cable release. The timer function on the camera is no substitute for a cable release. The cable allows you the release the shutter when you want to release the shutter, not 2 sec or 10 sec or 15 sec from when you want to release. The release makes it so you don’t have to touch the camera at all which will definitely minimize camera shake, which is especially important for those longer exposure shots. As an aside, if your camera allows it, use the mirror lock up function.
7. I would also suggest you use a circular polarizing filter to darken the sky and saturate the colors in the landscape (this is the one must-have filter for landscape photographers). To effectively produce an image using filters, meter your scene and use graduated grey or neutral density filters to darken the sky and reduce the contrast between the landscape and the sky. Polarizing filters aren’t much use for bright cloudy skies but graduated filters are. Frequently, the sky looks burned out in photos because your digital sensors don’t have the range to record the brightness differences between it and darker foreground scenery.
8. Shoot RAW images rather than JPGs. The RAW image will take up more room on your memory card but the RAW image will give you greater latitude for image manipulation in post processing. This is a “must do” in my opinion. I shoot all my images in RAW so that I can sharpen and adjust colors to create the best image that I can produce.
9. If shooting the entire scene before you, whenever possible, place something of interest in the foreground of the shot to create a sense of depth. At the same time, ensure that you use that small aperture to keep everything in focus. Again, f/16 or f/20.
10. If you do not have something to ground the scene, focus one third up from the bottom of the image. This way you will maximize focus of the entire scene and give the viewer the perception that the entire image is sharp.
Most importantly: be original! Develop your own style and unique vision. Any competent photographer can duplicate someone else’s work. Truly great photographers produce unique images and avoid cliché photography. Go for non-standard viewpoints, say from ground-level rather than eye-level. Imagine the world as seen from an animal’s viewpoint rather than a human’s. Think what the scene would look like to a flying bird or a ground dwelling squirrel.
And don’t forget to tell a story! People who look at pictures will enjoy looking at a story over a snapshot any day. Telling stories with your camera forces you to slow down and think about what you are doing. What is it about this scene that makes you want to capture it as a photograph? What moves you or attracts your eye? Is there a theme, a phrase or a point of view that you want to capture and preserve? Where is the beginning, the middle and the end?