When I first started dabbling in travel photography, taking landscape photos was my nemesis. It was incredibly frustrating that I couldn’t create photos which truly represented the beautiful view in front of me even in perfect conditions. Photos were either over-exposed or dull & dark and lacking the punch I was looking for.
Never one to back down from a challenge, I holed myself away with a variety of travel photography books and read them cover to cover, devouring all the landscape photography tips they had to offer. A few months later I was moving to Australia for work and so I had the perfect opportunity to start putting my photography theory knowledge into practice.
Armed with my first ever camera, a Nikon D70 which would be considered pretty vintage these days, I started putting all those landscape photography tips into action, often waking at the crack of dawn to photography beach sunrises or taking long rainforest hikes to capture milky white waterfalls.
Since then, I’ve upgraded my camera gear many times over but I am still following the basic principles I learnt from my favourite book which is this one. I’d highly recommend investing in it as it was by far my favourite, easy to digest which short colourful chapters addressing each type of travel photography in easy to read chapters.
But in the meantime, let’s get you started with taking better landscape photographs. Here are 8 important landscape photography tips which will help you get those Instagram-perfect landscape photos every time.
If you are a complete beginner and would like to know how to get the most from your camera, sign up for my FREE beginner’s photography e-book. It’s an easy to read, easy to understand guide to getting off auto mode!
The first thing to point out is that these landscape photography tips should be used as a guide only. As you get more experienced, you can start to disobey the rules because by then you will know what works and you will want to take your own creative slant on things! But whilst you are getting started with landscape photography, follow these tips and you won’t go far wrong…
What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Start with the Right Equipment For Landscape Photography.
- 2 Remember the Rule of thirds
- 3 Get the photo exposure right
- 4 Try your hand at HDR photography
- 5 Make a decision about your depth of field.
- 6 Assess the ISO
- 7 Think about when is the best time to take your photo
- 8 Never forget about landscape photography composition
Start with the Right Equipment For Landscape Photography.
Yes, in theory, you can take beautiful landscape photos with a good phone camera these days. But unless you invest in a decent DSLR or mirrorless camera, you won’t be able to take it beyond the basics or add a more creative slant on your photography.
For example, the beautiful milky effect on waterfall photos? That needs a slow shutter speed and a tripod. You will need a good camera for this. Those beautiful milky way night time photos, yep, you’ll need a decent camera too. So if you are serious about becoming better at landscape photography, you will need to invest at some point.
There are various bits of gear I would recommend for travel photographers interested in landscape photography. You could start with the basics and slowly build your collection as you go. Here are some of the important bits of kit I recommend
A decent DSLR or mirrorless camera body
You need a camera which allows you to control it manually. A fast shutter speed, decent sensor size and easy handling are all really important features to look for when you are buying yours.
If your budget is the lower end, I would recommend a Nikon D5600 or a Sony A6000 to start with. Both are decent reliable cameras which produce great photos. I used a Nikon D5500 for years before it was updated with the 6500 version and produced some of my best photos with it. The Sony A6000 has a great reputation and is a lot smaller and lighter if you are looking for something more compact. If you need more inspiration to help you choose a camera, read my travel camera buying guide!
If you can splash the cash a little more then a good option would be a Sony A6500 mirrorless camera or even better, the Sony A7iii which is the camera I sue these days. The later is a full frame camera which means its sensor is capable of absorbing a lot more information with every photo. It’s a professional standard camera and isn’t necessary if you are just starting out. But if you’ve been dabbling for a while then I highly recommend it. Here’s a picture I took with it recently in Iceland…
A Good Wide Angle Lens for Landscape Photography
Landscape photography is best done with a wide angle lens so you can fit more of the landscape into your frame. Budget cameras are usually crop – sensor which means that the images are cropped by 50% therefore, a 12mm lens on a crop sensor camera is the equivalent of 18mm lens on a full frame camera. It’s important you take this into consideration when buying a lens.
Many kit lenses start at 18mm wide. Remember on a budget camera, that’s the equivalent of 27mm. I’d, therefore, recommend investing in another lens specifically designed for wide angle photography. For a full frame camera, 16mm will be ideal. For a crop sensor camera, you should be looking for something a bit wider eg 11-12mm. Anything wider is more likely to distort the photo and make it look a little ‘fish-eye.’
If your camera is a budget crop sensor DSLR, I’d recommend the Tokina 11-16mm lens which can be used with Nikon and Canon Cameras.
If you have a crop sensor Sony mirrorless camera such as the A6000 or A6500 then something like the Sony 10-18mm lens would be perfect.
A Travel Tripod For Landscape Photos
If you want to do any night or slow shutter speed photography, then you will need a tripod, without a doubt. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune but you do need to be able to trust it can hold your precious camera without falling over! For travel photography, you will want something small and light. In general carbon fibre tripods are great for travel as they are strong yet lightweight.
Often I find a gorilla pod or mini tripod is enough but if I’m doing some serious landscape photography, I will take a proper tripod to give me more flexibility. I use the Benro travel tripod for this.
A Polarising Filter
There are so many other landscape photography accessories you could invest in such as ND grad filters, intervalometers, rain covers etc. But personally, I feel the first accessory you should invest in is a polarising filter. This cuts reflection from photos boosting colour saturation, preventing blown out skies and allowing you to see details beneath the water for example in the foreground of a waterfall photo.
An ND filter which reduces the amount of light which reaches your camera lens, therefore, allowing you to use slow shutter speeds in daylight, may also be a good investment especially if you enjoy photographing waterfalls. Make sure you get the right size filter for your lens!
Right enough about photography equipment, let’s get onto the landscape photography tips I promised you…
Remember the Rule of thirds
I’ve mentioned this before in another blog entry but I cannot stress the point enough! Remember the rule of thirds! We naturally prefer photos where the subject (a tree, horizon, jetty, mountain, lake etc) is placed off centre about 1/3 of the way into the picture.
In the case of horizons, decide which is more dramatic – the foreground or the sky? Then give that 2/3 of the space! Here’s an example; a beach with a dramatic stormy sky. The sky is what gives the photo impact so put the horizon a 3rd of the way from the bottom and focus on the sky!
If the sky is completely clear of clouds, it would be a little boring so put the horizon a 3rd of the way from the top and focus the beach.
Below the waterfall is the main subject so it’s positioned off centre towards the left.
Get the photo exposure right
Getting the exposure right is tough. If you overexpose the sky will be blown out. If you underexpose, things in the shadows will be too dark. It can be tricky to get the balance but if in doubt, underexpose slightly. It’s much easier to correct this when you come to edit your photos. You can rarely recover a blown highlight!
You don’t even need an expensive complicated editing programme. The iPhoto app, for example, will be able to easily correct this at the touch of a button.
Try your hand at HDR photography
You may have heard of HDR photography. This is where the highlights and lowlights are each perfectly exposed to give the picture impact and wow factor!
This can be achieved a few ways. Firstly taking 2 or more photos of the same view (underexposed and overexposed and using a tripod.) Then stitch them together in an editing programme.
Some cameras will do this for you taking 2 photos in quick succession but you will need a steady hand and a fast shutter speed!
Another way to do it is to attach a graduated filter to your lens. Its darker at the top and clear at the bottom. You line it up with the horizon and it’ll give you a perfectly balanced exposure. This is the technique I used for the photo below.
Make a decision about your depth of field.
For most landscape photos you will probably want to keep everything sharp and in focus. To achieve this you will want a higher F number (narrow aperture.)
Bear in mind that the higher your F number, the slower the shutter speed. So unless you’re in a well-lit place, don’t put your F number too high or your picture will be blurry!
F8 is usually sufficient for most landscapes. There are times where you might want a wider depth of field for example if you want to focus on flowers in the foreground and blur the background.
Assess the ISO
So you decide you want a nice crisp clear photo and so you put the F-number up to 8 but you’re losing light and so the shutter speed becomes too low. What do you do?
This is where you either need to use a tripod to keep the camera steady or you need to increase your ISO number. This will allow for faster shutter speeds but the higher the number the grainier the image especially in older cameras.
This is referred to as ‘noise.’
Think of your photography as always a trade-off between ISO, shutter speed and depth of field. Alter one and you may need to alter the other to keep the photo sharp!
Think about when is the best time to take your photo
Pre-dawn and you’ll get peaceful serene scenes. At sunrise and sunset, you’ll get beautiful interesting skies.
Try pointing the camera away from the sun as the light cast on the clouds will turn them pretty colours – often much better than looking at an overexposed sun!
Often the few hours before sunset are (known as the golden hour) is a brilliant time for taking photos – avoid the middle of the day where light is at its harshest and shadows cast can ruin your photos!
Below is an example of a dawn photo and a golden hour picture. Imagine these photos in the middle of the day. Can you see how the mood would be completely different?
Never forget about landscape photography composition
The composition is by far the most important element to getting a great landscape photo so never neglect this in favour of all the technical stuff! Always look for a point of interest – something that draws the eye towards it.
Look for leading lines that perhaps lead up to this point of interest for example fences, paths etc. Here’s an example where the path draws your eye towards the water tower.
There is so much more to learn but this should hopefully these landscape photography tips should help you get started! The best thing you can do now is to get out there and practice as much as you can!
Look around where you live for landscapes to practice on so you’re ready to get the most out of your photo opportunities when you hit the road!
Please feel free to post comments or questions and I will do my best to answer them! Do you have any top landscape photos you’d like to share?!