(Last updated on July 5th, 2022)
Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres of photography. People love to enjoy a beautiful view across a stunning landscape and to photograph it. But it’s so difficult to capture a landscape photograph that encapsulates how we felt when we were there.
Confining a vast landscape into the small, four-sided frame of a photograph is challenging. You want people who look at your photos to be present and feel something about why you took the pictures. How do you capture the atmosphere so others can share your experience when they look at your photos?
In this article, I’ll share with you some tips and techniques you can use to make your landscape photography more impactful.
- Choose Your Landscape Wisely
- Pick the Best Time for Landscape Photography
- Loving the Light
- Composing Great Landscape Photos: Tips & Ideas
- Packing the Right Camera Gear for Landscape Photography
- Frequently Asked Questions
Naturally, the most important choice you must make first is what to photograph. Some landscapes are more interesting than others. Choosing a dramatic landscape is going to make a more interesting photograph.
Think of mountain ranges and ocean beaches. Vast canyons and towering waterfalls. Desert dunes and tiered rice paddies. Any of these places are going to make a more interesting photo than a flat, empty field.
The more character a landscape has to begin with, the less challenging it is to make a great photo of.
Finding the best angle to photograph a landscape also has a significant impact on how good your photos are. There’s a reason that viewpoints are often located on roadsides that are elevated above an interesting landscape. It’s because from that vantage point you can see the scene more clearly than when you are level with it.
Look for vantage points that put you above the landscape you want to photograph. This will often show you a much more interesting perspective.
I like to do some research before packing my camera bag and heading out the door. I look at photos other people have made of the same landscape and figure out where they were when the photos were taken. This helps me find the best locations to photograph a landscape from. It may also help with some ideas for composition and knowing how the scene looks at different times of the day.
Pick the Best Time for Landscape Photography
You may not think that the classic photography term ‘the decisive moment’ applies to landscape photography, but it does. Picking the right time to take your landscape photograph has a significant influence on the outcome.
It’s certainly not the same as capturing a moment in the street or sports photography. But timing the moment you press the shutter release is vital. Sometimes it can mean waiting days, weeks, or even months to capture the right moment. Usually, it has most to do with the lighting and weather conditions.
Some landscapes photograph better in the morning than in the evening. Others look more spectacular at mid-day. A photo taken of a landscape at the height of summer can look vastly different than one taken in the depths of winter.
Take your time. Don’t be in a rush to capture your landscape photos. Picking the best time can mean researching and understanding when the light and weather conditions are optimal.
Once I’ve planned and picked my time, I leave more time than I think I’ll need. Then I am not in a rush if the light is not perfect. I can wait and enjoy being outdoors.
Pack a picnic. Go with another photographer or two. Spend time and observe the location, especially if you are there in the early morning or late afternoon. At these times of day, the light can change most dramatically. Timing it right can mean waiting a while.
Morning and evening ‘golden hour’ light can be breathtaking. Many landscape photographers love these times of the day because the light is rich and soft. It has a lovely warm glow that can illuminate a landscape to make it look almost magical.
Just after sunrise and a little before sunset as the sun is low in the sky the light passes through more of the earth’s atmosphere. This causes it to be softer and warmer by the time we see it. Shadows are longer and not as dense as in the middle of the day. This often suits landscape photos well.
Blue hour, which is just before sunrise and after sunset, is popular with landscape photographers too. At these times of day, the light is fairly flat and can take on a rather eerie feeling. Photos of winter landscapes taken during blue hour often look the coldest because the light has a cooler tone to it.
Sometimes landscape photos are best taken in the middle of the day. Many photographers have a rather clichéd opinion that the light at this time of day is not good for photography. They’ll miss the best time to capture sunlight on waterfalls that are often shaded during the morning and in the afternoons.
Make use of polarizing filters and neutral density graduated filters for landscape photography. These filters can help you make better exposures of dramatic skies especially. The sky in a landscape image is often the brightest part of the composition. Using filters can mean you are able to balance your exposures between the sky and the land.
Composing Great Landscape Photos: Tips & Ideas
Squeezing a great landscape into the four edges of a photograph reduces its grandeur. There’s no way a terrific landscape will have the same impact when viewed on a smartphone screen. The challenge is to compose your landscapes so well that people will stop and look at them. Even if they are scrolling through hundreds of photos on social media.
Here are some tips and ideas for how to make well-composed landscape photos.
Look at the landscape you want to photograph and think about rules of composition such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and vanishing points. Many of these composition rules and others originate from centuries of painters who used them even before photography was invented. Because they work.
Picking the rule most suitable for a given landscape and applying it well is one of the most important skills you need as a landscape photographer.
Use a single element in the landscape as the main focus of your composition. Use a composition rule, such as leading lines, to help draw a viewer’s eye to it. These lines can often be rows of trees, roads, or where the ocean meets the shore.
Your point of interest doesn’t have to be large and obvious in the photo. What is important is that you frame your picture in such a way that people will notice it.
One of the key compositional challenges in landscape photography is to create a sense of depth in our pictures. What we see in three dimensions looks different in a two-dimensional image. You can use a combination of techniques to add a sense of depth to your photos.
Using elements in the foreground helps draw a viewer’s eye deeper into a photo. What is in the background pushes the middle ground further forward. The lens you choose and where you stand to take a photo influences the impact and balance of these three areas in a composition.
How you control the depth of field also influences the perception of depth in a landscape photo. A deeper depth of field is often preferred for landscapes. When I want to emphasize an element in the foreground of a composition, I use a shallower depth of field.
You May Also Like:
In landscape photography, the horizon plays a special role.
Where you place the horizon in your composition often depends on how interesting the sky is. This is not always an easy decision. It can be one that you change over the course of a landscape photography session as the clouds and light change.
Experimentation is often key to finding where to place the horizon. Often the rule of thirds dictates how to position a horizon line. But you can also place it in the middle of your image if that looks best.
Wide-angle lenses are often preferred for landscape photography. They allow you to fit more of the scene into a single image. I prefer not to use very wide lenses. I’ll often stick with my 35mm lens. If I want to capture a wider image, I’ll use a 50mm or longer focal length and make a series of images to stitch into a panorama.
A tripod is the most essential accessory for landscape photography. Having your camera firmly mounted on a tripod allows you to use longer exposures, lower ISO settings, and narrower apertures.
Narrow apertures mean you’ll have a greater depth of field, so more of your landscape will be in focus.
Long exposures make the most of waterfalls, rivers, and cloudy skies when you want to introduce some motion blur to your landscape photos.
You can usually leave your reflector, flash, and other lights at home. These items are rarely effective in landscape photography.
Good landscape photography is as varied as all the views in the wonderful world we live in. A good location does not make a great landscape photo. A good photographer does.
You might be standing with your camera in front of the most spectacular view you’ve ever seen. The challenge is to make photograph it in such a way that others will have a sense of how you experienced it. You need to practice infusing your feelings into the photos you make.
Think about what attracted you to this view. How can you capture it to share this feeling with others? Use your camera skills. Compose carefully to add depth and draw the viewer’s eye through the image. Time your photos well to make the most of the lighting and weather conditions.
Landscape photography is so popular because we all love beautiful views. To make your landscape photography stand out in the crowd, you must practice applying your technical skills and creative passion.
Frequently Asked Questions
Landscape photography is a photographic genre that captures the world around us. This type of image can show vast open spaces or very small pieces of a scene. Landscape photographs are often of nature, but they often also include manmade structures.
The word ‘landscape’ is also used to describe photos taken with the camera oriented horizontally. Portrait photos are those taken with the camera held vertically.
The more dramatic and unique the view is the greater potential for a good landscape photograph.
Light and weather conditions also contribute to a good landscape photograph. How you choose to set your exposure influences the effect of the lighting on your landscape.
Composition is also key to good landscape photos. Our vision is not bound by a frame like a photo is. When you compose a landscape photograph make the most of composition rules. These help your image have more impact.
The three main types of landscape photography are:
Representational – these are the most common, realistic, natural-looking landscape photos.
Impressionistic – These photos provide an impression of what a landscape might look like as opposed to how it actually looks. Often these images are composites of multiple photos blended together during post-production.
Abstract – This type of landscape photo often has a strong emphasis on shape and line in the composition. They are more graphic in nature and may or may not be photos of actual landscapes.
There is a lot written about landscape photography. From articles like this one to complete courses and books on the subject.The best way to learn landscape photography is to study first and then practice a lot. Review your photos and then study some more to learn to avoid making the same mistakes over again. Then practice some more and repeat.
To be a good landscape photographer you need to understand your camera well and know how to control the basic functions. You need to have an understanding of depth of field and how to control it.
Patience is also an important skill to have when you want to make great landscapes. Often you’ll have to wait around for the best light and weather conditions to capture the most dramatic landscape photos.
Depending on the types of landscapes you want to photograph, you’ll also need a reasonable level of fitness. This is because you may need to hike some distance before arriving at the best locations.
Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and author. He has been passionate about photography for as long as he can remember.
Kevin began his career in newspaper photography in the late 1980s and worked in editorial photography for many years. After this he interned with a commercial photographer, learning many new skills. From there he freelanced, covering many different genres of photography ever since.
He ran his own award-winning photography business before moving to Thailand in 2002. Since then Kevin has continued to work in photography and also moved into video production. For the first ten years of his life in Thailand, he focused on producing media content, both photos, and videos, for non-profit organizations. He funded these efforts primarily through the sale of his stock photography and videos. In more recent years Kevin has discovered a great enjoyment in teaching photography.
He also runs in-person workshops, develops online courses, writes, and creates videos about photography.