What is Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres among both amateur and professional photographers. What is landscape photography?

This guide will take an in-depth look at landscape photography, explain what it is, what camera gear you’ll need, and describe the best camera settings to get you started shooting your own breathtaking landscapes.

What is landscape photography?

Landscape photography can be defined as a photograph taken outdoors in nature. Unlike nature photography, however, landscape photography captures an entire scene in nature — from an impressive mountain range to a meandering stream through a forest. While man-made elements can certainly appear within a landscape photograph, the focus of the image is on the nature in which those elements exist.

Mormon Row
Photo by GaPeppy1 from Pexels

What is the best camera for landscape photography?

A DSLR or mirrorless camera that gives you the maximum ability to manually adjust your exposure settings is ideal for landscape photography. These cameras also give you the ability to swap lenses, so your options for capturing any and every scene are endless. If your budget allows, opt for a full-frame camera with weather sealing to protect your gear from the elements. 

What is the best lens for landscape photography?

No matter how great your camera is, if you don’t attach quality glass to the front of it you will never produce high-quality images. When it comes to landscape photography, the apparent lens choice is a wide-angle. With it, you can capture sweeping landscapes, like mountain ranges, caverns, and canyons. Whether you opt for a prime lens or a zoom, the choice is yours. Popular wide-angle lenses for landscapes include Nikon’s 14-24mm or the Canon’s 16-35mm.

You might be surprised, however, to learn that a telephoto lens, like a 70-200mm can often come in quite handy in landscape photography, too, for those times when you want to capture details or close-up shots.

What other camera gear is needed?

When shooting landscape photography, besides your camera and lenses, there are a few other accessories you will need. Without a doubt, you will need a tripod since you’ll often be shooting long exposures. You may also want to invest in a remote trigger or shutter release cable.

Experienced landscape photographers will tell you that filters are essential for shooting landscapes. Three filters are commonly used with landscape photography:

  • Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL). CPL filters help reduce reflections, reduce haze, and boost color & contrast. If you’ve ever worn a pair of polarized sunglasses, you know how much of a difference a polarizing filter can make. If you photograph scenes with a lot of reflections or water, a CPL filter is essential.
  • Neutral Density Filter (ND). Surely you’ve seen a photograph of a waterfall with silky smooth flowing water and wondered how it was captured? These photographs are shot with a long exposure, and most likely, the photographer used a neutral density filter. ND filters intentionally block the light that enters the camera so that the shutter can be left open for longer periods without overexposing the shot.
  • Graduated Neutral Density filter (GND). A graduated ND filter is similar to a regular ND filter, except it gradually fades from dark to clear. This is useful for landscapes so that you can rotate the filter to darken only a portion of the image, such as the foreground or the sky. 
landscape photography
Landscape Photography

What are the best settings for landscape photography?

Landscape photography can be challenging since it occurs outside with ever-changing weather and light conditions. It’s important for a photographer to have a strong grasp of the fundamentals of exposure. This means knowing how and when to adjust your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The settings can vary dramatically from one scenario to the next, but here are some guidelines: 

  • Shutter speed: This is the length of time your camera’s shutter is open. Unless you’re shooting specifically to capture motion, shutter speed is the least important setting in landscape photography if you’re using a tripod.
  • Aperture: Aperture describes the opening in your lens that allows light to enter. It will affect how bright your image is, but it will also determine how much of your scene is in focus. Apertures in landscape photography are typically between f/5.6 and f/11.
  • ISO: Your camera’s ISO determines the sensitivity of the sensor. To achieve the highest quality photographs, your goal should always be to shoot at your camera’s native ISO. Native ISO is the lowest ISO setting your camera allows. In most cases, that setting is 100.
  • Always shoot in RAW: Most genres of photography recommend shooting in RAW simply because you’ll capture more data. That will be extremely useful when it comes to post-processing, and landscape photography is no exception. 
desert landscape
Landscape Photography

How to focus on your subject when shooting landscapes

One of the most difficult things for beginning landscape photographers to learn is where to focus when shooting landscapes to make sure everything in the scene is acceptably sharp.

First, It’s important to understand the depth of field and how your lens’s aperture affects it. Remember, a smaller aperture results in more depth of field, meaning more of your scene will be in focus. However, smaller apertures also result in darker images, so it’s important to also understand how to adjust for that.

Hyperfocal distance is the distance where you should focus your lens that will give your images the greatest depth of field. In theory, when you focus your camera on the hyperfocal distance, everything from half the distance in front of it to infinity will be in focus.

How to measure the hyperfocal distance

Figuring out hyperfocal distance may sound complicated, but it’s actually quite easy to estimate while you’re on the field. All you have to do is estimate the distance to the nearest object you want in focus and then double it.

Say you’re photographing a beach scene and there’s a rock about 10 feet away that you want to be in focus. Double that distance to 20 feet and that’s your hyperfocal distance. Try to focus on something 20 feet away and your entire scene, from the rock to infinity, should be in focus as long as your aperture is small enough.

If figuring hyperfocal distance seems overly complicated, many photographers will simply advise you to focus 1/3rd of the way into your scene. While this works often, it’s not nearly as accurate a method of ensuring sharp focus.

How to edit landscape photos

Post-processing is an integral finishing step for landscape photos. Use editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to make any number of artistic adjustments that will bring out the beauty of your images:

  • Cropping. Use cropping to improve the composition of your images and remove unnecessary clutter.
  • Adding sharpness. Landscape images always look best when they’re sharp. While you may have taken all the steps necessary to capture a tack-sharp photograph, you can sharpen your image even more in post-production.
  • Adjusting exposure and contrast. Rarely are the lighting conditions perfect for photography. That’s when post-production comes in handy. Lighten up a too-dark shadow, fix distracting light spots, and correct exposure issues.

6 landscape photography tips:

When it comes to landscape photography, there are no “rules” you have to follow. That said, the guidelines of good composition do apply. Contrast, negative space, leading lines, symmetry — are all elements that exist in good landscape photos. 

Here are a few tips and tricks for shooting landscape photography:

  1. Create Depth. Make sure your image includes a foreground, background, and middle ground to create a sense of depth. Another way to add depth to an image is to layer the objects within the scene.
Photo by Tyler Lastovich from Pexels
  1. Capture Movement. When photographing water, use a long exposure to capture the movement of the water, rather than freeze it. To do this, you’ll need to put your camera on a tripod, use an ND filter, and set your shutter speed to 2 seconds or longer.
Photo by Ionut Cerchia from Pexels
  1. Try Including People. Some purists may frown on it, but try incorporating people into your landscape photographs. It’s a wonderful way to show the vastness of a landscape or to show scale. Just be sure to keep your focus on the scene and not on the person so that it remains a landscape and not a portrait.
landscapes with people
Photo by Tom Verdoot from Pexels
  1. Use the Rule of Thirds. The rule of thirds is the most common “rule” of composition. To use it, just imagine your image is divided into thirds with two lines both horizontally and vertically. Then, make sure you place important parts of your scene where these lines intersect.  A photo composed using the rule of thirds is considered to be visually appealing.
Photo by SUNIL PATEL from Pexels
  1. Use Water as a Mirror. If the conditions are just right, a body of water in diffused light on a very still day can act just like a mirror and create gorgeous reflections. Shoot it with a slow shutter speed to capture it.
Photo by Bri Schneiter from Pexels
  1. Shoot in the morning or evening. Besides the scene you’re shooting, light is the most important element of landscape photos. Some would argue that it’s even more important because bad lighting can ruin even the most amazing landscape scene! The best lighting for landscapes occurs around either sunrise or sunset when the light is at an angle in the sky.
beach landscape
Photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

Final thoughts

Landscape photography is one of the most rewarding genres of photography. As a landscape photographer, you get to travel, visit breathtaking locations, and capture them for all of eternity.

There is no shortage of subjects to photograph — even the same scene can look completely different through the lens of another photographer.

With the help of this guide, you now have the basic tools to get outside and shoot your first landscape photographs. 

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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