Landscape photography - 10 tips to capture great shots
For many travellers, travel rhymes with photography. We often want to bring back more than just the memories in our heads. In any event, it is the case for me personally, to be able to take beautiful images. In other articles, I have guided you in knowing how to choose your camera for a trip, or more recently tips to improve your photos while travelling. In keeping up the continuity, I am talking to you today about how to take successful landscape photos. No need to take a photography course or be a professional photographer to try to capture, sublimate, and frame correctly, the natural landscapes that await us on our travels.
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Landscape photography: valuable tips
1 - Improve framing and composition to make the photo more dynamic
This advice has already been given in the article to improve your travel photos. So why repeat it here? For landscape photography, composition and framing aspects are even more important than in any other type of travel photography.
To make your landscape photos a success, think about composition. Above all, we must first think about what we are photographing and why, what we want the photo to show. Otherwise, the objective and the final result is greatly different. I therefore advise you to use all the basic rules of composition: the rule of thirds, straight horizon, playing with textures, colors, guiding lines, perspectives, shadows. In my opinion, to take beautiful photos require learning at least the minimum about photography. In some cases, it may be interesting to focus on the main subject, for example, to accentuate the symmetry of a scene (e. g. architectural photography). When you start out, you don’t often pay attention to your horizon line and inclination. Even if you can reframe in post-production, make the effort to apply yourself to have a straight horizon.
If you are looking to improve your photo composition, here are two books to devour without fail. They were my bedside reading books for a very long time!
These are two great book reference to learn and improve your landscape photography.
2 - Highlight the subject
You’re going to ask me, what subject? I’m taking a picture of a landscape, not an object! Then imagine your landscape as an object. I have already mentioned this factor in another article. The idea is to try to enhance your landscape in an original and different way, based in particular on the composition rules mentioned above. Don’t just try to photograph “a beautiful landscape”. Enhance one of its qualities, its aspects, your feeling or the atmosphere!
For example, if you are in front of a lava field in Iceland, where the whole thing is very black and uniform, try to enhance your landscape by finding a hang point somewhere, an interesting element, a particular shape, something out of the ordinary. It could be an isolated plant, a form of lava flow, etc. Your image will have better shape and your landscape will be enhanced in this way. My images improved as soon as I started thinking about my photography practice.
Very often, we will try to enhance our landscape by focusing our attention somewhere on a detail of the striking landscape, often representative of the scene, a piece of driftwood, a large rock, a characteristic shape. You will have understood that you need to try to put forward your subject by characterizing it, giving it colour, depth (as far as the eye can see), shade, these are some of the key points in taking better pictures.
For the technical aspect, you can play with the diaphragm of your DSLR camera, especially by using a large aperture. This is one of the easy-to-place photo tips for bringing out a subject using a pretty background blur (bokeh). As a general rule, in landscape photography, we tend to use a large depth of field (to obtain a sharpness on the whole scene).
3 - Use filters
I may be old-school, some would say, but using filters to make your landscape photos look good is essential. People who tell you that the same thing can be done in post-treatment are usually wrong. Trying to render a polarizing filter or a long exposure after the fact is impossible. You will certainly be able to adjust the contrast, or the saturation of a photo, but why not do it when you take the picture?
The idea behind this is to try to spend more time behind your camera than behind your computer screen in editing! So which filters to use to photograph beautiful landscapes?
For me there are 3 essential filters:
- A polarizing filter: it is the first and most important in my opinion. It will make your colours more bright, saturate them, eliminate reflections (water, steel), make your skies bluer. This is particularly true in seaside or mountain photos. For my part I use a Hoya Polarizer for my zoom and the superb Lee Polarizer for my 24-70 mm. I wrote two articles specifying what a polarizing filter is used for and how to choose it (and which filters are associated with it),
- Gradient filters: they are also essential filters in landscape photography. You will understand their usefulness as soon as you try to take a picture of a landscape with strong contrasts. A typical example is a dark sandy beach with a clear sky. If you are focusing on the beach, your sky will be burned (white). A focus on the sky will darken your beach. The purpose of these filters is to darken the light part of the image by exposing it to the opacity of the filter. I personally use the very good Lee graduated filters.
- ND filters (neutral grey filter): these are there to limit the light in a scene thanks to their variable opacity depending on the model. These are mainly used by landscape photographers for long exposures (e. g. line effect on rivers, sea or cloud). I personally use Lee’s very good big stopper, which will be the subject of a detailed article later on.
Doing the most during the shooting while using filters, will allow you to get great landscapes pictures and equilibrate them as well as possible!
4 - Achieving long exposure
If I had to answer the question “how can I take beautiful landscape pictures?”, there is a good chance that this would be my number one piece of advice. Many landscape photographers use long exposure as a way to enhance their photos. This does not necessarily require ND filters, but in the majority of cases they will be necessary. I have also written a lengthy article on long exposure and its achievements.
The objective is simple: to take pictures with slower exposure times (or slower speed). At the beginning, it will be necessary to take several photos to refine this technique. We often take photos which are under/over exposed. Use your histogram to check.
This technique is very often used on moving subjects, particularly waterfalls, the sea, clouds and to a lesser extent, people. As mentioned above, I use in particular the Big Stopper from lee.
The motion blur effect is beautiful and the rendering much more superior on landscape photos. We are (one would say) able to be more creative and able to use an artistic approach. However, it should be noted that some photographic equipment will often be necessary, at the very least: a tripod, a remote control (or otherwise the self-timer of your SLR), filters (mandatory in broad daylight for example) and sometimes their associated filter holder. I personally keep all this in my photo bag.
5- Varying the shots
When we take a photograph of a landscape, the first reflex is often the “landscape format”. This is one of the most commonly used formats for this type of photo.
My advice to improve your landscape photos when travelling would be to vary the shots. It is possible to take beautiful photos in “portrait format” (vertical), as long as you think about how to arrange your photo and take care with its composition (see point 1). Make sure you highlight something!
The objective is therefore to vary the type of format for your landscape photos. Be innovative and try to compose them in an eye-catching way, perhaps even in vertical format, which is already a little out of the ordinary for this type of photo.
PS as a small bonus: if you have an account on Pinterest, the vertical format is highly recommended. Feel free to subscribe to my account.
6 – Photographing during golden hours
I have already given this advice in the article on how to improve your travel photos. For landscape photography, this is an even more important element to take into account. Photographing landscapes between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. will generally not usually produce anything sensational. The light during those hours is very hard (almost vertical), the colours are dull and shadows are not given any value.
On the contrary, if you take pictures during the Goldens Hours, or generally about 2 hours before and after sunset/sunrise, the light will be gentler, softer, the colors warmer, and the shadows more defined. It is therefore the ideal time to photograph landscapes.
Also remember to study the locations to know where the sun will be at this time of day according to the type of photos you want to take. This is obviously even more true if you are looking to take photographs at sunrise and sunset. This allows you to see in advance where the sun will be and therefore where you need to position yourself in order to maximize your chances of taking a successful photo.
I recommend one particular site: The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D.
For lovers of beautiful light, the blue hour is also a great time to photograph in low light!
7- Use a wide angle / short focal length
This is one of the most important tips for successful landscape photography. We’ve all found ourselves in front of a splendid landscape which continues as far as the eye can see, endless, and immensity but not able to translate that into a photograph.
The wide angle (GA) or ultra wide angle (UGA) will be very useful in this case. The usefulness of such a lens is to be able to have a wider field of vision than with a “standard lens”. The rendering is often spectacular and you can give great impressions of size with this type of lens thanks to a wider viewing angle.
The choices will not be simple, there are some at all prices, of different quality, size, weight and brands. It will also depend on whether you have an APS-C or Full Frame box (full size).
I personally bought the Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 on my old APC-C which was superb. Since I switched to Full Frame, I haven’t yet invested in a real wide angle and I take all the landscape pictures with my 24-70 mm f/2.8. I admit that I would really like to have more width than 24mm, but I haven’t decided yet.
I have also written a full article on how to choose a wide-angle lens. In the meantime, if you have a specific question on choice, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment!
8 - Do not neglect the telephoto lens
In the previous paragraph I talked about the usefulness of a wide angle or ultra-wide-angle lens. However, just as you should try to take vertical landscape photos, I would advise you to try landscape photography with a telephoto lens, for example on a 70-200 mm lens. Learning landscape photography with a 200m for example can be very interesting.
This will have several advantages, including changing the style of the photo a little bit. The telephoto lens tends, unlike the wide angle, to flatten the image. This can be very nice especially for capturing a part of a distant landscape that you will not be able to enhance with a GA. Giving more detail with a much smaller angle of view.
By using a reduced depth of field (blurred foreground for example) it is possible, with a little imagination, to take superb landscape photos with a telephoto lens.
The latter works equally well on repeated landscapes, such as an endless field of poppies. The image will be overwritten by the long focal length and a focus on a poppy in the foreground with the field as the blurred background will be beautiful!
I personally use the very good Canon 70-300 L IS
9- Watching the weather - the same scene at different times!
One of the great tips I can also give to improve your landscape photos is to take a good look at the weather when you go out. Contrary to what we think, it is not the big blue sky without clouds that will provide the most beautiful photos. This is especially true for sunrises and sunsets where the natural golden light is superb.
On the contrary, a sky full of beautiful thick clouds, or even rain curtains in the distance, will perfectly dress your landscape photos. Plain blue skies often bring a feeling of emptiness to a photo. Personally, I often look for the presence of a small cloud, which I integrate into the photo of my landscape.
So try to look at the weather, or the type of sky you have, to consider going out and taking pictures. Avoid grey, bland and non-contrast skies if possible, as they never usually add anything to photographs.
This element should be taken into account with point number 6 concerning the time of day. Very often, especially in tropical areas, the weather deteriorates in the middle of the day, in addition to the presence of very hard light. So avoid these times. Which brings us to the last point of the article.
10 – Coming back several times to the same place
If you are on a long trip and a photo enthusiast, you will surely have the opportunity or can choose to stay on for a few more days in the one place to take the perfect photograph of a particular landscape.
So don’t hesitate to return to the same place several times to ensure the right photo conditions. Take advantage of “bad weather” days to decide on the best location and work on your framing so that you are ready for D-Day. You can find the best spot to set yourself up on to take the next photo.
For the anecdote, when I lived on the island of Mayotte, I wanted to do a long exposure on a particular beach. I did several scouting expeditions and I had to come back 3/4 times to finally find the position I wanted. I’m happy with the result!
So there you have the 10 tips to make your landscape photos a success when travelling. There are of course others. Some are already present in the article ‘learn how to improve your photos while travelling’, so don’t hesitate to check it out. I also talk about landscape photography in the article: photo tips for a safari. Anyway, I hope you found this article informative?
Finally, I would like to recommend a superb book that I have had for several years on landscape photography and how to approach it. If you have any questions or specific requests regarding an article, do not hesitate to leave me a comment at the bottom of the article!
See you soon,
Great tutorial and very easy to follow. I really like how you achieved the end result without a lot of effort. Thanks for sharing