A Beginner’s Guide to Landscape Photography


I love taking photos of landscapes, and my job as a travel photographer means I’ve gotten some wonderful opportunities to do just that all around the world.

Today, I’m going to share with you a detailed guide to getting started with landscape photography and improving your landscape photos. Landscape photography is a type of photography which focuses on scenes of landscapes. These are often natural, such as mountains, rivers, rock formations etc, but can also include man-made structures like houses and even cities.

I’ll be talking about a range of ideas that will help you take better landscape photos. These will including choosing the right photography equipment for landscape photography, setting up your camera, finding locations, composing shots, and editing your photos.

I hope this set of tips helps you improve your landscape photography. Let’s get started!

Tips for Improving your Landscape Photography

These landscape photography tips should help you take better landscape photos, whether you’re just starting out or have been taking landscape photos for a little while.

I’d also add that many of these tips will apply to other types of photography, so applying some of these tips to your photography in general should help you take better photos overall.

The Best Camera for Landscape Photography

Before you can capture a beautiful landscape photo you’re going to need a camera of some kind.

If you are just starting out, my recommendation would be to begin practicing with whatever camera you already have, whether it be a smartphone, compact camera, DSLR, etc. Then if you find your camera is limiting your photography, you can upgrade.

If you don’t have a camera or are ready to upgrade your existing one, I’d  invest in either a mirrorless camera or a DSLR camera. For more on these types of camera and what makes them unique, see my guide to mirrorless cameras and my guide to DSLR cameras.

In brief though, the main advantage of these cameras is that they let you change the lens. This gives you tremendous flexibility when it comes to photography, and mean that you can use the same camera body for different types of photography, from landscapes to portrait to food.

For landscape photography specifically, I’d recommend a camera with either an APS-C or full frame sensor. Features you are looking for include:

  • a high megapixel count (30MP or higher) — this will ensure you capture high levels of detail, this is especially useful if you intend to print your photos
  • a wide dynamic range — landscape photography often involves scenes with both very dark and very bright areas, so a camera which can capture all of this in a single shot will make editing easier
  • weather sealing — landscape photography often means being outside in all weather conditions, so a camera that can withstand the elements is a good idea
  • a good battery life — you don’t want your camera to die half way through an epic shoot. Whilst additional batteries are always a good option, you don’t want to be weighted down too much.

Features that aren’t as important in landscape photography include image stabilization (you’ll likely be doing a lot of shooting on a tripod) and high ISO performance (unless you are doing a lot of astrophotography). However, I’d argue that these are still useful features to look out for as they’ll give you more flexibility for using the camera for subjects other than landscapes.

In terms of specific cameras, there are a huge number of cameras on the market today. Some models to consider, ordered approximately by budget from lower to higher include:

  • Sony A6000 series – a range of mirrorless camera models are available, from the entry-level A6000 through to the high-end weather-sealed image stabilized A6600.
  • Canon EOS SL3 – Canon’s DSLR cameras are fantastic, and this is their smallest and lightest DSLR to date. A great entry-level DSLR option.
  • Nikon Z50 – Nikon’s entry level mirrorless camera offers an excellent price to performance ratio.
  • Canon EOS RP – Canon’s entry level full frame mirrorless cameras is one of the best value full frame cameras on the market, and is a great option for landscape photography.
  • Fuji X-T3 and XT-4 – Fuji makes some lovely mirrorless cameras that produce fantastic images.
  • Nikon D850 – Nikon’s high end full frame DSLR camera offers a lot of camera for the money. If you’re not persuaded by mirrorless, this is a great option.
  • Nikon Z7 II – if you prefer a Nikon mirrorless, this full frame option from Nikon has a lot going for it.
  • Sony A7R IV – One of Sony’s best all round mirrorless cameras, this is a fantastic option for all kinds of photography, including landscape photography.
  • Canon EOS R5 – a step up in price to one of Canon’s best cameras to date. This is the camera I currently use for landscape photography, and you can see my full EOS R5 review here. Also consider the EOS R6, a lower priced option which offer similar performance but a lower megapixel sensor.

For more options, see our guide to the best mirrorless cameras, and the best DSLR cameras.

Of course, you don’t absolutely need a mirrorless or DSLR camera for landscape photography. You can take landscape photos with anything from a smartphone to a compact camera. But if you have the option, I’d definitely recommend investing in a decent bit of kit, as the results will be worth it.

How to use a DSLR Camera

 

Get the Right Lens for Landscape Photography

The great benefit of a mirrorless or DSLR camera is that you can switch lenses to suit your subject. Of course, this means that you are going to need the right lens for landscape photography.

There are different schools of thought as to the best lenses for landscape photography, but my personal preference for landscape photography is to travel with two “zoom” lenses, one wide-angle, and one telephoto.

Note that a “zoom” lens doesn’t mean a “telephoto” lens. A zoom lens is a lens where you can change the focal length, and it can be anything from a wide-angle (which gets more of the scene in the shot) to a telephoto (which magnifies the subject). The alternative to a zoom lens would be a “prime” lens, which has a fixed focal length.

If I had to pick only one lens for landscape photography, it would be a wide-angle zoom. I’d suggest a full frame equivalent in the region of 16-35mm, which will give you good flexibility in terms of what you shoot.

In my case, with my Canon EOS R5 I travel with a wide-angle 16-35mm f/4 lens and a telephoto 70-200 f/2.8 lens. I can also use these on my older Canon DSLR, the Canon 6D.

This gives me a very wide range of focal lengths to choose from, running from a very wide 16mm where I can get nearly everything in front of the camera in shot, through to 200mm, which lets me get a fairly tight frame on a further away subject.

When it comes to aperture, most landscape photography doesn’t require really very wide aperture (often referred to as “fast” lenses), so you don’t need to invest in the heavy and high end f/2.8 lenses. An f/4 or narrower maximum aperture will save both weight and cost.

Wider apertures in landscape photography are generally useful only if you’re planning on doing a lot of low light photography, such as astrophotography. Of course, they do give the lens more versatility for a wider range of photography types, but for pure landscape photography uses they aren’t critical.

If you want to learn more about lenses in general and get an understanding of the terminology, I’d suggest checking out my guide to the best lenses for travel photography. That covers a wide range of lens options, as well as all the information you need to help you understand how to pick a lens.

There are a lot of different camera types out there and different lens mounts for those cameras. So you need to make sure you buy lenses that are compatible with your specific camera body. However, I’ll still suggest some lenses, and if your camera type isn’t listed, you should be able to find something similar.

I’ve primarily listed the f/4 versions of the lenses above, although you can invest in the more expensive f/2.8 versions if you prefer. Most manufacturers offer both, so it’s up to you and your budget as to which you prefer!

Lens compression in photography

 

Camera Settings for Landscape Photography

Now you have your camera and lens, you’ll want to know how to actually set them up correctly to achieve great photos.

Of course, there is no one size fits all camera setup that will work for every landscape image. You will want to learn about the exposure triangle, and learn how the various exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) work together to create an image. This is also something I cover in detail in my online photography course.

As a starting point though, and assuming you’re shooting on a tripod (more on that shortly), set your camera up as follows:

  • ISO 100
  • Aperture f/8
  • Shutter speed based on available light.

Generally with landscape photography you are looking for a wide depth of field, where most of the shot is in focus. An aperture of f/8  – f/11 on a wide angle lens should achieve that in most cases, although you can use a narrower aperture if necessary. I recommend f/8 – f/11 as it’s a sweet spot in terms of sharpness for most lenses.

The higher the ISO, the noisier the image, so try to keep that as low as possible.

Finally, the shutter speed for most landscape shots will likely be quite low, depending on available light. Expect it to be between 1/30th and 1/250th of a second. If you are hand holding your camera, then you might need to increase the ISO so you can use a faster shutter speed and avoid motion blur caused by hand movements.

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Composing a Great Landscape Photo

Once you have your camera set up, you need to actually take the photo. This is where you need to start thinking about the composition.

Composition is all about how you put your image together. General rules of composition are used in all kinds of art, not just photography. In general the goal is to create an image that’s pleasing to the eye, that engages your viewer, and which gives them a clear subject to focus on.

Often, you will hear about the “rules” of composition. These are popularly used concepts which can help you when planning what exactly appears in your shot.

I cover composition in photography here, and also in detail in my travel photography course. However, some things to consider for landscape photography are as follows.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most well-known rules of composition. In fact, many cameras and smartphones actually allow you to turn on the rule of thirds grid in the display when you are taking a photo.

The rule of thirds is the idea that you divide your image into thirds, vertically and horizontally. You then aim to place different elements and subjects into the different thirds. For a landscape, you might look to have one third landscape and two thirds sky for example.

The rule of thirds can also help with focal points. When we first look at an image, our eyes tend to be drawn to specific focal points. If you look at the grid, these focal points are the four points where the vertical and horizontal grid lines meet.

These focal points are a good place to put your subject. For example, if you’re taking a photo of a person, placing their head or eyes on this location will draw your viewer in.

Leading Lines

Leading lines can be a great way to help a viewer focus in easily on the subject of your shot.

The idea of a leading line is that you take an element of your shot, such as a road, train track, row of lights, staircase, or power line, and use it to steer your viewer’s eyes to a particular element.

When we look at an image, it’s natural for our eyes to follow things like roads, so if you place your subject at the end of a leading line, your viewer will automatically find it.

Subject placement

Another thing to think about when composing your image is where your subject (or subjects) is placed in the image. Whether your subject is a person, an animal or an object, you will want to think carefully about where it appears in the image.

The goal should be for the main subject to be immediately clear to the viewer. Normally it will be the first thing they look at before exploring the rest of the image.

You want to be sure your subject is clear, isn’t obstructed or distracted from by other elements, and is placed so your viewer can see it clearly.

Spacing and Separation

Spacing and separation required you to think about your subjects and specifically where they are in relation to the other elements in the shot.

The idea behind spacing and separation is that where possible your key subject or subjects should be separate from each other and other elements of the shot.

An easy way to understand this is to think of a sentence.

Ifyouhaveasentencewhereallthewordsarelikethisitshardtoknowwhatisgoingon.

On the other hand, if you space out all your words like this, your brain is easily able to identify each individual word.

This is exactly the same concept when composing an image – separating the subjects makes the task of interpreting the image a lot easier.

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The Best Time of Day for Landscape Photography

Different times of day offer different opportunities for landscape photography. Depending on the time of year and where you are in the world, the best time for landscape photography will definitely vary.

In general, the times closer to sunrise and sunset offer more pleasing conditions for landscape photography. These times are known as the “Golden Hour”.  At these times of day the lower angle of the sun produces a warmer light. The lower angle also produces more interesting shadows that can help to give a scene structure and depth.

Usually the middle of the day is less ideal, although this is more the case towards summer time. In winter time, especially if you’re in more northern or southern latitudes, the sun might not rise high enough in the sky to cause issues.

Another popular time for landscape photography is just after sunset and before sunrise, the so called “Blue Hour”. At this time of day, as the sky starts to brighten, there are lovely blue and purple tones that can be incorporated into your shots.

That said, landscape photography can certainly work at any time of day, so don’t feel you have to keep your camera in your bag until sunset! It’s just a question of learning how to use the light effectively in your shots.

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Tripod for Landscape Photography

In the next few tips I’m going to cover some essential accessories that I think every landscape photographer should consider getting to improve their shots.

The first of these is a tripod. In my mind, a tripod is an essential photography accessory. I talk about why in detail in this guide to why you need a tripod for photography.

For landscape photography in particular, a tripod means you don’t have to worry too much about your shutter speed. This means you can set a low ISO for clean shots, a narrow aperture for a wide depth of field, and then set a shutter speed that matches the available light.

Without the tripod, you will be limited by how slow the shutter speed can be, which can result in a less optimal camera setup.

Of course, there are other benefits to using a tripod for landscape photography. They open up the potential for long exposure photography for example, as well as astrophotography.

There are lots of other reasons to use a tripod of course, but the above are my main reasons that a tripod is essential for landscape photography in my opinion. I’d recommend a travel tripod as they are lighter and easier to carry to more remote locations. However, if you want more stability at the cost of weight and portability, you might prefer a full size tripod.

If you’re in the market for a tripod, see our guide to the best travel tripods, which should give you lots of options across a range of budgets. My current main tripod I use for landscape photography is a Vanguard VEO2Go travel tripod.

Vanguard tripod view of Half Dome

 

Filters for Landscape Photography

Another accessory for landscape photography that I recommend are lens filters. Whilst these aren’t essential, they do open up a number of creative possibilities.

There are a number of different types of filter available for lenses. The basic filter that I always recommend is a UV filter.

This is a simple plain piece of glass attaches to the front of your lens and protects the front element of your lens. If you happen to bump your lens or get a scratch, it’s a lot easier to replace a UV filter than the front glass element! I always recommend using a UV filter.

Then, you might consider a polarizing filter, a neutral density filter, and/or a graduated filter.

These all achieve different things.

A polarizing filter works like polarizing sunglasses. It can help blue skies and clouds to pop, as well as cut reflections in your scene. It can be very effective in some scenes and is a handy filter to have in your kit.

A neutral density filter cuts the light coming in to your lens. I have a full overview of neutral density filters in photography, but essentially they let you shoot at slower shutter speeds. This allows you to achieve interesting effects even in bright daylight conditions, such as a fluffy water effect in a waterfall.

Finally, a graduated filter is a bit like a neutral density filter, but it allows you to reduce the amount of light coming from a specific area of the scene. This can be useful if for example you are shooting a landscape with a bright sky and a dark foreground. Whilst this can be resolved in post processing, it is often easier to get it right in camera first.

Skogafoss Waterfall Iceland

 

Camera Bag for Landscape Photography

Often, landscape photography requires us to get to places which are a little off the beaten path. It’s important that you are able to carry all your equipment in a secure and protected fashion, which is why I believe a good camera bag is essential for landscape photographers.

Of course, all photographers need a good camera bag, but different types of photography likely require a different bag.

For landscape photography specifically, I use and recommend a backpack style bag. If you have to hike to a location, you want something that is going to be comfortable with a collection of camera equipment, a tripod, and anything else you want to bring along with you like a water bottle, warm layers, and snacks.

I’d always suggest a bag which has good padding, both for your gear but also against your back. A sternum and a hip strap are essential, as is a means to carry your tripod. You also want to make sure any bag you pick has room for everything you want.

For me, I use Vanguard’s range of camera bags. Specifically, I use their Alta Sky, which is available in different sizes. I’ve worn these bags on full day hikes stuffed to the brim with gear, and they are very comfortable. I also use mine as my carry-on luggage on flights, and it works great.

If you decide to invest in a Vanguard bag (or tripod or other photography gear), we have a unique discount code which will get you 20% off everything in the Vanguard USAVanguard UKVanguard Spain, and Vanguard Germany online store websites. Just use code FindingTheUniverse (case sensitive) on checkout.

Take better photos of yourself

 

Learn How To Edit Your Photos

Once you’ve taken your photos, it’s time for the final part of your landscape photography workflow, which is the photo editing.

First though, a brief preamble. Before you think about loading up your photos in a photo editing application, you’re going to want to do everything you can to ensure they are good quality to start with.

If you are shooting with a camera that supports shooting in RAW, then you will definitely want to set it up so it shoots in RAW or in RAW + JPG. A RAW file is the digital equivalent of a roll of film, it’s an unprocessed version of your image.

RAW files give you the most flexibility when it comes to editing, allowing you to recover areas of the image that might at first glance seem to be just dark shadows or bright skies.

It’s also worth pointing out that photo editing can only do so much to “rescue” an image. Before you think about the editing stage, you’re going to want to ensure you capture a good image. Following the other tips in this post around time of day, equipment set up, and composition are key to a great final result.

Photo editing can elevate a good image to a great image, but it isn’t a replacement to capturing  a good image to start with.

There are a lot of photo editing applications out there vying for your attention. Check out my guide to my favourite photo editing applications for some tips, which includes paid and free options for both computers and smartphones.

I also cover photo editing in detail in my online photography course.

RAW file editing example

 

Planning Tools for Landscape Photography

You should be pretty much set now with these landscape photography tips. However, you might now be wondering how to find good landscapes to take pictures of.

As a full time travel photographer, I spend quite a bit of time identifying locations to shoot, and I have a number of tools and strategies that I use to help me find lovely scenes to take pictures of.

Here are some of my favourite planning tools for landscape photography.

  • Google Maps — this is a great tool for finding scenic locations and viewpoints. You can also save locations as points of interest for future reference
  • Instagram — a good option for getting inspiration around a destination you are going to
  • Photography Location Guides, online and print — if you search the web for location guides for specific destinations, you will often find details guides. I’ve even written photography location guides to my favourite destinations. Some popular destinations also have printed guides you can buy
  • Postcards / Local Galleries — if you are already in a destination and looking for inspiration, I find a good option is to check out the postcards in local shops, as these often have a great selection of local highlights. Local photography and art galleries are also a great resource.
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app — an awesome app for seeing when and where the sun will rise and set for any point on earth
  • Specific apps for star photography / the Northern Lights — if you’re planning on taking pictures of stars or the Northern Lights, there are apps that can help you with identifying constellations, as well as alerting you to northern lights activity.

Northern Lights Finland

 

Great Subjects for Landscape Photography

If you’re looking for inspiration for some great subjects for landscape photography, I wanted to provide some ideas that might help you with your next shoot.

There are of course a plethora of landscape photography subjects. Subjects I love to photograph include:

  • Roads across a spectacular landscape
  • Scenic still mountain reflections
  • Lone trees highlighted against a gorgeous backdrop
  • Interesting rock formations
  • Rivers winding into the distance
  • Waterfalls
  • Coastal views and seascapes

The good news is that wherever you are in the world you likely don’t have to go far to find some great landscapes. Just look at a map, and see if you can identify nearby scenic viewpoints, national or regional parks, or any area with valley, hills, lakes, forests or mountains.

If you happen to live in a city, you can likely still find great landscapes in your surrounding area. You can also shoot some stunning cityscapes as well!

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Practice Your Landscape Photography

My final landscape photography tip is all about practice. One of the reasons I have homework assignments on my travel photography course is so that students get to practice the skills that they learn and get feedback.

Like any skill, photography improves with practice. The more you practice, the better you will become. Things like setting aperture, ISO, and shutter speed will become second nature over time, and you’ll start to find yourself naturally composing shots without having to think about it.

Always try to take your camera with you when you go out and take the opportunity to take some photos. If you’re walking your dog or taking your kids to the park, take your camera with you so you get more and more familiar with it.

You definitely don’t want your camera to be something that only comes out for a special trip. It should be something you are used to using and familiar with as much as possible!

 

Further Reading

I hope this guide to landscape photography has given you lots of ideas for improving your landscape photography I also wanted to share some more photography content we’ve written which will hopefully also help you take better photos

And that’s it! As always we’re always open to hearing your feedback and answering your questions. Just pop them in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

A series of landscape photography tips to help you start taking better landscape photos. Includes tips on composition, gear + camera settings





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