Beginner’s Guide to Landscape Photography | Take Control of Your Camera

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Beginner’s Guide to landscape photography is by far the most popular subject for photo enthusiasts, which is why we’re providing you with a complete guide to help you improve your own scenic shots. In this feature, we’ll go in-depth into the camera skills and photography techniques you’ll need to learn to capture landscape photos like a professional. We’ll begin with essential tips for setting up your camera to give you the best chances of capturing successful shots: from the optimum aperture choice to lens selection and the benefits of using a tripod.

Beginner's Guide to Landscape Photography
Beginner’s Guide to Landscape Photography

We’ll polish up your compositional skills, from the rule of thirds to using leading lines to improve your framing and show you how to use Live View effectively when focusing and composing your photographs. Is it dull and grey outside? We’ll reveal how to become a monochrome master, and how to tackle boring weather and still end up with top shots. We’ll even show you what to do if it’s hammering down in your neck of the woods! Lastly, we’ll explain the best techniques for capturing great shots of watery scenes – from lakeside reflections in landscapes and shutter speed tips for blurring watery movement to shooting scenes under night lights.

All of our techniques are backed up with inspirational images that illustrate each teaching point. So read on and start taking better images today!

Use Tripod, & Appropriate Camera Settings, for Blur-Free Images

Using Tripod for Landscape Photography
Using Tripod for Landscape Photography

Before you start shooting the beautiful landscape in front of you, you’ll need to set your camera up correctly. In general, you’ll want to use a wide-angle lens to get as much of the scene as possible in the shot; this could be the wide end of your kit lens (e.g. 18mm on an 18-55mm lens) or, better still, a dedicated wide-angle lens.

Set your ISO to 100 for the best quality images (you’ll mostly be using a tripod, so won’t need to up the ISO to enable fast shutter speeds), and choose the Av shooting mode so you can fix your aperture. A narrow aperture of f/11 to f/16 on a wide-angle lens is best for landscapes, as you get the optimum combination of a good depth of field, so the scene is sharp from foreground to horizon, and also the optimum aperture on your lens for sharpness from the center to the edge of your frame.

In Av mode, your camera will set a suitable shutter speed for a standard exposure. When using low ISOs and/or the narrower apertures necessary for landscapes, shutter speeds are likely to be too slow to shoot handheld without camera shake becoming a problem, so you’ll need to use a tripod. Not only will a tripod keep your camera rock-steady for sharp shots, it also enables you to compose in a more considered way. Use a remote control, or the camera’s self-timer, to trigger the exposure, so that you don’t jog your camera when pressing the shutter button, which could result in a blurred shot.

We reviewed best travel tripods for photography. You can read those reviews.

Landscape Rules to Get Perfectly Composed Images

The composition will have a massive impact on the success of your landscape shots, and it’s one of the key skills that separate the amateur from the professional. Beginners often plop their camera on a tripod at the first opportunity, take a couple of snaps, and then move on. Pros will take their time, walk around like a prowling cat, kneeling down, getting up high, shooting handheld initially, zooming in and out so that only what they want to feature is in the frame; only when they’re happy that they’ve got the best possible composition will they fix their camera to a tripod and take a shot. It pays to really think about your composition, as when you get it right your shots will look so much better. There are a few handy framing tricks you can use when photographing landscapes. First up, use Live View – it’s brilliant for both focusing and framing your shots, but we’re going to concentrate on the latter. Switch to live view, and enable the 3×3 grid display option – most cameras will have this.

With your camera on a tripod, you can now frame your landscape shot using the grid to apply the classic ‘rule of thirds’: position a focal point – such as a lone building or tree – at an intersection of the grid, and/or place the horizon on a grid line, for a balanced composition.

Wonky landscape shots rarely work, so also use the digital spirit level that’s available on most cameras, and or the bubble levels on your tripod, to ensure that your camera is perfectly level. When composing your landscapes, look for leading lines (see below), and for any elements that can provide foreground interest to fill your frame. that said, don’t just assume that plonking a big rock or two in the bottom of your frame will work – foreground objects need to have a relationship with whatever else is in the frame.

What to do in Dull Weather

It can seem like the weather is a landscape photographer’s worst enemy when another overcast day seemingly spoils a shot you had high hopes for. But grey or uninspiring weather doesn’t mean you can’t bag some great landscape shots – you just need to start seeing the world around you in black and white!

With a combination of imagination and Photoshop, you can transform an apparently boring scene into a dramatic monochrome masterpiece. Without the distraction of color, you’re left to appreciate the different tones and the scene as a whole. But you do need to capture suitable color shots first, and that means well-exposed images that are ripe for black-and-white conversion.

So, do you expose for the darker foreground or for the lighter sky? The answer is to expose for both – by capturing a balanced exposure you’ll have detail in both the sky and the landscape, and this is ideal for a mono conversion. One option is to use a graduated neutral density (ND grad) filter on your lens to hold back the brighter light in the sky relative to the foreground for a balanced exposure.

Alternatively, shoot two or more images to capture the full range of tones in the scene, from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows, and then combine the images using HDR software, or in Photoshop using layers and masks.

What to do With Water

As your landscape photography skills progress you’ll want to capture more interesting and creative images, and one sure-fire way to do this is to shoot scenes that include water; by capturing motion blur in water with a long exposure you can instantly bring a landscape shot to live.

Landscape Photography With Water
Landscape Photography With Water

However, you can’t simply set a long exposure of 30 seconds and expect great results – do this on a sunny day and you’ll end up with overexposed images. And, even when shooting in low light at the start or end of the day, the resulting shutter speed may well not be slow enough to capture blurry water.

What you need is a neutral density (ND) filter. Not to be confused with an ND grad, which fades from clear to dark, an ND filter is solid grey and comes in varying densities, such as 1-stop or 3-stop. Better still are Big Stopper (10-stops) or variable ND filters (2 to 8-stops). All ND filters reduce the amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor, slowing shutter speeds and turning water into a milky blur.