Landscape Photography can seem very easy to grasp. After all, all you need is to stop on the roadside and take a snap with your smartphone. Although smartphone are doing a great job at making your pics look great, there a lot to learn before doing great photographs. However, once you want to get started with landscape photography seriously, things start being slightly more complicated. With this article, I am trying to help any aspiring landscape photographer to get a good overview of where to start to make amazing landscape photographs.
If you're attracted to landscape photography, you might actually have an idea of what you'd like to photograph, and that's very good because you've got a drive.
In case you're interested and not sure exactly what you like, or would just like to broaden your perspective, take a look at my article on the 13 landscape photography styles to try out.
Content of the article
Below, I am referencing 10 points that will support your development in getting you started with landscape photography.
1- Get the right equipment
The main equipment you need to get started with landscape photography is fairly basic:
A sturdy tripod. Here, it's best to invest directly in something good otherwise you will be upgrading in less than a year.
2 to 3 lenses including an ultra-wide angle (e.g. 16-24mm) and a telephoto lens (> 70mm). Zoom lenses would allow for more flexibility but quality will tend to decrease a little compared to primes.
Any additional equipment such as filters, macro ring, and so on, will come naturally in your equipment as you develop your own style and wat to explore new techniques.
As you may have noticed on forums, landscape photography groups and so on, people keep asking numerous question about gear. The truth is that most cameras will be more than good enough to do landscape photography. Often, marketing is getting you by making you believe that you will be a bettter photographer with a newer camera. Remember that your camera is just a tool, you're the artist.
I personally use a Fujifilm X-T3 since 2019, and I am more than happy with it. I actually still struggle to justify its replacement. It remains, with the XT-2 some of the best XT models for landscape photography in Fuji's line up, but also among other manufacturers. That being said, any other brands would do an amazing job too.
To be fair, most cameras from the past 5 to 10 years will still do a great job at landscape photography. Therefore, if you're on budget, don't break your wallet on the latest gear.
When choosing your camera, try to define what options you truly need. In general, I would recommend the following for landscape photography:
A fully manual mode available: most reflex and mirrorless will have it,
Timer: really important especially when shooting at dawn and dusk to avoid shaking while on tripod,
Bracketing can be very helpful when shooting in high contrast situations (e.g. facing the sun),
Beware of size to ensure to not break your back while on the go,
Beware of lens prices when choosing a brand, although today second hand and third party lens can be very affordable,
Weather Resistance is a nice to have feature, especially if travelling in sandy or tropical regions
On top of that, think that editing software are getting more and more demanding in terms of power, therefore, the following IT equipment will be valuable:
A computer that will last you a few years and that can handle software upgrades. In general Macbooks are great, especially since Apple is producing its own chips, but Windows laptop do a very good job too. It's to your own like here.
Hardrives: I recommend getting several of them with lots of space. Use one as your main and have on to two back ups placed at home and at someone else's place. I am using the Lacie rugged, which havn't failed me so far.
Considering cloud storage is also a smart idea if you want to increase the safety of your data.
2- Shoot in Raw
Let's start with an analogy to differentiate JPEG and RAW. Imagine a cheescake. On one side you have fully baked industrial cheesecake made to the general taste of the public. Not great but not bad. On the other side, you would have a set of ingredients to choose from to get the cheesecake that you wish to create to your own very perfect taste. As you guessed it, the first choice is the JPEG while the second would be your raw.
You basically have two main formats to shoot from with your camera: Raw and JPEG. JPEG is an out of camera pre-processed picture that will be hardly modifiable on any post-processing software. I found this statement to change slightly as most phone post-processing software will do a pretty good job at processing JPEGs. But, in general, to get a better final result and full flexibility over your photograph you better shoot in Raw. Raw is a format that produces a picture based on a set of data captured by the sensor of your camera, and therefore modifying it on your post-processing app will be changing these data. Raw images comes out of cameras in various format depending on brands such as .dng or .RAF for example.
Landscape photography tend to really take a turn once processed, therefore I would strongly recommend shooting in Raw. If you don't want to post-process, you can also shoot in JPEG and use a smartphone app to adjust your JPEG shot with pre-made filters.
3- Learn how to plan your photographs
Planning is key in landscape photography, and that doesn't only include knowing the location where you will shoot. If your goal is to shoot the milkyway for example, you want to ensure to be in the right period for this, you also want to make sure that it will be located at the right position and that the galactic center of the milkyway is showing up at the time you will be on site. That's just an example among others, but a really valuable one.
In any case, ensure that you always:
Plan by choosing the location you want to photograph,
Understand how to get there, especially if not in an easy-to-reach location,
Get an idea of what the place look like and what potential photographs you could capture with the help of social medias or Google,
Check sunset/sunrise time with photopills
Check weather conditions with apps such as windy
By following these few guidelines, you will for sure increase your chances of getting an adequate choice.
4- Get outside at the right time of the day
You won't get seriouly started with landscape photography without the perfect light. Generally speaking, going out at sunrise or sunset will be a guaranty to get an amazing light. Undoubtedly, these two time frames are best for great light. But, at times, these might not be fully optimal. However, I rarely recommend going when the sun is at Zenith (right above your head). The light will be harsh and dull, shadows will be hardly visible, and most of what you'll see will look bland.
If shooting a certain type of subject, for example mushrooms in forests or while doing some macro, going during the day will not be an issue and will actually suppourt you to get better shots. In forests, shooting mushrooms during daytime will help to get a better exposure and prevent motion blur of the photograph, especially if there's a bit of wind. If shooting flowers in macro, then a well highlighted subject will help to get more sustained and flashy colors.
5- Learn about Composition
Composition is the sinews of war in photography. You can have a perfect light, location, technique, but without a good composition, a photograph will quickly become uninteresting, creating frustration for the photographer.
Composition is not something you will learn and will be done with. You need to learn the basics of it and from there, practice a lot and develop your own composition techniques. You will never settle on this. Obviously you will have your favorite type of compositions, but exploring new ones will always be beneficial.
6- Exposure is king
Have you heard about the exposure triangle? If not, then you should take some time to do so. This is not a concept specific to landscape photography, but photography in general. Mastering exposure will get you perfectly balanced photographs in terms of light. This will provide you with flexibility over your photographs in post-processing and obviously get more natural looking pictures.
The exposure triangle shows that the light captured by the sensor of a camera is compensated by each of the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. By acting on any of these components, your exposure will change, so will other parameters such as depth of field, noise and speed at which your photograph is taken.
In general, in landscape photography, you do not want to have a shallow depth of field and therefore would use a smaller aperture (higher f number), meaning diminishing your exposure. In the meantime, Shutter Speed and ISO will be adjusted according to the type of photography you're doing (e.g. night photography will require long exposure with high ISO and wide open aperture, while vistas will allow for moderately fast shutter speed and a low ISO).
Understanding these concepts while getting started in landscape photography should not be neglected.
7- Learn how to focus
Learning how to focus will help you get a picture in focus from bottom to top, unless another effect is desired.
There are two schools here and frankly speaking, I tend to use both of them depending on the situation.
Before diving into this, you need to understand that in landscape photography, a narrower aperture (higher f number) will be needed to get your whole picture in focus. Unless doing a focus blend, I would recommend using an aperture from f10 to f16.
The first method consists in focusing at the bottom of your image so that the top of your image will get in focus, For this, you would need to know your hyperfocal to know at what distance to place your focus to get your full picture in focus based on focal length and aperture. That's seem scary, doesn't it? But don't worry, the whole photography world got you covered here. Download one of the most popular photography app, Photopills and you'll get all this computed for you instantly based on your camera and focal length. To be honest, this is something good to know, but in practice it is quite difficult to know the exact distance at which to focus. Therefore, I recommend to focus on the bottom third of your image, that way you are very likely to get the rest of the shot in focus.
I usually use this technique when outside and photographing vistas or far away mountains.
The second focusing method, would usually be used when having an imposing subject sufficiently close to target it with your focus. By placing the focus on this subject, usually somewhere at the top third of your image and will get you all the bottom part of your image in focus. There's no scientific computation here, but in practice you will find out that this technique is really useful. The reason I use this technique is mostly because when focusing on the first third of the image I found out that the further away imposing subjects were slightly blurry which would downgrade the final result of my images. This method has solved this problem. This method works well while shooting mountains, trees, or indoor architecture for example..
Another arising issue when focusing is when placing a camera very close to the foreground. In this situation, a focus blending will be necessary. For more information, please take look at the point 10 of this article.
8- Get an editing software
You would not start your landscape photography journey without this tool. Landscape photography tends to really improve when shot in RAW and post processed through a editing software. There are plenty of them nowadays, for all budgets and with all kinds of pros and cons.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of the main software you can find on the market today:
Lightroom & Photoshop: most well known, lots of resources online, efficient, very good support. Use through a subscription,
Capture One: another well known software mostly used by commercial and portrait photographers due to its great realism. Use through a subscription or a one off purchase. Relatively pricey option though,
Luminar: a fast growing AI led editing software, great rendering for surreal final results. However, the software is really CPU intensive, and you'll need a fast machine to run it appropriately. Use through an affordable subscription,
DXO Photolab: apparently best for denoising and camera profile correction. Use through a one-off purchase,
Dartktable: the only free softwaew in this list. Apparently a little more simplistic than others but yet very efficient. A good option if you're on budget and don't mind compromising.
These softwares will all help you to not only get the best out of your pictures but also to organize your photographs efficiently.
In case any of Capture One or Lightroom are of interest to you, feel free to read an article I wrote an article about the main feautures differences between the two software.
9- Learn how to edit your pictures
This goes without saying, once you chose your editing software, you will definitely need to spend time to get the best out of your photographs. At first, beginners tend to use lots of contrasts, a lot of clarity, saturate a lot their photographs.
The truth is that these can be used, but in a subtle manner. A lots of adjustments can be made to a picture, but each of them need to be subtle to avoid getting an over processed result.
The ways I would recommend to get your head around editing would be to watch Youtube videos to understand how your software works, then either take classes or work a lot on them to learn new techniques. I, myself, still learn new techniques when I feel that my photograph don't look right. It usually pays off.
Last but not least, you will need to develop your own style. This is by far the hardest thing to do in any kind of photography. But don't despair, you've got a lot to learn, and it might naturally come to you.
10- Learn advanced shooting and post-processing techniques
Once you've learned and understood most of the shooting techniques, there will be some technique to learn to upgrade your photography. These include:
Long Exposure: mainly used when water is involved such as the sea, rivers,
Focus blending: when shooting a landscape with a very close subject such flowers, a piece of wood, grass, etc. you will need to focus on your close subject as well as your further away subjects and then blend everything in a software allowing such operation such as photoshop.
Exposure blending: when shooting while facing the sun, you won't be able to recover blacks and whites and will need to shoot at various exposures. These photographs will then need to be blended in a software allowing such operation such as photoshop.
These approaches will unlock a totally different dimension in your learning curve and certainly upgrade the level of your photographs.
Although they can be learned at a very early stage in photography, I would still recommend getting familiar with some of the above concepts such as the exposure triangle or the focusing before spending too mch time on them.. Knowing these will help you get more efficient with most of the new techniques you will learn.
Do not hesitate to let me know in the comment section below which tip do you prefer, if I missed one, or if you have any questions related to this article.
About the Author
I am Rémi Bergougnoux, a French travel and landscape photographer currently based in Zurich, Switzerland. My most influential destinations include Latin America, where I spent about a year, Namibia, Iceland, Lofoten and certainly many others.
Aside from photography, hiking, cooking, enjoying good wines and socializing are my main hobbies.