10 Tips for Better Landscape Photography

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10 Tips for Better Landscape Photography

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Landscape photography is a very popular genre and many amateur photographers start their hobbies doing it. There is, however, a lot more to it than just going out somewhere beautiful, putting your camera up to your face, and clicking the shutter button.

Have you gone out and taken some landscape photos, then found that they didn’t look that good when you got home? Do you get lost when you go out, and don’t know what to photograph, or how? Here are 10 tips to help you get you do better landscape photography.

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A bush trying to grow on the edge of some cliffs show how harsh the environment is and leads you to the cliffs.

1 – Work the scene

One thing you see a lot of new photographers doing is walking up to a scene, taking one photo, and think they are done. However, a more experienced person will take a lot more photos, and spend time walking around and seeing what they can get from that scene.

Think about different angles, and different heights. With digital you can take so many photos, and it won’t cost you anything, other than a few minutes. So work the scene, and see what else you can get.

2 – Leading lines and patterns

This is something that we all learn from the beginning, find a leading line that will take your viewer into the image. Fences, roads, or anything that is like a line, that starts at the side of the frame, and takes people into your image. It is the invitation to look at the photo.

Patterns can be a great way attracting attention. If you notice a pattern somewhere, and take a photo of it, there is a good chance that your audience will also find it interesting. Patterns can be anywhere, in the ground, on the bark of trees, how they are planted. They can be fascinating.

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Roads can be great leading lines to take your viewer into your image.

3 – Time of day

This is something that we all learn at the beginning, time of day is important. It is also dependent on the time of the year. Here in Southern Australia you can shoot all day long in winter. The sun is never high in the sky, the shadows are soft, and it is a great time of the year to take photos. On the other hand, summer is terrible. It is hot, the light is harsh, the shadows are sharp, and often the colors in your images can look bleached.

Think about where you are, and what time of the day is best where you want to take photos. Some people prefer early morning, there aren’t many people around, and you can get what you want before the day starts. Others prefer later in the day, and don’t mind sharing their location.

Some areas that you want to photograph will be better for sunrise, as you may not be able to get a sunset there. Or it could be the other way around. Many coastal areas on the east coast of Australia mean that is it almost impossible to get a sunset, so you need to get up early and aim for sunrise instead.

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Early morning can mean sunrise, but at certain times you can also get mist on water.

4 – Look at your foreground

The foreground is often forgotten when taking landscape photos, but sometimes what is right in front of you is exactly what you need to make your image stronger.

Some images of landscapes can be a bit more interesting by adding a small plant or something that is in the front, close to the camera. It can also be a leading point to the scene at the back of the image.

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The foreground plants give interest to the landscape behind.

5 – Look at what other photographers do

Without a doubt, one of the best things you can do is to look at other photographers, and take note of what they do. Don’t underestimate how much you can learn by looking at the work of others. Not just good or professional people, but also amateurs, you can see the good and the bad.

Look work that you like and determine why you like it, exactly what it is that you think makes it work. Can you pinpoint what it is about that image that makes you jealous that you didn’t take it?

Take notes of images that you don’t think are very good. Analyze them and see what it is that you find isn’t working. Learn from them, and make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.

6 – Think about the seasons

It’s very easy to go out one day and take photos of a particular place, then forget it exists, but what about thinking about other times of the year. Some places will look better in summer than they do in winter. Spring could be a time with lots of flowers, while autumn will give you colourful trees.

Photographing the same place throughout the year can give you a different feeling to your images every time you go there.

It is also a good idea to think about where you want to take photos, then consider what will be the best season to show it off. The mountains can look sparse and uninspiring in the summer, but in winter they are covered in snow; it adds a different dimension.

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Autumn can bring lots of color to your landscape photography.

7 – Look for the smaller landscape

When you are out, it is very easy to put on a wide angle lens, and take all your photos with it. Most landscapes are wide vistas showing the scene that is before you. But, there are other ways to show what is there. Look around for objects or flora that you can use in the foreground. This is especially good if the subject is in the distance. It can give something interesting in front of your image.

Try taking a zoom or macro lens with you. You might be able to photograph something like the flora. Don’t just zoom right in on flowers that may be growing on it, try considering the whole plant and where it is situated. It can you give it some context as to its environment. This can help you tell a whole other story at times.

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Flowers trying to grow in sand helps to tell the story of the location.

8 – What equipment do you need

You don’t need anything special to photograph landscapes, a camera with a decent lens is enough. You can use a compact camera just as well as a DSLR, it is really up to you.

If you are using a DSLR then you probably want a wide angle lens, or something a bit longer. Landscape photographers tend to use wide angles more, though many also use up to 200mm lenses as well. You don’t need the best camera that is available, and often it’s the lens choice that will give you the best results.

A sturdy tripod is good to have. The best advice is to get the best you can afford, don’t skimp on the price, you will regret it later if you do. A remote shutter release is a great piece of kit to have as well, or you can use the self-timer on your camera.

When you progress, and as you get more skilled at landscapes, the equipment list tends to grow. You will find yourself wanting items like filters for long exposures or better lenses. The list can be endless.

9 – Tripod: when to use or not

There is an opinion that if you are a serious landscape photographer, then you will always use a tripod, no matter what. If you are not, then you can’t be sincere about your craft.

It’s one way of looking at it. But, so many new and experienced photographers, find it can be limiting, or stifle your creative flow; that you can’t move around easily when taking your photos.

The short answer to this is that you have to feel comfortable when you are doing photography, so there is nothing wrong with not using a tripod. Though you also have to accept that, at times, you may not get the sharpest images – so it’s a trade-off.

If you are shooting at night then a tripod is a must, especially if you don’t want noisy photos. A tripod means you can use the best settings on your camera to get the highest quality image.

10 – Look for the story

There is no denying that some places you go to will seem boring, and you will wonder why on earth you went there. It’s one of those times when you will want to consider other tips here, but one tip that can really help is to find the story of the area.

Consider where you are, and why you went. Is there some history that you can see that still remains? How can you incorporate that into the image to show the story?

In many places in Victoria, Australia, you can travel to a town and find very little there. The only thing there might be grain silos, and fields of crops in various stages of growth. Look at the silos up close, and see if you can photograph how long they have been standing there. Look for how they are used. There will always be railway tracks next to them, so shoot how they lead you to the silos (see tip #1 above). Maybe do one from a distance showing the silos standing tall in a flat country. The story becomes all about the silos and that countryside.

Landscape photography is wonderful, and what you can take photos of is endless. Think about all the tips here and they should help you do your best landscape photography.

Please share any other tips you have for landscape photography, and your images in the comments below. If you use some of the tips, let me know how they worked out for you.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

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  • bskier7

    Under part 8 a polarizing filter is a good piece of equipment to have. And if you’re starting out there are lots of cheap options to be found. I think I picked up all of my filters for less that $30 on Amazon. Sure they’re not the highest quality but they’re great for learning.

  • I hardly ever use one, I don’t like what it does to the skies, but I know others who swear by them, so they are good, thanks for adding that.

  • Nicci Carrera

    Another great article. I love landscape photography and just as you stay it’s where I started. But I do get stuck with trying to figure out how to make it interesting. Your tips are great and your examples are to die for.

  • Thank you Nicci, it does all take time and you learn with experience I think. Good luck with your landscape photography, I hope the tips help.

  • Marilyn

    I feel SO much better now! Except for the whole tripod thing with which I cannot seem to make friends. Oh well, 9 out of 10 is okay, right? 🙂

  • That’s good to hear Marilyn, I don’t think you are alone about your tripod, many people feel the same. I will use it if I have to, but I also like taking photos without. Thanks Marilyn.

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  • Tim Lowe

    Point #9. First sentence says it all. No need to go further. 😉

  • Larry M

    The “opinion” part or the “always” part? Because though I very often use a tripod I do not and cannot always use a tripod “no matter what”.

  • Tim Lowe

    There’s only one way to get DOF from foreground to horizon and that is to stop down. Yes. You need a tripod to make proper landscape photographs. Hand held is sometimes ok for snapshots. As your format size goes up, this becomes even more evident. Medium format, with no camera movements, is the most extreme case but it is also true with 35mm film/sensors. Your choices are use an unacceptably high ISO or steady your camera and use a longer exposure.

  • Larry M

    I do not disagree that a tripod will most certainly provide the best DOF and sharpness. However, no rule is 100%. And to refer to handheld photographs as snapshots is a bit elitest at best.

  • Tim Lowe

    I guess I am elitist. Landscape photography is not a trivial thing to do. The biggest mistakes novices make are:

    1. Making flat and uninteresting images lacking fore, middle and background interest

    2. Shooting in full daylight (and he’s another truth casual photographers either don’t know or ignore all the time) which yields dull and lifeless images.

    And BOTH of these mistakes, when avoided, require a longer exposure, a smaller aperture and a damned tripod.

    Period.

  • drdroad

    There’s another option. I rarely shoot handheld, but I only use a tripod when I’m shooting late/night. My monopod allows me to shoot as slow as 20th/second and get sharp images.

  • Tim Lowe

    Monopods are pretty cool for iffy exposures but when you are talking 1/2 a second or more (and with a lot of landscape work you are talking A LOT more) they just don’t cut it.

  • It is an opinion, and I know of many professional landscape photographers that do not always use a tripod, they use them only when absolutely necessary. I just think that to tell people that they have to use a tripod is not necessary. Some people just can’t do it, they find the whole thing frustrating, I know quite a few of those. So to tell them that they have to use one is like telling them not to take photos. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules. I use one when I have to, but I like to hand hold too. I like to just click, see what I can find and experiment. I always have my tripod with me, but that doesn’t mean I will use it.

    Interesting discussion. Thanks.

  • Tim Lowe

    Everyone’s mileage may vary. 😉

    I’m a large and medium format photographer so it has ceased being a choice. My photography teacher MANY years ago was firm on this point and I am with my students as well.

  • That’s it exactly, everyone is different.
    Being a large and medium format photographer is different. I use a DSLR only, I like to have the freedom to just look and take photos. Then again I know others who like the tripod because it slows them down to look. then I have people I teach who can’t get their head around the tripod and find it so frustrating. I would rather they took photos, so if the tripod is the only thing standing in their way, then I say don’t use it. Like I said, I use it sometimes, well always for long exposures and night photography. I will use it in daylight hours if I have to, but I’m not a slave to it. that’s me that’s how I like to work.

  • Tim Lowe

    Still, I have to push back a little. I often use my D800 as the worlds most expensive spot meter and Polaroid back. I’m, of course, adding 2 or 3 stops to my final exposure for filters but it gives me some confidence that I’ve got the exposure right. Later, I look at these images and even allowing for lack camera movements and auto-focus vs a loupe, they are just plain not perfectly sharp. As you rightly emphasized, in landscape work it’s all about the light (well, all about the subject AND about the light) which means shooting mostly at sunrise and sunset or in “dramatic” weather. I don’t use VR much but my experience is that the combination of a great landscape subject and the tyranny of the exposure triangle pretty much means a very steady camera.

  • That’s probably a major different. I want an image that is in focus, but I don’t mind if not everything is tack sharp. I obviously photograph things for a different reason, I’m more into mood and a sense of feeling, if that makes any sense. I know you probably think I’m crazy, but I also like to process my images a lot, so not a true landscape photographer in the traditional sense, but I still like to do it. I think that is where the difference comes, we all approach it differently. I am not so strict about it. I like it that we are all different.

  • Tim Lowe

    Oh, I process the heck out of my images. Developer, stop, fixer, wash. Then dodge, burn… 😉

  • LOL, I used to do that, but gave it up for Photoshop, I didn’t like the darkroom. Seemed to go against what I thought about photography, all about light. I hope you do the dodging and burning before the developer, stop and fixer.

  • Larry M

    I guess you are.

  • Let’s not get into an argument, the reality is there is no right way or wrong way to do any type of photography. You do what you want to do, because if that is what you like, then that is how you should do it. It is about taking the photos in the end. Enjoy it and do it your way.

  • Larry M

    I totally agree. That was my point to begin with 🙂

  • Sorry Larry, got a bit confused, it happens.

  • Larry M

    It’s all good 🙂 And honestly I have no ill will for Tim. I just believe that there is more than one right way to do anything.

  • I agree Larry, there should never be only one way of doing things, how boring would the world be if there were?

  • Annie

    Marilyn, I know how you feel re the tripod baggage! For 3 out of my 5 years with my DSLR, I “couldn’t” use my tripod. But after some encouragement, I forced myself. I eventually got used to lugging it around. I got over the feeling I was “holding people up” setting it up (it only took seconds), I liked the way I was far more picky about getting a good shot in camera – the tripod gave me time to think more creatively, compose better, check settings calmly, etc. Except at events or in crowds when I’ll use my monopod or hand-hold, now my camera lives on my tripod most of the time. 🙂

  • Marilyn

    I’ve thought about a monopod … but I’m also afraid it will be just one more piece of expensive equipment I don’t use.

  • I agree the best way to get used to a tripod is to use one. Though everyone works differently. I love my tripod and use it a lot, but I also love the freedom of just snapping. I guess everyone has to work in a way that suits them. Thanks for sharing your experiences Annie.

  • I know what you mean Marilyn, maybe you could borrow one from someone and try it out.

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