Photographing the Perfect Landscape

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Rolling hills and vales, enchanting areas of woodland, rugged shorelines and a dappled spring meadow can all become the most obvious of subjects for the landscape shooter, often yielding strongly emotive and awe-inspiring results.

Image by Garry Schlatter

The recipe for success however is less obvious and so here at Digital Photography School we aim to provide a list of the most necessary ingredients for capturing that captivating landscape.

Step 1: Finding the perfect spot

To minimise petrol costs scouting out that prized location, do a little preparation work before you head off. Research nearby or far-flung locations online, in the library or at your local tourist information office to discover what has been captured and decide how you can better it. There is no shame in looking at the work of photographers who you admire or who inspire you, and attempting to learn from the work they’ve achieved.

You could also try looking under resources for hiking, camping, mountain climbing, biking and canal boating, as well as many other outdoor pursuits, as these are likely to highlight scenic areas of interest. Talk to other photographers in person or on forums for their advice about where to try and where to avoid. Once you’ve created a shortlist of must-see locations, take a trip out to judge its potential in the flesh.

Image by Harold Hoyer

Step 2: Getting the right light

A landscape can be transformed with the right light and depending on the size of your scene it’s likely you’ll be dependent on the one obvious light source: the sun. Many landscape photographers believe the best light comes with the early morning light; a window that lasts an hour so before and after sunrise. Others argue that sunset provides more vivacious colouring, whereas some declare winter sun to be the best for shooting during the middle hours of the day.

Whatever your preference, photograph with the light behind or to the side of you and be prepared to get their ahead of the ‘window’ to find the best position, program settings and wait for the show to start. With that in mind – pack a comfortable chair, flask of warm beverage and warm clothing. Revising sunrise and sunset times for that particular location can be of great benefit, particular if you have a great distance to travel.

Image by Brent Danley


Step 3: Creative compositions

A solitary field lacking compositional elements will arguably be a dull scene so compose your landscape as you would with any other subject; think about what is interesting to the viewer. Walk around the location to pick out points of interest and employ tactics such as the rule of thirds, symmetry or the golden ratio to compose your scene.

Pay attention to the geographical elements before you and how they intersect with each other, for example; the line of the horizon, the shape of a mountain or a lake, consider how much space lies before you before it intersects with the nearest line or shape, and determine where these elements should be positioned for maximum interest. Are there shadows, or reflections that you can exploit as main areas of interest? Consider some foreground interest to draw the viewer in, or incorporate a leading line; such as a path, river or railway track to guide the eye into the frame.

Before you shoot say to yourself ‘what interests me within this image?’, ‘Does this composition do anything for me?’ and ‘what are the main areas of interest here, and am I showing these at their best?’ Be objective if possible, just because you find something in the scene interesting, will someone else be able to relate to it enough to find it interesting? Finally, just because you are shooting a landscape, it doesn’t mean you are restricted to a landscape orientation – experiment!

Image by Garry Schlatter

Step 4: The ideal set up

Adjust your tripod to a height that offers the best perspective: too low and the scene can look flat, too high and the perspective on any foreground interest may become skewed. Attaching a carrier bag of rocks or even your backpack to the centre column is a good way of increasing rigidity in the likelihood that a sudden gust of wind may disturb your capture. If your tripod has a split level use this to ensure the composition is straight and secure the DSLR as tightly as possible.

Turn off your lens’ vibration reduction technology and set the camera’s ISO low to 100 or 200 for example. If you are confident shooting in manual consider using longer exposures, especially at dawn or dusk when the light is deemed. These lengthy exposures will blur the ebb and flow of the sea or trace the movement of a cloud in the sky, cultivating in an eerily ethereal or delicately moody frame. If the light is stronger or you are shooting in the middle of the day, you may want to consider using filters to cut down the light entering your lens to achieve these longer exposures.

Image by midlander1231

Using Aperture Priority will lend the opportunity to play with depth of field; and for a crisp capture with a wide scope of the scene in focus use an aperture of between f11 to f22. If you fancy getting creative why not employ a wider aperture and create a shallower depth of field, concentrating on the foreground interest in particular?  Revise captures using Playback by zooming in to ensure details crisp, colours are accurate and study the histogram to approve the exposure. It’s advisable to shoot in RAW if your device allows it and your memory card can accommodate it.

Later in the editing suite you’ll have a greater control over contrast, colour and exposure to perfect your landscape and reach your potential as a landscape photograph.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

  • Higbe33

    Use Lightroom and bring up the shadow slider.

  • Anand Arwind Deshmukh

    Yesterday tried to catch This nearby my city
    using f 11…Iso 400 by 10-22 Tameron on my Nikon…

Some Older Comments

  • Peter Johnston March 21, 2012 03:24 am

    I realise I'm reading this a few years after publishing, but this is a very helpful article to people like myself.

    One thing I totally agree and have learned is prepare ur ground. I have only seriously been into photography this past year, and many people say 'always carry ur camera with you'. I have to agree this stance is top notch for candid portraits, street photography etc, but for landscapes it is rare u just happen across an awesomely beautiful scene, it has to be planned. Yes there will be those moments u 'happen' to be out for a walk, u 'happen' to have your dslr with u and u come away with a really beautiful shot (but even these shots I believe are planned a wee bit, even if subconsciously???).

    For a wonderful long exposure pic, or a beautiful sunrise/sunset, preparation is everything. Especially if, like me, you are a part time photographer, ie full time job, married with two kids. Photography has to be selective and planned.

    The one tip I have learned is where I might not always have my dslr on my neck, I'll always have my iPhone in my pocket. So when I am out for a walk or a drive with my family, pushing the pram or running after my boy on his bike (ie times when a dslr hanging round ur neck is not ideal) if I see a nice scene, I'll take the iPhone out take a quick snap and there I have a geotagged snap shot of a potentially beautiful scene. I will then go home, as stated in this article, do a bit of searching around for other pics of this place, do some calculations of sunrise/sunsets times and then plan a shoot! Taking of course the warm clothes, flask and seat!! I have also found it useful to bring my wife a bacon buttie home with me after a sunrise shoot!!!

    Another point I have learned ( I am by no means professional and quite the opposite, so please take this as intended- what I as a novice/amateur has learnt) that a sunset may work better for a certain scene than a sunrise and vice versa? What I mean is that each has their uses. Not that one is better than another, but perhaps a sunset is more dramatic eg for a backdrop to a castle ruins? Whereas a sunrise is perhaps more serene, like a jetty shot in a peaceful lake?

    I apologise this is a bit long, just adding my pennies into the hat for anyone else reading this article after this length of time! Ps I agree with the equipment points, ie tripod, stabilising off, wireless or wired remote (can use timer if u don't have) and also as a lover of long exposure shots the need for a few ND filters and a cpl filter!

    Ps-again, love DPS as a learning tool! Top notch guys!!

    Peter Johnston

    Peter Johnston

  • Lord William Chard September 25, 2010 05:01 pm

    These are great tips and I will try to use them.

    I have been into photography for 3-4 years now although I lost interest or became interested in something else for a little while but now I am back on track although I have a full time day job I get weekends and I am working very hard to capture images in the rising and setting sun because I find the light so much richer and colours more colourful at these times. I am trying really hard to move into Landscape photography although I love doing abstract minimalist images as well concentrating on colour and texture.

    If you fancy having a look and commenting on my work please feel free to visit my flicker pages here http://www.flickr.com/photos/belwilam/

    Visit my online gallery www.lordwilliamchard.co.uk and see all my
    work on a black background in the comfort of your own home!

  • Nick Taylor September 19, 2010 03:44 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickt1/4991946563/' title='DSC09180' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4092/4991946563_e8841aa94f.jpg']
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickt1/4991946439/' title='DSC09170' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4148/4991946439_18b3fed6ba.jpg']

  • David September 3, 2010 01:40 am

    Some great tips, thank you. When I am out and about in my neighbourhood I am always looking for photo opportunity's it may not be good at that moment but I ask myself what about sunset/rise a different time of year. I think a lot of people forget that the sun moves North-South as well as East-West.
    Another good place to scout locations before you go Google earth, quiet often there are already photographs there that someone else has taken and you can use a slider to see the location at different times of day. I am about to do a trip to Oregon and used Google Earth and found locations I would never have found on my own,eg Mt Hood from lost Lake, Mt Hood from LoLo pass.
    Happy shooting

  • kirpi August 23, 2010 11:33 pm

    @magozuluaga
    There is no "one" single software which is good or best to work with images. While Photoshop has historically been the reference point for such things, there are now tons of different good choices.
    The enthusiast (and the professional) photographer would probably adopt Lightroom (or something similar) as a starting point but, since you ask, you would probably start with a more basic and easy to use software. I suggest you read this page about the best free alternatives to Photoshop
    http://www.kirpi.it/Photo/Best-alternatives-to-photoshop-for-photo-editing-and-retouching
    Add you comments there, in case you need some more help.

  • Simon August 22, 2010 05:28 pm

    Nice article with sound advice. When on holiday I like to browse the postcards to get the low down on local points of interest and an idea of the best angles to shoot from, Once i've got the basic shots in the bag I can then do my own thing and experiment a little.

  • rex August 22, 2010 02:38 pm

    I agree the tripod is very necessary in landscape, may I suggest a carbon - fibre t/pod for weight reduction, thanks for all posts

  • IsisMGH August 21, 2010 10:05 am

    Great Job~~!!!!! Admire you'll photography........Wish you'll the best

  • Steve Watts August 21, 2010 12:06 am

    Great article and inspiring. I was out shooting a rainbow at sunset. I turned around after taking a few shots of the rainbow and saw this. I had a predetermined image of a rainbow when I went out to shoot. Instead this is what I came home with.

    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1571634072#!/photo.php?pid=30747117&fbid=1340696168752&id=1571634072

  • Peggy Collins August 20, 2010 11:31 pm

    Great advice, and #2 comes to mind immediately when planning a landscape shot. I drove out to this spot in the middle of the night to get the sun coming up...the light of dawn is so special. This spot looks completely different later in the day.
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/3381445605/' title='Dawn in Pender Harbour' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3557/3381445605_01573c1b17.jpg']

  • Allen Conway August 20, 2010 10:54 pm

    Wise advice and the photos are stunning. However they all look a bit fake to me - too perfect, too polished. So I think something is missing there - some life perhaps. Having said that, I should add that I'm pretty hopeless as a photograph (my hobby) and in no way am I capable of taking photos as good as that...

  • Maurice August 20, 2010 10:35 pm

    For a novice like me, these photos are inspiring and motivating . Great work.

  • Kent Weakley August 20, 2010 10:01 pm

    Beautiful shots. Yes, the most difficult part is finding the right spot. Where is the first image of the tress under water?

  • Neal August 20, 2010 08:23 pm

    I find these tips formulaic and too standard. Although they might help a rank beginner, they impose too many do's and do not's for me. Wouldn't it be better to talk about rule breaking, experimentation and looking at what you've just done? I thank the author for the piece but wish it went a little farther to explan that it is important to innovate and try to make things fresh and your own.

  • sandra August 20, 2010 07:37 pm

    Thankyou for the lovely tips, I live in a very rural area in the uk, and has access to some beautiful scenery. The problem comes when I come to editing.... keeping the colours natural but improving the pictures... I am only a beginner so hopefully in time I will get it together...

    sandra

  • kirpi August 20, 2010 04:23 pm

    @arun
    Using graduated filters is rather straightforward, and it is much easier with digital today than it was in the transparency film era.
    The first step, as always, would be to carefully study images shot by others (with such filters). Galen Rowell was a master in using graduated filters, go get some of his books as you will learn a lot about outdoor photography http://amzn.to/aTyLOz
    The key issue in using grad filters is placing the transition zone in the right position: you should close the aperture to your working width, in order to properly judge it. So, stop-down aperture (there should be a button for this on your camera) and carefully look at your image. Slide them up and down and rotate the filter holder until you get it all right.

  • suresh ameer August 20, 2010 04:06 pm

    Really superb...

  • Sumit Mukhopadhyay August 20, 2010 03:28 pm

    Great tips.....
    Give some ideas about the gear for perfect landscapes...mainly lens, filter.
    Give some ideas about the apparture..
    GREAT PHOTOS

  • Arun Prabhu August 20, 2010 01:56 pm

    Hello Natalie

    A useful article with stunning images. I am now looking forward to some tips on how Graduated ND filters can help enhance landscape images.

    Arun

  • magozuluaga August 20, 2010 01:49 pm

    are beatiful the photos, what t software is good to work the photos?

  • S.R. NAIR August 20, 2010 12:29 pm

    Nice pics and very good tips. Thank you.

  • Gerry August 20, 2010 12:03 pm

    I shoot mostly landscape and I use tripod, cable release, and reverse ND grad filter. The filter is great for sunrise, sunset, and for sunstar. Check out my photos at www.gerryvphotography.com

  • kirpi August 18, 2010 09:32 pm

    @heather
    All the colors (the whole images, I would say) are not "natural". Which is, they are not straight .jpg images out of a compact camera. They are all manually processed on some software after the shot.
    In the past times of film photography, shooting black and white implied developing your own film and printing it accordingly. It happens that the digital workflow requires just the same: you have to take care of both the shooting *and* the "developing", which means you have to process your files with some specialized software on your computer.
    Such software does not need to be Adobe Photoshop, though. The best way to handle digital pictures today is shooting Raw format (as opposed to Jpeg) and process it in Lightroom (or similar software).
    Later, if there is need, you plug other software in.

  • Heather August 17, 2010 09:30 pm

    I'm a novice at photography and have a question to ask, are all the photos here natural colour or are they photoshopped after?

  • Martin Soler Photography August 17, 2010 08:06 am

    Excellent article, great basics to know - and amazing selection of images to illustrate.
    There is one tip that you almost give but which I would give any newcomer which is to learn from the pro's. That means find someone who has shot a scene before and try to make the same photo. After a while you will learn how to do amazing photos and who knows, maybe become better than the pros.
    http://martinsoler.com/category/landscape/

  • Leng August 17, 2010 02:15 am

    Beautiful photos I must say. I like the first one especially. I would like to offer a suggestion: how about using a graduated ND filter?

  • Mark August 16, 2010 09:18 pm

    @joe: The reason you need to turn off the vibration reduction technology is because it can become confused when the camera is mounted on a tripod and add softness to your shots in some cases rather than sharpening them up as it would when hand-held. In a quiet environment you can sometimes hear the system rapidly making adjustments to try and stabilise an image that doesn't need it. It's not every time, but probably when you least want it and switching it off is something I always forget to do.

  • Mei Teng August 16, 2010 10:55 am

    Beautiful landscape photos and an excellent post.

  • Pete Barnes August 16, 2010 06:37 am

    Some good advice here, someone mentioned knowing the location you are shooting in, it's not always possible (say if you are on holiday) but it's really important, there is nothing worse than going out to get a landscape photo without a clear location in mind. Good article I thought

  • Scott August 16, 2010 12:59 am

    Great landscape photos in this article, great post.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4760662484/

  • Mark August 15, 2010 10:37 pm

    Some interesting tips to try. On a non-photographic note, doesn't anyone ever proofread these articles? "Split level?" The writer probably meant spirit level. When the light is "deemed?" I'm sure that should be "dimmed." These are actually important terms to a photographer. Relying on your spell checker to catch these is the writer's equivalent of shooting in full auto mode to fix all your mistakes.

  • uong August 15, 2010 06:40 pm

    Thanks.
    They are just superb.

  • AYRTON360 August 15, 2010 04:16 am

    Those images are gorgeoussssssss
    I just love scenic and panoramic images
    That's my kind of clicks too
    I would love to shoot Imersive on those locations too
    Thanks a lot for posting
    Best
    AYRTON

  • Hendro Hailana August 14, 2010 11:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing, great photos and tips.

  • Dr Shikhar Kaushal August 14, 2010 05:11 pm

    Thanks team DPS! Nice article with some valuable tips, and nice selection of pictures!

  • Cynthia August 14, 2010 02:21 pm

    Great landscape pictures.

  • Tyler August 14, 2010 09:28 am

    Having a good HDR editing software can help out too. I've found that while shooting into the sun at sunset is beautiful I often get darker foregrounds because I'm trying to exposure for the beautiful orange sky. Now, every landscape shot doesn't have to be HDR...but it's nice to have that option. The majority of the above photos look to be HDR as well.

  • joe August 14, 2010 05:55 am

    hi,
    nice post.
    in step (4) "Turn off your lens’ vibration reduction technology "
    can u tell me why this is required to be turned off?

    cheers/thnx

  • Jason Collin Photography August 14, 2010 03:36 am

    Very nice collection of landscape shots in the post.

    Buy the best tripod you can afford and get a cable release as well, this will save one a lot of grief, especially in dawn/dusk landscape settings. Make sure the tripod you buy is sufficiently high to clear the tops of railings without having to use the center column extension at all, or at least only minimally.

    Though if out somewhere hiking and I have no choice but to make the shot in the middle of the day, I use bracketing and HDR (light tonemapping) sometimes like the lead shot here:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/9/7/colt-creek-state-park-landscapes-wildlife.html

  • kaizer August 14, 2010 03:05 am

    great tips and help me a lot, thank you DPS and happy ramadhan......

  • Dave Hodgkinson August 14, 2010 02:50 am

    I went out to shoot some landscapes, ended up with yet another stupid sunset. Ho hum!

    http://www.davehodgkinson.com/blog/2010/08/channeling-ansel-or-not/

    Good call on the warm clothes and thermos, despite it being August!

    Also, do you have any opinion on filters? UV? CPL?

  • Ilan (@ilanbr) August 14, 2010 02:23 am

    These photo are beautiful.
    My only problem with such landscape photos, that after a while, it's really hard to find something unique.
    They tend to be pretty similar.

    I tried to be more original -http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/10/red.html - hard to say that I was successful in that.
    Beautiful pictures are easy to make. Original ones - bit harder

  • Mich August 14, 2010 02:04 am

    wow....this is great...
    thanks....

  • Majka August 14, 2010 01:27 am

    I find that shooting landscapes in Europe, except few selected places, needs more and more long lens. You have distractions wide lens cannot always avoid and we need to go selective and pick the "undisturbed" part of landscape - unless you want to photograph power lines and pylons, of course.

  • kirpi August 14, 2010 01:09 am

    Most people think that shooting landscapes requires short focal lenses. It is not true, definitely. You can shoot gorgeous landscape pictures with any focal length, including normal and long lenses.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever August 14, 2010 12:42 am

    Much of my work is landscapes. I find that getting to know a location is the best advice. Go where tourists go, even in your own neighborhood. Chances are they go there because its pretty and nice (which translates to photogenic). Visit those areas at different times of day and during different seasons. It can sometime take some time, but once you really know a spot in different lights and times of year you'll learn how it will look best. Some VERY popular spots that are frequently photographed already have been figured out by other photographers and the seasons/times shared. I think have the fun is figuring it out on my own...

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    NEK Photography Blog

  • Brandon August 14, 2010 12:20 am

    Thank you! Great tips and beautiful photographs!!

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