5 Tips for Newbie Landscape Photographers

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I don’t specialize in Landscape photography but I wanted to go out and see what I could learn so that I could impart some useful tips for beginners who are new to shooting landscapes.

Gear for landscape photography

What gear did I bring with me? I brought two cameras, one lens and a tripod. A wide angle is generally the go-to lens for landscape shooting. I brought my 24-120mm f/4G.

Landscape shot of the Dublin mountains

The Dublin mountains

A tripod is essential for landscape photography for two reasons. First, you will will want to shoot with a small aperture like f/16, that means also using a slower shutter speed. It is better to keep ISO down low to 100 or 200 for less noise. Secondly, by having your camera on a tripod also helps you frame your shot, I’ll cover this more below. If you are going to do long exposures, I would recommend a cable or remote trigger release too. You could also use the built-in self-timer.

Note: I didn’t mention any kind of filters as in Neutral Density (ND), polarizers and so forth. I don’t have any, but I also feel that they are best used when your skills are more advanced and you want to capture movement to produce soft, blurry clouds and misty waterfalls. Plus they are not cheap to buy.

1 – Where do you start?

Start in your own locality. I know for me, I can get so used to my surroundings, that I don’t bother to actually see what’s there. I suppose it’s just familiarity. But when you travel to a new country you have fresh eyes, and everything around you is new and exciting.

So as I live at the foot of some wonderful mountains, I knew where to begin. By car, it only takes me 20 minutes (approximately) to arrive at some breathtaking scenery. My first port of call was this spot, see photo above.

Scoping an area beforehand is an important aspect in landscape photography. This gives you a lay of the land, a chance to look for the best vantage points, see where the sun sets, and so on.

2 – Time of day

The time of day is crucial, as most landscape photographers shoot in the golden hour or at dawn. This doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot at any other time of the day.

Trees-in-forest

Tibradden forest in the Dublin Mountains. I know it’s not taken at the golden hour but I do like the blue sky and white clouds peaking through the trees.

3 – Shoot Raw

I am not going to debate the merits of RAW versus jpeg here. Simply put, RAW offers the most detail, which is essential if you want to get the best out of your images for landscape photography. You can also use the graduated filter in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to retrieve details that may have been lost, such as blown out skies, or underexposed areas in mountain regions where shadow detail needs to be brought out. See more about using the Graduated filter in ACR.

The reason Graduated Neutral Density filters (not to be confused with regular Neutral Density filters) are used by landscape photographers is because the land and the sky need different exposure readings – so if you expose for the sky, the land can be too dark and if you expose for the land, the sky gets washed out. This is where a graduated filter comes in handy. The top part is dark, fading to transparent at the bottom.

4 – Where to focus?

For landscapes, you are usually aiming to have the foreground, as well as the background, in clear focus. So, you need a small aperture such as f/16. This means that the depth of field (DOF) is bigger, and more of the image is in sharp focus. As a general rule of thumb, you should focus roughly one-third up from the bottom of the frame.

Focus on an element in your scene using autofocus then switch back to manual focus on the lens to lock it. This ensures that you achieve maximum sharpness and depth of field throughout. If you have Live View, you can zoom the view in to full magnification to manually focus. For more in-depth knowledge on focusing for landscapes, especially how to use hyperfocal focusing, I’d recommend that you read Getting Landscapes Sharp: Hyperfocal Distances and Aperture Selection.

5 – Composition

Composition is essential when framing a landscape shot. I really had to change my style of shooting. I spent more time looking around before even pressing the shutter button. I needed to see what I was going to frame in my shot. The landscape around me was fantastic and expansive.

This is where the rule-of-thirds is a useful guide. Think of your photo with imaginary lines that are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Place important elements of your composition where those lines intersect.

Rule-of-thirds for composition

I really like this tree and the way it’s branches were leaning in so far to the left of the photo. I thought one of the branches seemed to hover over the gap in trees in the background which seemed to say what-is-through-there? Maybe I have watched too many Hobbit movies!

Don’t be afraid to experiment. The next shot maybe not classified as a typical landscape shot but I just loved the lighting on the ferns. I opened the aperture to f/4.5 because I wanted a shallower depth of field, so that the background was a little blurred, giving the ferns some separation from the background.

Close-up-ferns

Close-up of some ferns in Tibradden forest in the Dublin Mountains using a wider aperture of f/4.5

You don’t have to shoot just using landscape (horizontal) mode, try shooting in portrait mode (vertical) as well. I shot the next two images using the portrait style. I wanted the rope bridge to be the focus of attention amongst all the tall trees.

Activity-park-in-forest

A rope bridge forms part of an activity centre in Tribadden forest.

rope-bridge-shadow-in-forest

The shadow of the rope bridge suspended 13 metres up in the trees made an interesting viewpoint leading into the base of the tree.

Tip: Trees like buildings can converge when using wide angle lens. This can be corrected in post-processing, using the lens correction filter in Photoshop or Lightroom. Also try not to have the body of trees touching the side of your frame, crop them out. It will only make your shot close in on itself, give your image room to breathe.

Conclusion

All in all, this exercise was a great excuse to get outdoors and get fresh air. If you don’t shoot landscapes, I would certainly recommend going out and giving it a go. It makes for a great day out plus you are honing your photography skills, just don’t forget the sandwiches!

Are you a landscape photographer? What techniques did you use? If so please share in the comments below.


Here on dPS this is landscape week – here is list of what we’ve covered so far. Watch for a new article (or two) on landscape photography daily for the next day or so.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Sarah Hipwell

is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at SarahHipwell.com or at 500px.

  • Hans Roosli

    I’m not really a landscape photographer, so I don’t know how valid my comment is.
    I was taught a rule that you should always have a (close) foreground to give the pic the feel of depth. Looking at your examples I think you always did just that as if this was self-understood.

  • Rod Best

    I do quite a bit of landscape photography and I think you nailed most of it. I usually am looking to shoot early (sunrise) or late afternoon around sunset time. Definitely like to get something of interest in the foreground, look for leading lines to lead your eye through the image, the rule of thirds. I also usually shoot between f/8 and f/14 most of the time, after having read numerous articles about barrel distortion at higher f stops.

  • Sarah Hipwell

    Cheers Rod, thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • red rackham

    I’m doing landscape photography just for hobbies. But I have several personal ‘rule’:
    1. Always shoot in RAW
    2. Obey rule of thirds
    3. Wide angle lens is a must (anything wider than 35mm), even if it’s just a kit lens
    4. CPL is your best friend
    5. Sturdy tripod is a necessity
    6. Shoot at f8 – 16 (depend on my lens)
    7. Shoot with ISO 200 or lower (especially if I have tripod)
    8. When in doubt, exposure bracketing is a good idea

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