Looking to improve your travel landscape photos? From gear and planning to composition and lighting, level up shots with these 10 pro tips.
Delving into travel landscape photography can transport you to the ends of the earth, opening your eyes to the majesty of towering mountains, verdant hills, tranquil lakes, and meandering rivers. This genre is a step up from your everyday landscape photography – it’s all about capturing the sheer splendor of far-flung destinations.
So how can you morph your shots from run-of-the-mill to remarkable? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. I’ve got 10 tips lined up that can help you elevate your images in no time at all.
So whether you’re new to shooting landscape photos on your travels or you’re an experienced shutterbug seeking some fresh insights, this guide is tailor-made for you. Let’s dive right in!
1. Carefully select (and research) your destination
Where to shoot your travel landscape photography? That’s the million-dollar question. With so many jaw-dropping locales worldwide, selecting a single place can be both thrilling and challenging.
To help you decide, ask yourself: What landscapes captivate me? Do I dream of rugged mountains, pebble-strewn beaches, or lush waterfalls? Go into the details of what your camera eye is seeking. Then match your answers to a handful of destinations that check those boxes.
Don’t let the weather, cost, or physical challenge dampen your spirit, but do make sure these factors play a part in your selection process. We’re all bounded by our budget, so choose wisely and get the best bang for your buck. If you have room in your budget, let this be your dream trip!
Personally, I recommend the Lake District in England. It’s a paradise for travel landscape photographers with its picturesque fells, tranquil lakes, and endless hiking trails leading to stunning vantage points.
But remember, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and the world is teeming with beautiful locations. A few other great options to consider include the majestic fjords of Iceland, the mighty Himalayas in Nepal, the breathtaking national parks in the USA, the surreal salt flats of Bolivia, the cascading waterfalls of Iguazu in Brazil, and the mesmerizing lavender fields of Provence in France.
2. Know your subjects and locations inside out
Got your heart set on a location? Now, dig deeper. Understand every nook and cranny of the area you’ve chosen. Pay attention to the subjects that you’re excited to photograph. Explore the images already captured in the same location. Who knows, you might stumble upon a landscape or travel photography guide to the area. That would offer a treasure trove of subjects worth photographing.
Create a shot list to organize what you want to capture when you visit. Make a note of the best time to shoot each location. The golden hours, high noon, or the blue hour – each subject shines best at a different time.
Take advantage of apps like PhotoPills that show the direction of the sun throughout the day. This can help plan your shots. Similarly, refer to images shot at different times of the day and year to strategize your approach.
Remember, though, that while it’s helpful to plan your photography adventure, remain flexible. The weather may change, better options may surface, or you might change your mind on location. And that’s completely okay! Embrace spontaneity.
3. Choose the right gear
You may think ace landscape photography requires high-end, pricey gear. But surprise: that’s not the case! Thanks to technology leaps, you can snag superb travel landscape shots using even a camera phone or a compact camera. There’s a whole army of fantastic smartphone landscape photographers out there.
That said, if you’re all in for this hobby, you might want to get your hands on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The big deal? Flexibility. With a range of lenses at your disposal, you can easily switch gears to snap different subjects. Bonus points for superior image quality and better control over camera settings. These cameras may be a tad expensive, and you might need to bag a couple of lenses too, but believe me, it’s worth the price if photography is your thing.
Ready to shop? Explore options from trusted brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic, to name a few. Pick one that matches your needs and budget. Add a nice landscape lens to your cart too, preferably something with wide-angle capabilities. I’d suggest starting with a 24-70mm or a 16-35mm lens, but an 18-55mm kit lens is a decent pick too.
One more must-have? A sturdy travel tripod. It may seem inconvenient, but it can work some real magic on your image sharpness. And don’t worry, a good carbon tripod isn’t as cumbersome as you might think; they’re designed to be lightweight and compact.
4. Shoot a panorama to capture the expansive beauty
So you’re at the location, awe-struck by the sprawling vistas. Now what? Time to roll out the panorama. It lets you fit a whole lot of magnificence into one frame.
Wondering how to create a panorama? Simple. Mount your camera on a tripod, then capture a series of overlapping images as you swivel the tripod head across the landscape. (Just remember, each image should share at least a third of its scene with its neighbors!)
Back home, you’ll need to stitch these images together using a software program. Even basic tools like Lightroom Classic have potent panorama stitching capabilities, so this step will be a breeze.
A pro tip: A wide-angle lens can work wonders for panoramas. It lets you capture stunning skies and include more of the foreground along with the background, adding depth and scale to your images. The results? A spectacular shot that mirrors the sweeping grandeur of the landscape.
5. Study your camera manual
Here’s something I’ve noticed: Newbies often dive into photography without bothering to learn their camera’s ropes. Bad move.
Imagine being in a foreign land, capturing once-in-a-lifetime vistas, only to return with a memory card full of subpar shots, all thanks to an avoidable camera setting blunder.
That’s where your camera manual comes in. Take the time to understand how your camera works, and acquaint yourself with its nifty features. This will let you optimize key settings and avoid pitfalls like snapping shots at needlessly high ISOs.
And guess what? When you’re on your travels, a solid understanding of your camera doesn’t just level up your photo game – it adds to the fun too! With your newfound knowledge, you’ll be all the more eager to explore and capture.
6. Play the long game
As a photography enthusiast, you know the thrill of exploring new locations. But when you’re enveloped in the beauty of unfamiliar landscapes, it’s crucial not to lose your focus. Sure, you might be tempted to capture every fascinating detail that catches your eye. But it’s important to take a step back and focus on the larger picture.
Seeing everything through your lens might be tempting, but remember, you’re here for the truly special shots, not just the ordinary. Getting too engrossed in indiscriminate shooting could cost you the really magnificent scenes you’ve dreamed about capturing. To get that one perfect shot of a sunset-soaked beach or a snow-capped mountain, patience – and determination – is your ally.
For instance, the image displayed above didn’t require a stroke of luck. It was the fruit of persistence. I walked for what felt like miles, bypassing people and zooming 4WDs, before I found this tranquil scene. I was able to grab a few hand-held shots before the light faded, but if I had stopped to capture every interesting vista along the way, I might have missed out on this gem.
So when you set out with a specific shot in mind, stay the course. That said, if a more captivating opportunity presents itself, be ready to switch gears. Flexibility is your secret weapon in landscape photography, and recognizing an unexpected golden opportunity is a skill worth honing.
7. Use that tripod whenever you can
In the section on gear above, I encouraged you to invest in a good-quality tripod. However, a tripod is worth nothing if you don’t take advantage of it, so let me remind you: Use the tripod whenever you can!
When the day gives way to dusk, and handheld shots are no longer feasible, your tripod can be a lifesaver. Once your shutter speed dips below 1/100s, a tripod will have your back, providing the rock-solid support needed for pin-sharp images. Bonus point – it’ll allow you to play with long-exposure effects, transforming flowing rivers or drifting clouds into breathtaking, ethereal visions.
The tripod, however, isn’t just a nighttime tool. Even in broad daylight, using a tripod encourages a more thoughtful approach to composing your images. It allows you to set up and perfect your composition well before the light conditions peak. That way, when the ideal moment comes, you can focus on capturing the scene rather than fiddling with the frame.
8. Keep your horizon level
This one’s a common pitfall for beginners in landscape photography – skewing the horizon. Amid the excitement of capturing an inspiring view, you might forget this simple yet crucial element.
So here’s a quick reminder: Keep an eye on the horizon. Strive to align it straight for a more balanced and level photo. Remember, all horizontal elements should run parallel to the bottom of the frame and all vertical elements should be perfectly perpendicular, unless you’re aiming for a deliberately angled perspective.
Yes, you can fix a tilted horizon during post-processing. But remember, straightening the image means cropping off some pixels around the edges. The more you need to straighten, the more pixels you lose. So why not nail it right in the field?
Here’s a pro tip for those struggling with straight horizons: consider a bubble level. Attach it to your camera’s hot shoe, and you’ll get straight shots, whether you’re going low- or high-angle, even while handholding!
9. Think constantly about the lighting
One major player in the game of travel landscape photography? The light. It’s a bit of a chameleon, changing in quality throughout the day, morphing from soft and warm to neutral and harsh. Even your position in relation to your subject influences the lighting angle.
There’s no universal “perfect light” in landscape photography. It’s a personal dance between your style and the subjects you’re capturing. But remember this: always, always be alert to the light!
Start by envisioning your subjects. Consider when they’ll look their best – during midday when light is abundant, or perhaps at the start and end of the day when light is more dramatic and golden. If you’ll be traveling without a car, make sure your planned times sync with your mode of transport. And don’t forget to plan how to reach your location right on time.
Next, mull over lighting direction. Frontlighting will give you more detail, side-lighting brings in drama with heavy shadows, while backlighting, although tricky to handle, can elevate the atmosphere of your shot. If you’re unsure, experiment! Click away under different lighting, it’s better to have too many shots than too few!
10. Work hard on your compositions
Great travel landscape photos aren’t just a matter of good lighting; they’re about excellent composition, too. How you arrange the elements within your frame, how your shots are structured—it can add a rhythm and balance to each image. Take a seascape photograph as an example. Where should the horizon line sit? At the bottom, top, or smack in the middle? This is the essence of composition, and it certainly needs your attention!
Working on your landscape compositions during your travels can do wonders for your confidence and skill. Read about various composition techniques before your trip, and try implementing them when you’re on the field.
When you’re shooting, search for leading lines that guide the eye through the landscape and engage the viewer, like a winding path through the wilderness. And experiment with the rule of thirds. Try positioning your main subject off-center, or place the horizon one-third or two-thirds into the frame.
You might find composition to be technical or even mundane at first, but give it a chance. You’ll soon discover its impact on your photos and realize it’s not as daunting as it seems!
Travel landscape photography: final words
So there you have it! Ten transformative tips for capturing stunning travel landscape photos.
Be sure to keep these tips handy for your next travel photography adventure. From the right equipment to location research, composition, and of course, lighting, you’ve got a lot to consider. But remember, the goal is to return with photos that make you proud.
Now, it’s time for some action! Embark on an adventure with your camera and bring home some marvelous files.
Over to you:
Where do you plan to take travel photos next? Do you have any favorite locations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!