This is a guest post on landscape photography tips by Daniel Laan from Laanscapes Photography. Daniel will be sharing his top 10 tips for creating better landscape photos.
Often I get the impression that landscape photography tips are always the same. You know what I’m talking about: Golden hour, wide-angle lens, etc.
But landscape photography is, like any other genre, still evolving as an art form. So the best advice is closely related to when that advice is being told.
The techniques that create spectacular images which are employed today, differ in ways to what used to be done.
This is in part due to the technology available to us today. The more light-sensitive sensors allow unprecedented detailed shots of the Milky Way without too much hassle.
The sensor in the Sony Alpha 7S II for example, makes it an awesome camera for landscape photography.
However, aside from buying new and better gear and hoping for the best, there are things you can do today that will improve your photos and train your creative eye.
10 Landscape Photography Tips
It’s clear that landscape photography is a diverse topic that cannot be easily summarized in one single landscape photography tutorial.
In this post, I’m introducing 10 basic tips that I think will have an immediate impact on the quality of your landscape photography.
I look forward to expanding on each tip at a later date in further posts on Shotkit. If you’re interested in learning a little more about my work and the gear that I use, make sure you check out my Shotkit feature which is coming soon.
So without further ado, here are my top 10 tips for landscape photography:
1. Shoot with a ‘Normal Lens’ before going Wide
Training your eye is essential to be able to judge if a composition works for a given scene. Getting used to landscape photography framing means that you should start with a ‘normal lens’ before reaching for the wide-angle.
A lens like the “nifty fifty” from Canon (Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM) or the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G first confine you to the 50mm focal length. This much is obvious. These lenses frame the landscape in a way that resembles the apparent “zoom” of the human eye, which really helps with scouting compositions on those days when you’re not shooting.
A normal lens is also much more prone to the effects of depth-of-field than a wide-angle lens. That means that un-sharp areas in your photos are exaggerated, teaching you tricks like focusing a third into the frame and the hyper-focal distance more effectively.
2. Know the Lie of the Land
If you’re not already using Google Earth to plan your shots, you’re missing out. This is a landscape photography tip that anyone can benefit from straight away.
With the aid of the daylight slider, you can even cast shadows over the land in order to plan your shots with great detail.
All you really need is a weather forecast for the area you’re visiting and you’re all set.
3. Stay for a Night
Over-nighting in the back-country is the best idea to make sure you are in position when the light is good.
You can book a short stay in a nearby hotel, but that doesn’t put you in the exact spot. I take my trusty Nordisk Telemark light weight tent with me everywhere to make sure I will wake up exactly where I need to be to take the best photo.
There are some rules to abide by when considering wild camping though. In doesn’t make it easy that in basically every country these rules are different.
In Switzerland, the camping regulations differ by the canton, while in Scotland there’s the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
What I really want to stress, regardless of where you plonk down your tent though, is that you must not start a fire. Not just for preventing a devastating forest fire with a smoldering piece of charcoal, but to prevent you from cutting down trees to create one in the first place.
4. Get close, then get Closer
Sweeping vistas are only as sweeping as your foreground. Get your camera insanely close to your subject to make it unequivocal what your photo is about. Now check and see if the lens will still focus this close. When it does with ease, try to get even closer to your subject until you’re struggling to get the image sharp. You’re now at minimum focus distance.
I use the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8, a fantastic landscape photography lens, for my wide-angle work and its minimum focus distance is tested at 9.88”.
With wide-angle lenses, the foreground will appear to be larger than things in the distance because of the converging lines it creates. [Read more about the best wide angle lenses for landscape photography.]
Think of a train track in the middle of your composition. Near the camera, the rails seem to be far away from each other, while in the distance they seem to touch. If you put the camera closer to the track, this effect is exaggerated.
Shooting at minimum focus distance with wide-angle lenses will launch your photos to the next level, because it will enlarge your foreground subjects and tells the viewer what your picture is about.
5. Learn to Focus Stack
This macro photography technique is great for landscape photography to capture every last detail in your images, and is crucial for shooting at minimum focus distance.
This produces vastly sharper images than dialing in f/22 (the smallest apertures are often the go-to landscape photography settings), because you can shoot at the sharpest possible setting of your lens and prevent lens aberrations and diffraction.
6. Landscape Photography Editing is like a Friendship
Embrace the power of the digital darkroom. I’m not talking about adding anything in; not even creative effects like the ubiquitous Orton effect that’s responsible for that dreamy, soft look.
Learning to balance colors, control levels and curves and hand-blend difficult, high dynamic range images are some of the tools the best landscape photographers use on a daily basis.
Cherish your landscape photography editing like a friendship and be rewarded with better end-results.
7. “Great light” is overrated
To only go out at golden hour isn’t great for a diverse and interesting portfolio. Some of the best atmospheres can be captured in “bad weather”.
When I first started out with landscape photography a decade ago, I’ve read an article about leveling up as a photographer: “Only take pictures when the light is good,” it stated.
I don’t know what bothers me more. Either that sentence has been copied hundreds of times by other authors writing about developing photography skills, or it really is the best advice anyone could give about light.
Personally, I would omit that advice altogether, or have the definition of that sentence altered. What is good light anyway? Is it really just a window of two hours each day that’s good enough for taking pictures?
My advice to you – go out any time of day, in any weather.
8. Invest in a quality Tripod
The best tripods for landscape photography are made by Feisol, Manfrotto, Sirui or Gitzo and don’t skimp on the most important gear for sharp images.
A quality tripod for landscape photography constitutes a few things:
(i) It should be able to get your camera all the way to the ground to get your wide-angle lens close to your subject.
(ii) You would also do well by buying a heavier tripod, rather than a lighter one. A light tripod will easily flutter in the wind, even the carbon fiber ones.
(iii) I swear by twist-locks, because they don’t get caught in the undergrowth like their lever-lock counterparts. But be aware that with cheaper tripods that are kitted out with twist-locks, the rubber loosens when it’s wet or cold, making it virtually impossible to lock or unlock the legs.
(iv) Tripod feet are also important. Large rubber feet grip rock well and absorb vibrations, while long spikes can make all the difference between a sharp and an un-sharp image in heather and knee-deep moss.
My everyday tripod is the magnificent Sirui T-2204XL with E-20 ballhead. It is crazy light, versatile and I use it to shoot everything from macro shots to sweeping vistas. It’s by far the best tripod for my needs.
9. Learn to Appreciate the Landscape Around You
Traveling to far-away places is exciting, but an intimate appreciation of the landscape around the corner is hugely rewarding.
Ansel Adams lived and worked around Yosemite National Park and it yielded fantastic results. That’s not just because Yosemite is a photogenic place, you know.
You’ll notice subtle things. A change of seasons in the flowers or the wildlife around you can herald potential masterpieces.
If you’re attuned to the area, you’re much more likely to come back with great photos.
10. Create unity in your Work
Before I leave you there’s a final piece of advice that I want to tell you about landscape photography.
While a diverse portfolio within your genre is the key to success, having a signature line, style or personal approach is even more important to make your work stand out from the crowd.
A style in which anyone can recognize your signature photography and/or processing is much more likely to attract customers too.
Creating stand-out shots is not something that develops overnight, though. Years, even decades can pass before you actually find your style. It just helps when you spend more time within your genre and stick to it.
Too often I find great photos on social sharing platforms before discovering on the artist’s profile that it was a one-off. That’s locked potential right there.
Thank you for your time reading my landscape photography tips and good luck on your endeavor within this exciting and diverse genre of photography.
If you’re interested in more of my work and the landscape photography gear that I use to help create my images, check out my Shotkit feature coming soon.
Daniel Laan is an award winning landscape photographer and writer based in the Netherlands.