Landscape photography originally became popular with 19th century artists who realised how much quicker it was to use a camera than a paintbrush. Edward Steichen’s famous landscape image, Moonlight: The Pond, demonstrates the fashion of the time to paint over the top of black and white photos. Fast forward to the 20th century, as photography started to be seen as an art form in its own right, and photographers became obsessed with creating the perfect landscape image.

Moonlight: The Pond by Edward Steichen, 1904, via Wikipedia

American photographer Ansel Adams was one of the early pioneers of landscape photography. A passionate environmentalist, he photographed the natural world in hope of inspiring others to do more to protect it.

His dramatic black and white images of Yosemite National Park in California, such as Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, caught the scale and majesty of the natural world. He soon earned a name for himself as one of the world’s leading photographers, and landscape photography grew increasingly popular.

Must know landscape photography camera settings and techniques

Whether you love shooting landscapes during your holidays with your partner or while exploring local surroundings with your children, here are a few tips and techniques to help you get more out of every shot.

1. Use the right lens

You can capture beautiful landscape images with any camera and lens combination. However, a wide lens such as 10mm, 18mm or 24mm will allow you to get more of the scene into your frame. You may also have a zoom lens, such as an 18-55mm, which will also work well for landscape photography. Just remember to zoom out as wide as it will allow you.

Bonus tip: Most smartphone cameras have focal lengths of around 24mm or 27mm, which makes them perfect for landscape photography.

2. Shoot in manual mode

If you’re shooting landscapes with a DSLR or mirrorless camera then you can gain full and complete control of your camera by switching into manual mode. This will allow you to manually dial in settings for your ISO, aperture and shutter speed (find example settings below).

If you prefer to shoot with your phone then download a photo app like Manual Camera DSLR to use your phone camera in manual mode.

3. Use a small aperture

You can control how much light your lens lets into your camera by adjusting the aperture. For example, a wide aperture such as f/1.8 will let far more light into your camera than an aperture of f/10. However, it’s important to be aware that your aperture also controls your camera’s depth of field. A wide aperture of f/1.8 or f/2.8 will create a shallow depth of field, putting objects close to your camera into focus while making the background blurry. This is great for portrait photography, but not for landscape photography where we want the whole scene to be in focus. To achieve this, select an aperture of f/8, f/11 or even f/16. Apps such as Manual Camera DSLR also allow you to control your phone camera’s aperture.

Bonus tip: A small aperture opening (such as f/16) will also help you capture starbursts when the sun is shining brightly. This is when the sun flares and turns into a huge star in your image.

4. Use a low ISO

Your ISO setting controls how sensitive your camera or phone camera is to light. A low ISO setting is perfect for landscape photography as it will help you achieve rich detail without introducing noise and grain to your images. In bright daylight, try to stay at around ISO 200 or 400. If you’re shooting at darker times of the day, such as sunrise or dusk, try to stay at ISO 800 or below if possible.

5. Use a tripod and slower shutter speeds

The beauty of landscape photography is that our scenes and subjects – whether it be a forest or a beach scene – do not move. This means we can set up our camera on a tripod and use slower shutter speeds, such as 1/50 or even a whole second or two. This is fantastic for showing the movement of water, waves or trees in your photos. Being able to use slow shutter speeds also means you can use lower ISO and aperture settings. Your tripod will keep your camera steady, meaning you’ll still get sharp images.

Bonus tip: You can buy special tripods made especially for phone cameras, or just get an adaptor to use your phone with your camera tripod. So don’t worry if you don’t have a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you can still take beautiful landscape shots with your phone.

Landscape photography tips and techniques for specific scenarios

1. Super bright sunny days, whether at the beach or park

Whether at the beach, forest, mountain or lake, Mother Nature always looks spectacular in bright sunlight. Start by dialing in your camera’s lowest ISO setting, which will be around 100 or 160. Then set your aperture to f/11 or f/16 and adjust your shutter speed until you are happy with the exposure. This will likely be around 1/250. Don’t go any slower than this unless you plan to use a tripod. It’s unlikely you’ll need a tripod when the sun is shining, but don’t be afraid to get it out if you’d like to practice.

2. High-contrast forest scenes

There’s nothing better than a photoshoot in the forest with a picnic and your loved ones, but high contrast lighting conditions can be tricky. In this scenario, put your camera or phone on a tripod for the best results. This will allow you to use a narrow aperture of around f/11 or f/16 to get as much of your scene in focus as possible whilst maintaining a low ISO of around 400. You can then adjust your shutter speed until you are happy with the exposure – start off at around 1/50 and speed it up or slow it down as necessary.

3. Golden hours of sunset and sunrise

There’s no better time to take landscape photos than during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. Remember however that although the sky may appear quite bright to your eyes, it will be a relatively dark scene for your camera. Get your camera set up on a tripod and get your settings dialed in. You’ll want a medium aperture of around f/4 or f/5.6 to let in plenty of light while still making sure you can get everything in focus. Start with an ISO of around 500 and shutter speed of around 1/250. Adjust your shutter speed until you are happy with the exposure. If you don’t want to use a tripod, open up your aperture as wide as possible and dial your ISO up to around 800. This should give you a fast enough shutter speed to capture sharp handheld images.

4. Night landscapes and star trails

Whether you’re shooting with a pro level DSLR or a smartphone camera, once the sun has set you will definitely need a tripod to get sharp landscape images. Open up your aperture to f/2.8 or as wide as it will go to let in as much light as possible. Try to keep your ISO at a maximum of 1600, as anything over this will introduce a lot of grain and noise to your image. You can then adjust your shutter speed until your exposure is right. Start at 1/100 and slow it down as necessary.

Bonus tip: To capture star trails and starry skies, try a slow shutter speed of two or three seconds. Use your lowest possible ISO and a narrow aperture of f/11or f/16 to keep your exposure balanced.

5. Waterfalls and waves

Add a sense of movement to your landscape photographs by shooting waterfalls, rivers, waves and ocean tides with slow shutter speeds. You will definitely need a tripod, as this will allow you to shoot at slow shutter speeds of around one or two seconds, which will show the movement of your subjects. Select a high aperture value of around f/11 or f/16, and then adjust your ISO until you are happy with your exposure.

Bonus tip: If you find it is too bright to use a slow shutter speed of one or two seconds, which is likely during daylight hours, try using an ND (neutral density) filter. This is like a pair of sunglasses for your camera and will reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. This is the secret to capturing the movement of water in your landscapes!

Creative tips for shooting landscape photographs

Use the rule of thirds when composing your landscapes

If there’s one composition rule worth knowing, it’s the rule of thirds. This is when your image is divided into three equal areas by two vertical lines and two horizontal lines so that you have a three-by-three grid. The rule of thirds suggests that you frame up your photos with your main subject or focal point on one of the intersections of the grid lines. This can help give your landscape images a more natural feeling that encourages the eye to flow through the picture with ease.

Bonus tip: Most cameras and smartphone cameras have a feature that overlays a grid on your screen. Be sure to turn this on and use it to easily visualise the rule of thirds while composing your landscapes.

Look for focal points to make your landscape photos pop

Adding a focal point to your landscapes will help give shape and meaning to your photos. This could be something as simple as a tree, river, person or animal. It could even be a man-made object such as a bridge or building. If you want to photograph a landscape that doesn’t have a focal point, ask your friend, partner or child to step into the scene and make them your focal point. Adding people to your photos can help give your images a sense of scale and help your viewer imagine what it would feel like to be there themselves.

Use leading lines

Leading lines can help lead your viewer’s eye through the image and make it more immersive. You can use anything from fences and footpaths to roads and rivers as leading lines. To do this, try to compose your shots so that your leading line “points” towards the main subject of your image. For example, you might use a wooden fence to lead the eye from one corner of your image up to a snow-peaked mountain in the opposite corner.

Bonus tip: While you’re learning how to incorporate leading lines into your landscape photos, try shooting in black and white mode. This will make it easier to start seeing in a more geometric way.

Shoot during the golden hours

Also known as the “magic hours”, golden hours are the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset. This is when the sun is lowest in the sky, which casts beautiful warm and rich light with a pink or red-tinted hue. Get up early if you’re an early bird, or head out after dinner if you’re more of a night owl. Don’t forget to pack your tripod as well as something warm to wear. Frosty mornings are the most beautiful, and the temperature is sure to drop once the sun has finally set.

The most important rule to remember is that “rules are made to be broken”. The best way to improve your landscape photography is simply to put on a comfortable pair of shoes, grab your camera and tripod and spend as much time shooting outside as possible. Try to shoot at different hours of the day so you learn how light changes from morning to night. The more you shoot, the better your landscape photos will become!

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