If you love the great wild places of our amazing planet then you probably want to be able to great photos of them. It’s not easy to capture the huge expanses, the feel of the wilderness, or the immense scale of the natural world. However, with a bit of know-how round composition and the right technology, anyone can capture stunning landscape images.
Composition & Planning
Composition refers to what you capture in your frame. Is there a focal point, a rock spire, tree, or building in the shot? Is it central or off-center? Is there lots of sky, a reflection, a sunset? What you capture, interest points, and how objects and geographical features are spaced relative to one another in your shot are what this is all about.
There are no hard and fast rules here. This is the artistic bit that some people are great at without trying. If, like me, you are not one of these people don’t be put off. Practice a lot. Take several similar shots and vary what you capture in your frame, what you focus on, and where focal points appear. You will start to work out what will work in each circumstance. You can also learn a lot from studying the composition of photos that you like and recreating these compositions when you are in similar landscapes.
You can use natural lines in your landscape to help make an interesting image. Use a coastline, treeline, or clouds to draw the eye towards your focal point. You can use these features to mirror each other or highlight contrasts too.
Plan Your Shot
You can take some great shots in the moment when an unexpected vista suddenly appears before you. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if you are visiting one of the world’s most iconic places you might never revisit so you are only going to get one opportunity to take the perfect shot. What time of year and time of the day is best and which exact location will you need to be in? Think about the sunrise and sunset and your position relative to it. If you want to capture flowers or specific migratory events then your timing is going to be crucial. Waterfalls vary in their ferocity throughout the year so make sure you visit when the water is flowing strongly.
Midday has the strongest sunlight and you might think that would make it a great time to capture the perfect shot. However, this is rarely the case as the light is very harsh at this time of the day and can produce a washed-out or uninteresting image. Instead, late afternoon or early morning sun provides more interesting contrasts and a greater range of colour.
Technology & Kit
To get a pin-sharp high-quality image you need a tripod. You simply cannot take a high-quality shot without a properly stabilised camera. This is doubly true if you are going to decrease your shutter speed and take long exposure shots. There are some great options; tiny tripods for mobile phones, medium-sized bendy arm versions, and extendable tall professional tripods. Make sure the tripod can attach to your specific camera or phone properly before you buy it.
Wide Angle Lens
These are perfect for landscape photos as they allow a wide panoramic image to be captured. This is the only way you can capture an image that does justice to an expansive view. These lenses make it easier to retain a good focus on both the foreground and background elements of your image at the same time. If you are using a phone then many have inbuilt features or there are Apps that allow you to take multiple images that are stitched together to achieve the same effect. Note that these mobile phone versions will never be as pin-sharp as images taken with a digital camera on a tripod with a wide photo lens. That said they can be very effective like this one we took in Yosemite.
These are very handy and cheap accessories. They reduce glare, remove reflections and can balance out the colours in a photo – for example between a very bright sky and a darker foreground.
These filters are essential for many shots of water as they prevent reflections on the surface of the water. In an image taken with one of these filters, the water appears crystal clear and you can see through it to the rocks or sand below. Without the filter, the camera captures the reflections of surrounding objections on the surface of the water.
Of course in some cases capturing a perfect reflection in a lake or on a shoreline is what you want so you would forgo the filter in these cases.
Cameras, and these days, mobile phones provide you with a load of settings that can have a drastic effect on your shots. It’s a good idea to see what settings were used on some of your favorite landscape photos so you can see how varying these options change an image. This will give you a steer as to what settings to change and the sort of ranges that produce the effect you want.
EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) is the standard used by digital cameras to record these settings. To view this data all you need to do is right-click on an image, select ‘Properties’ and then click on the ‘Details’ tab. You can then see all the important settings which were used for that specific image.
Depth of Field
The ‘depth of field’ determines which part of the image is in focus. A shallow depth of field focuses the image on one specific point, the rest is blurred. This is great for a close up of a flower or animal for example. Usually, for landscape images, the depth of field is deep so the foreground and background are in focus. To do this you need to adjust your aperture or f-stop number somewhere in the range of f/16-f/22. The image above shows how a wide depth of field gets most features of your shot in focus.
However, there is a nice effect that you can achieve for a landscape photo with a high aperture, something like f/11 or f/16. You focus on the foreground and let the background fall out of focus. For example, you can focus on a detail in the foreground and let the hills and mountains behind blur. See the example to the left. You can also reverse this to focus on the background instead – if you look at the image in the composition section at the top of the article you will see an example of this. Changing the focus and depth of field can yield drastically different images using exactly the same frame and you can create interesting series in this way. Just secure your camera to a tripod and then take several shots varying the focus.
For a more detailed discussion about aperture and f numbers refer to this detailed article.
Shutter speed determines how much information you are recording in one shot. If the shutter speed is fast you get a moment in time only. If the shutter speed is slower then you can capture some movement.
The most classic example is running water. With very fast shutter speeds you see individual ripples and splashes. With a longer shutter speed, the motion of the water is captured and superimposed over itself so you get a lovely creamy blurred finish to the water whilst the surrounding details are in sharp focus. See below.
You can read more about shutter seed here.
Use Your Photos
My husband and I are avid photographers. Admittedly most of our photos are of our meals and dogs however we do have a decent amount of landscape shots too. Most of our photos are on hard drives, cloud servers, phones, and cameras though. I am sure we are not alone in not actually making good use of the shots we take! Once you have a great shot how can you show it off?
Backgrounds For Electronic Devices
Obviously the first choice is your phone or monitor homepage backgrounds. You can also create folders of your favorite shots for your TV or tablets which auto-rotate randomly. This is an easy and transportable alternative to static images.
Print Them Off
How few of our wonderful shots do we ever actually print off and display? It’s criminal. You can get your photos printed on canvas, plastic, aluminum, or plain old paper and in a huge range of sizes. There are loads of reliable canvas printing companies you can use for photo printing, canvas prints, poster and collage printing, and some other fun stuff like phone cases, shower curtains and mugs.
Printing and framing can cost quite a bit especially if you go for a large print but a big dramatic image can transform an entire room. If you can’t bring yourself to part with the cash ask people to contribute towards one for your next birthday or Christmas gift. If you really want to go to town you can use a specialist mural printing company so your landscape can fill an entire wall perfectly. The cheapest options print onto wallpaper which can be slightly tricky to hang with the edges perfectly aligned. More expensive options can print the image onto a single sheet, plastic board, glass or a single canvas sheet. These options most often need a specialist to mount them though.
You can create dramatic effects with small cheap prints too. Simply peg a selection onto a string pinned to a wall or create DIY wallpaper like this amazing example.
Such small images are not ideal for landscapes but you could get some decent quality A4 or A3 prints in poster format on water-resistant paper which you can glue to the wall with wallpaper paste and then paint over with a protective sealant. You can also get custom ceramic tiles printed either as a single image per tile or one image spread over several tiles.
Sell or Share Online
Why not sell your photos? You can open an account with a high-profile image service like Shutterstock, 123RF, Adobe Stock or Dreamstime. You can earn decent percentages through these online sellers.
If you aren’t interested in earning money you can simply share your images via Pinterest, Instagram or a plethora of other social media. It is also nice to find a forum or two for photographers. It’s extra nice to be complimented by people who know their stuff and may also be able to offer you some useful advice about improving your skills.