Essential Landscape Photography Tips and Techniques

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GOOD CHOICE ON LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY!

Greetings landscape photographer ninja. You have come to a not-so-secret guide on essential landscape photography tips and techniques.

First off, you have made a good choice on picking up landscape photography, one of the nicest and oldest photography subjects around.

Landscape photography is the first subject that I picked up, and it has stayed with me ever since. It is very easy to pick up as well – all you need is just a camera.

Plus, landscape is literally everywhere.

There are plenty of free photographic opportunities around, no need to hire expensive models, no need to find friends to act as willing test subjects.

This guide has compressed many techniques that I have used over the years, and sharing some lessons on how to not kick yourself in the foot.

 


CONFESSION
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE

Quick, hide your wallets!

There are affiliate links and advertisements on this page! Whenever you buy things from the evil links that I recommend, I will make a commission.

Nah. These are just things to keep the blog going, and allows me to give more good stuff to you guys.

So thank you if you decide to pick up my recommendations!

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section  A
The gear

Section B
Homework

Section C
Composition

Section D
Techniques

Closing
The end

 

SECTION A : THE GEAR YOU MIGHT NEED

Before we start on the proper guide, let’s talk about the tools of the trade.

Yes, you can start with just a single camera. Even with a smartphone.

But for those who are serious about landscape photography, you are going to need more than just a camera.

So here is a small section on the gear that I use, and some of my recommendations on the toys that you might need.

A1) A decent DSLR or mirrorless camera

I am currently using a Nikon DSLR, but just about any decent Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax camera will do the job.

A2) Decent lens

My usual landscape lens is the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR – review here.

For those who are just starting out, and do not want to put in too much, you can try to hunt for [older 24mm f/2.8 prime lens].

A3) A sturdy tripod

Get one of those ball head tripods, they are much easier to adjust on-the-go.

I am using the good old reliable [Manfrotto], but I will recommend [Selens] to those who do not want to spend too much.

They are affordable and pretty decent for beginners to intermediate.

A4) Remote shutter release

These cheap gadgets allows you to shoot with your hands off the camera, and a must if you want tack sharp photos. [Nikon] [Canon] [Sony]

A5) [Bubble spirit level]

Another cheap and good gadget to get your horizon straight.

I know there is “virtual horizon” in most cameras, but a physical level is still more convenient. No need to fumble around the controls.

A6) Neutral Density Filter

A staple in my bag, and the landscape photographer’s best friend.

Does the magic to bring back blown out skies, and I will recommend either the affordable [Zomei], or very decent [Haida].

A7) Circular Polarizer Filter

Another staple in my bag.

Does the magic of making the sky look bluer, and removes some annoying reflections.

Get an affordable [YongNuo] or good old [Hoya].

A8) Photoshop

Photoshop makes everything better.

If you do not already have a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom, click on the banner below to check out an offer.

A9) Busting the good gear myth

It is nice to have good and expensive gear, but this is something that I always say :

 💡 Expensive gear do not make good photographers. Good photographers make great photos.

So if you are just starting out, take it step-by-step.

If you do not have the budget, go with the affordable ones, then upgrade when you think you have outgrown them.

 

SECTION B : DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Landscape photography starts with homework.

Some people may think that landscape photography is “just go to that location and snap away”.

It’s simple as that now, isn’t it?

Well no.

There is actually a lot more than meets the eye. Photography is a lot more than just “go there and take a photo”, and homework is only the first step.

What homework do we need to do?

  • How do we get to the location?
  • What is the best time to shoot there? Sunrise, sunset, midday or night?
  • Anything to note? Restricted areas? Area infested with annoying insects?
  • When is sunrise or sunset? High tide or low tide?
  • Always good to check the weather forecast.
  • What gear do you need? Apart from photography, do we need mountain climbing gear? Wetland boots?
  • How long do you expect to stay on location? Do we need to bring food and water?
  • Find reference photos of the location, or photos taken by other photographers.
 💡 Homework is to prevent yourself from doing stupid things. Things like planning a sunrise shoot on a location facing west, walking into a restricted property, or staying overnight in a park that is closed after 7pm.

 

SECTION C : COMPOSITION

Composition, they either make your photo or break it.

Better to make it than break it.

So here are the things that can make your photos pretty.

C1) LET THERE BE DEPTH

For most of my landscapes, I will usually use at least f/8.

The idea, is to capture as much depth as possible.

Give your viewers a nice visual treat of details, give them a sense of depth and vastness in your photo.

That is what I think landscapes are all about.

Tanjung Rhu : Sunset

 💡 A thin depth of field will still work for certain compositions. For example, a flower against sunset.

C2) WATCH THE HORIZON AND KEYSTONE EFFECT

When you take photos, don’t just go trigger happy.

Keep a keen eye for slanted horizons, and don’t tilt the camera way too much.

  • If you tilt the camera up too much, walls and buildings will look like they are falling backwards.
  • If you tilt the camera down too much, walls and buildings will look like they are falling forwards.
Rockefeller ceiling south
Keystone, tilting upwards. Photo by Justin Kern.

That is known as the keystone effect, and sometimes, we cannot help it but have to tilt the camera to capture tall buildings. But remember to keep it within limits.

 💡 Keystone can give interesting perspectives, but do it too much, and it becomes disorienting instead.

C3) TELL MORE OF THE STORY

Photos are 2 dimensional and flat, but your composition don’t have to be.

Rethink your composition in terms of 3 planes – front, middle, and background.

Keep your eyes peeled for interesting subjects, use them to add depth and points of interest in your photo.

Hot & Cold
Rocks in front, bridge in middle, sunset behind.
 💡 Rocks, sand, leaves are my usual front subjects. The sky, sea, and structures make my middle and background.

C4) LEAD YOUR VIEWERS

Where do you want your viewers to look? Use lead lines to bring your viewers around.

Lead the way...
Photo by Alana Roses.

The above photo uses the pathway as a clever lead line, going up towards the symmetric trees and sun.

C5) LET THERE BE COLORS

Grey murky waters, brown muddy earth. Those are boring.

Use more exciting colors in your photos – red, orange, yellow are the usual suspects.

They stand out even more when a striking color is placed against a boring background.

gotas de lluvia
Photo by Nelida Richi.
 💡 I am not saying that striking colors is the only way to go. Boring colors do work when combined with a strong element. Like a photo of a stormy day.

C6) BALANCE YOUR EXPOSURE

A common newbie mistake is over-exposing the sky, to the point where the skies are just washed out white.

No shame in that, I have done that as well.

This is where GND filters shine, and why landscape photographers love them so much. Darken the sky to bring the clouds back, but leave the ground as it is.

Magic.

 💡 An alternative way to balance your exposure is to bracket your shots at different exposures, and process it as a HDR photo.

C7) INCLUDE A HERO IN YOUR PHOTO

Should we include human subjects in landscape photos? While some people may not like it, I will say yes.

This father son pair just happened to walk right into my sunset frame, and became my accidental heroes.

_DSC6515

Not always bad to have people in your frame, and it’s just how you make use of the situation.

 💡 Your main subject can be other animals, trees, or just about any interesting object.

C8) THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING IN NATURE (AND PHOTOGRAPHY)

Sunrise and Sunset

Sunrise and sunset, these are the two time frames that photographers love.

Because these are the perfect times to take beautiful photos – landscape or portrait.

Sunrise and sunset are windows of time which we call “golden hour”, which got it’s name from the golden gentle lights from the sun.

Blue Hour

The small window of time after sunset, where it is blue and not entirely dark.

I find this the perfect time to take photos of nightscape cities, where you can still catch some nice clouds and details of the buildings.

Midday

Many photographers hate midday, because of the harsh sun – casting very harsh shadows. Very warm too.

But I think this is also the best time to shoot blue skies and white clouds.

 

SECTION D : TECHNIQUES

Just point and shoot… landscape photography is that simple, but yet, there’s more to it.

To score you award winning photo, there are some ninja skills required, and here are a few.

D1) SAY NO TO BLURRY SHAKY PHOTOS

Nobody likes shaky blurry photos that looks like a drunk took it.

Which is why the tripod and remote shutter trigger are your best friends.

Takes a little bit of time to setup, but well worth the hassle.

While we are on the topic of tripods, learn to use it like a boss. Learn how to own it.

Instead of mount and shoot, take it one step further. Take tack sharp photos, not just sharp.

In the days past, people will probably start talking about “hyper-focal distance”, “depth of field calculation” and all kinds of technical stuff.

But today, we have technology and this is my lazy way.

  • Mount your camera on the tripod, and attach the remote trigger.
  • If you are using a DSLR, set your camera to the “mirror up” mode.
  • Use a sufficiently small aperture, like f/8.
  • Set your composition, and auto-focus 1/3 into the scene.

  • Now set to manual focus, and switch to live view.
  • Zoom into the foreground and check the focus. Manually adjust the focus if required.
  • Do the same for the background – zoom in, check focus, adjust.
  • If you cannot get everything sharp with f/8, use a smaller aperture of f/10 or more.

 💡 Cannot deploy your tripod on a certain location? Use the railing, chair or even rubbish bin as a temporary tripod.

D2) NO TRIPOD? LEARN SOME KUNG FU

It sucks when you cannot deploy the tripod.

But when you are forced to move along fast (or just too lazy to deploy the tripod), it’s time for run-and-gun style.

To take sharp and crisp hand held photos, you need some kung fu in camera handling.

Keep these general tips in mind.

  • Keep the camera close to your body.
  • Rest your arm against your body instead of holding it mid-air. This will add to the stability.
  • Lean your body against something stable – a wall, chair or railing.
  • Open your feet, create a wider and more stable base.

 💡 Holding your breath while shooting hand held will improve the stability as well.

D3) EDITING AND STACKING

When I mention “Photoshop”, the purists cringe.

Well, please don’t. It will be sad because you will miss out a whole world of possibilities if you don’t pick up editing.

In particular for landscape, I shall share a common technique called “stacking”.

It is very simply taking many photos, and combining them together in Photoshop later.

What are the uses? Check out the below moon phase.

When Full Moon rises
Photo by Stefano De Rosa

This is probably taken on a tripod, with multiple shots as the moon rises.

Plus, the moon is not the only thing you can “stack”.

Milky Way Galaxy and Star Trails
Photo by Mike Cavaroc

Some insanely patient people with a lot of time on hand takes over 100 photos of the stars, and stack them together. Beautiful.

So yep, take your time to learn stacking. Very awesome skill.

 

THE END

Aye. That’s it for this guide.

Hope what I have shared in this guide is sufficiently good to move your ninja skills up a notch.

But know that there are still tons of hidden master scrolls out there. This is just a small start, not the end.

This may be a little too much for the new ninjas to absorb, but that is photography.

It is easy to start, and takes a long time to master.

Rushing things in photography never seem fun to me, so take your time to learn.

Grab a beer, watch the sunset and photograph at the same time.

Just have fun, keep shooting and stay awesome!


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