Landscape photography is an amazing activity filled with excitement, beauty, exhilaration, and so much more. And in my view, landscape photography isn’t especially difficult – but it does require dedication, passion, and a bit of knowledge.
In this article, I offer my best tips for beginner landscape photography. I explain how to find the best subjects, how to choose the right gear, and how to handle your camera settings in the field; in fact, you can think of this as a mini landscape photography crash course covering all the basics.
So if you’re a landscape photography newbie and you want to know how to get started, or you’re not sure if landscape photography is right for you but you’re interested in exploring the genre, then keep on reading!
1. Start by researching potential locations
Beautiful landscape photography generally starts with a beautiful subject. Depending on where you live, you may have to drive a fair distance to find some great landscape scenes, or you may be lucky enough to have a few stunning vistas a few miles away.
Regardless, I encourage you to spend some time researching every potential location before heading out. That way, you can optimize your time in the field, and you rarely get stuck hunting for a nice composition while the light fades.
Before visiting a new location, I often do a bit of googling. I’ll do a search like “landscape scene + [my location]” and browse the Google Image results. Even if you just want to shoot nearby and think you know the area, it’s generally worth doing a quick search; sometimes, you’ll encounter a gorgeous scene that you didn’t know was in the area!
Anyway, use Google Image photos to compile a list of possible shooting locations. (If you don’t find much on Google, you can also check out 500px, Instagram, or even Flickr, all of which feature plenty of great landscape photography!)
It’s also important to keep in mind your shooting requirements and preferences. Do you want to capture a sunrise? A sunset? A mountain? A reflecting pool? A forest? While it’s great to keep a list of all possible locations in an area – and it’s always handy to have backups in case a location doesn’t work out – I’d recommend prioritizing certain areas based on your interests.
Once you’ve identified several great locations, you may think you’re ready to head out and shoot, but I’d recommend opening an app like PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Drop a pin on your potential shooting location, then check the sun positions, the moon positions, and any other relevant information. Then time your photoshoot to coincide with the perfect conditions!
(What conditions are best for landscape photography? That’s what I discuss in my next beginner landscape photography tip!)
2. Shoot in the right light
It’s technically possible to capture great landscape shots at any time of day, but most landscape shooters like dramatic colors and soft light – which is why it’s generally best to photograph at sunrise and sunset.
Sunrise and sunset are known as the golden hours because they offer such beautiful, warm light. Unfortunately, the incredible light doesn’t last for very long, so it pays to arrive at least a half hour (or more) before the light show begins; that way, you’ll have plenty of time to select a composition and set up your camera.
Once you’re out in the field, you should pay careful attention to the direction of the light. Side light – which comes from off to the side of the camera – is a great way to produce photos with three-dimensionality and lots of texture, though backlight can create dramatic results, especially if the sky features a glorious sunrise or sunset.
And speaking of glorious skies: If possible, try to photograph on days when the sky features enough cloud cover to produce eye-catching colors, but not so much cloud cover that everything looks gray and drab.
One more landscape photography lighting tip: While the golden hours work great for most locations, you can also capture beautiful shots during the blue hour – that is, the brief window just before sunrise and just after sunset, when the light turns soft, ethereal, and (as the name suggests) cool. Because of the limited light, blue hour photography is more technically demanding than golden hour photography, but as long as you use a tripod and take steps to prevent camera shake, you can create some gorgeous photos.
3. Choose the right beginner landscape photography gear
Landscape photography is a gear-intensive genre. Sure, you can produce decent landscape shots using only a kit-lens-equipped setup or even just a smartphone, but if you want stunning, printable images that feature plenty of detail and incredible tonal range, you’ll want to purchase a few specific items of equipment.
Of course, you can’t shoot landscapes without a camera, so that’s where I’d start. You may already own a decent model, but if not, I’d recommend purchasing some sort of interchangeable lens camera that offers a decent number of megapixels (20+ MP is pretty standard nowadays and should be sufficient for large prints). There are plenty of great mirrorless and DSLR models for landscape photography, and they’ll all do a very solid job.
You’ll also want a decently wide lens with sufficiently sharp glass. A kit lens (i.e., the lens that comes bundled with most beginner cameras) can work, but if you want better landscape optics, look for a wide-angle zoom or even a wide-angle prime or two.
Next, you’ll need a tripod, and unless you’re really not sure whether this whole landscape photography thing is for you, I’d encourage you to really invest in a sturdy product. Most landscape photography scenarios – such as golden hour and blue hour – offer minimal light, which will force you to slow down your shutter speed. And a slow shutter speed will produce lots of blur – unless your camera has rock-solid support in the form of a tripod.
Tripods can be expensive, but it’s important to remember that a good tripod can make a huge difference. Also, a solid tripod will last a long time, so you won’t need to replace it anytime soon.
Fourth, you’ll need a remote trigger, which will allow you to trip the camera shutter without actually pressing the shutter button. (Why is this necessary? Pressing the shutter button will produce camera shake, which will cause blur, even if your camera is mounted on a tripod.)
When I was a beginner landscape photographer, I took a while to buy a remote release. Then, once I had one, I wondered why I took so long to get it! Remote releases don’t cost very much, but they’ll help keep your photos sharp, which is essential.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning a few landscape photography filters. Graduated neutral density filters allow you to capture a bright sky and a dark foreground in a single frame – though these days, many landscape shooters rely on HDR exposure blending to achieve the same result.
Then there are polarizing filters, which will reduce reflections on wet rocks, lakes, waves, and foliage. They’re great if you plan to shoot a lot of water and forest photos, but they’re not absolutely essential, so it’s up to you whether you want to invest. And neutral density filters block out the light so you can lengthen your shutter speed to produce beautiful long-exposure effects. While you won’t need one of these right away, they’re certainly worth keeping in mind for the future!
4. Choose the right settings
Once you have the right gear, know how to find good locations, and are familiar with different types of light, you’ll need to understand key landscape photography settings.
Unfortunately, there are no formulas for creating perfect shots – each new scenario should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis – but I can offer some handy guidelines.
First, you’ll generally want everything in your scene to be in focus. I’d encourage you to switch your camera to Manual mode, then dial in an aperture setting of at least f/8 (and potentially f/11 or even f/16 if the scene features a lot of depth). Then focus your lens about a third of the way into the landscape scene to approximate the hyperfocal distance and maximize sharpness.
(It can help to initially use your camera’s autofocus, then switch your lens to focus manually once you’ve set focus correctly. That way, you don’t need to worry about your camera refocusing as you make adjustments to your settings.)
Once your aperture has been set, you’ll want to choose your ISO. An ultra-low ISO is basically always best; I’d recommend setting your ISO to 100 (or your camera’s lowest native setting) and keeping it there. That way you can avoid unpleasant digital noise effects and retain as much detail and dynamic range as possible.
Next, you’ll need to set your shutter speed. Since you’ll have already dialed in an aperture and an ISO, you should simply choose a shutter speed that produces a good exposure. Depending on the light levels, you may need to drop your exposure to a couple of seconds (or more) to get a good shot, and that’s okay. In fact, lengthy shutter speeds can produce beautiful long-exposure effects; water turns soft and silky, while clouds stretch out across the sky.
Note that if your shutter speed is too long for your tastes (for instance, you want to capture blowing trees or crashing waves in sharp detail), you can widen your aperture or raise your ISO, but do so sparingly – such adjustments come with a cost!
One final settings tip: Make sure that you set your camera to capture RAW files, not JPEGs. RAW files are bigger and require processing, but they retain far more detail and are easier to edit, so it’s essential that you shoot in RAW.
5. Review and post-process your landscape photos
Once you return from a shoot, download your images and peek at the results. You’ll want to purchase some form of editing software (I recommend Adobe Lightroom Classic), and you should use it to organize your images. Put the successful photos in one folder, put the unsuccessful photos in another folder, and choose your absolute best shots from the “Successful” file to be edited. (You may find that you’ll shoot 100 images and only a couple are worthy of editing, and that’s okay!)
Editing might seem difficult, but it mostly just involves a lot of experimentation. My best advice is to take your time and test out each effect. Make sure you adjust the white balance to neutralize any problematic color casts, fiddle with different exposure and tonal sliders to bring out plenty of detail, and try boosting the colors and contrast to add a bit of punch.
Note that if you come up with an editing effect that you like, you can generally save it as a preset so you can use it again and again (though the specifics will depend on your editing program).
And if you struggle at first to edit your landscape photos, don’t worry. You’ll quickly become familiar with the different effects, and before you know it, you’ll be adjusting those editing sliders like a pro.
Landscape photography for beginners: final words
Landscape photography is incredibly satisfying, and with the right approach, the rewards are often unreal. Of course, you have no control over the weather or the light, and the conditions won’t always work out – but when they do, you’ll feel exhilarated!
At the end of the day, the most important tip is to take your time. Don’t rush the process, and don’t pack up until you’re certain you cannot get a better shot. Always go out and have fun. Even if the light doesn’t play along or the weather isn’t what you hoped for, you can use an outing as a practice session. Pretty soon, you’ll be capturing those breathtaking scenes with ease!
What type of landscape photography do you plan to shoot? Share your thoughts in the comments below!