10 Simple Tips For Better Landscape Photographs

by Scott Setterberg June 13, 2018

10 Simple Tips For Better Landscape Photographs

There are countless ways to produce better photographs, many of which require detailed explanations and technical know-how.  For the sake of simplicity, and without getting too technical, here are ten easy-to-implement tips for creating better landscape photographs.  

1.  Light.  Without question, early morning, late afternoon, and evening are the best times of day to shoot.  These are the times when the sun is lower in the sky and side lighting is produced, creating more texture and dramatic shadows, giving more dimension to objects, and depth to your photographs.  Avoid mid-day, overhead sunlight from roughly 10A - 2P.  

Mountain Reflection
2.  Composition.  You arrive at a popular location with a stunning view that most likely has been captured thousands of times before from that exact same spot.  How can you create a different perspective?  Go off the beaten path.  Jump over a guardrail. Climb a rock face.  Get in the water.  Use a high or low camera angle. Shoot through the trees.  Utilize reflections.  Think about how you can create an interesting and unique composition and do something different.  

Llanos De Cortez Trees
3.  Include Foreground Objects.  This could easily be included in Tip #2 because it relates to composition, but it's important enough to deserve its own spot.  When you incorporate foreground objects into landscape photographs, you automatically create scale, more depth, and keep the viewer's eye moving throughout the image.  Experiment with placing foreground objects into your compositions and watch how your images instantly become more interesting.  Note: If this causes you to struggle with getting everything in focus, refer to Tip #5 below for a simple solution.  

Dumont Dunes House Left
4.  Lens Choice.  
What do you want to include in your shot?  Wide scenic vista?  Partial coverage?  Cropped close-up? There's no right or wrong answer, and all is personal preference, but utilizing different focal lengths at each location creates vastly different perspectives and more options.  Wide-angle lenses obviously provide the most coverage while longer focal length lenses compress the scene.  To document this, look at the series of three shots below taken at Templo Waterfall in Costa Rica, and see how a variety of focal lengths create strikingly different images.   

Catarata Templo

Templo Waterfall in Costa Rica

Temple Waterfall Close
5.  Increase Depth of Field.  I personally find that landscapes with a large depth of field - where all objects are in focus from foreground to background - produce favorable results by adding more detail and dimension.  Stopping down your aperture to f16 or f22 and generally focusing roughly 1/3 of the way into the scene allows you to achieve this effect.  

Dumont Dunes Master
6.  Use A Polarizing Filter  
Polarizing filters cause colors to become more vibrant - particularly greens and blues - and reduce glare on water surfaces, rocks, and vegetation by absorbing reflective light.  Circular polarizers are easy to use and allow you to rotate the filter until you see the desired effect.  Polarizing filter effects cannot be reproduced in post production, which makes one a mandatory tool to have in your camera bag.  

Spring of Life
7.  Adjust Exposure Times.  Exposure time is not solely dependent upon how much light is available.  Using filters, increasing aperture for sharper focus throughout the scene, creating silky motion in water, and making streaks with moving clouds are a few examples of other things that also affect exposure times.  Play around with different shutter speeds and you'll quickly learn what is needed for specific conditions in order to create the type of image you envision.  

8.  Tripod.  Shooting at times with lower available light, using filters, and stopping down your aperture often make hand-held shooting impossible.  Want to create images with flowing water or moving clouds?  You must use a tripod.  Tripods create flexibility and provide opportunities for greater creative freedom and expression.  Very rarely do I photograph landscapes without a tripod.  

9.  Remote Shutter Release.  People often think that by using a tripod they can release the shutter manually without affecting clarity.  The reality is that often, when using slow shutter speeds, the slight pressure of releasing the shutter by hand causes movement that blurs images.  For increased stability and image clarity, use a remote trigger release or the timer function on your camera.  

10.  Experiment.  More times than not, what I originally thought of as the “shot of the day” turned out to be not as good as what I created after moving around, finding a new angle, using different focal lengths, adding foreground objects, adjusting exposure times, and using filters.  Look at the two images below, taken from the same location at La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica.  

Catarata La Fortuna
The top shot is gorgeous, right?  Shot of the day!  But look what happened when I panned the camera ever so slightly to the left.  Notice how the bottom image creates more interest by simply moving the waterfall out of the center of the frame and creating a different composition?  

La Fortuna Waterfall Costa Rica
Creating better landscape photographs doesn't have to involve intense technical understanding. These ten tips should provide you with things to think about and implement the next time you're out shooting. They're all really simple and produce terrific results, and your images will improve dramatically by utilizing them. Remember... don't be afraid to do things differently.  Take some chances.  Experiment with compositions, apertures, and exposure times, and break the rules.  When you do, you'll find that your landscape photographs become more powerful and create much more interest.  

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Scott Setterberg
Scott Setterberg