Getting Started in Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is truly spectacular and I have a tremendous amount of love for this genre. I adore being out in nature and spend a significant amount of time living and exploring in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. With world class beauty a stone’s throw from where I call home it’d be a shame if I didn’t revel in my fortune and so I do. You’d think that residing as close as I do to the Canadian Rocky Mountains that I’d have been a landscape photographer for many, many years but actually that’s not the case. It wasn’t more than 4 years ago that I started to immerse myself within this genre. Being that my journey into landscape photography is fairly new I can still remember what it was like when I first dabbled in this genre. I have a few tips for those of you interested in and just starting out in landscape photography that’ll get you up exploring and photographing the jaw dropping beauty that is nature.  

1. Start with the gear you already own

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m quite attached to all of my landscape photography gear and accessories but when I was first starting out in this genre I really had nothing more than the camera equipment I used to photograph my children. I captured most of my beginner landscape images with my 35mm lens and a $25.00 tripod. No joke here friends. Of course I think you are going to fall head over heels in love with landscape photography but if you find this genre is not for you then you’ve lost nothing if you use the gear you have. Quite the opposite actually, you’ve gained the experience and knowledge that comes with exploring other genres, which is invaluable. But when you do fall in love with landscape photography you can slowly add to your collection of gear. 

If you like to take a look inside my landscape photographer backpack you can do that here.

ISO 800, 70mm, f14, 1/500SS

ISO 800, 70mm, f14, 1/500SS

2. Use a tripod 

A tripod is in my opinion absolutely necessary for any landscape photographer. You don’t have to break the bank here either. There are many options and brands out there. The most important thing is that your tripod is study enough to support the weight of your camera and lens in addition to withstand natural elements like strong winds. It’s also very helpful to have a tripod that folds down fairly small, mine fits quite nicely into the side of my backpack. It’s also nice to have flexibility when it comes to adjusting the legs of your tripod as I find I’m often photographing a scene on uneven ground and I want my camera remain level. 

ISO 31, 16mm, f22, 1/4SS

ISO 31, 16mm, f22, 1/4SS

3. Use a time delayed trigger release

A time delayed trigger release is incredibly useful when capturing landscape images. Landscape images are often taken with shutter speeds that are much slower than when you capture hand held images. The simple act of manually releasing the shutter has the potential to introduce camera shake when using slower shutter speeds. Use of an internal camera timer set to a two or so second delay will allow for you to depress the shutter and then remove your hand from your camera prior to shutter release increasing the likelihood of a sharp image. Better yet, you can purchase a cable or wireless trigger release system. They can range in price from quite affordable to expensive. I’m going to suggest to you that the inexpensive trigger releases are the way to go. They work just as well and if they break purchasing a new one won’t be costly. Some trigger releases also come with an intervalometer which is a more advanced landscape topic but it’s nice to have incorporated into your release for when you’re ready to learn this technique. 

ISO 200, 24mm, f13, 300sec

ISO 200, 24mm, f13, 300sec

4. Compose thoughtfully 

Composition in landscape photography is a dynamic topic. When you are just starting out in photography my recommendation is to simple compose a scene with thought. There are so many different ways in which a single scene can be captured. Sometimes it’s worth while to walk around and observe a scene from different viewpoints then go about capturing that scene from your favourite spot. It is also always worthwhile to capture a single scene from various perspectives so that when you get back home you can decide which perspective you prefer. 

ISO 100, 16mm, f14, 2.5sec

ISO 100, 16mm, f14, 2.5sec

4. Shoot in manual mode

Manual mode is truly queen when it comes to photography in general but when it comes to landscape photography I think it really is necessary. There are some photographers that shoot in aperture priority mode but manual mode really does allow you to have full control over your settings. As a tip to get you started, when it comes to your exposure triangle settings, try and maintain as low as an ISO as possible when shooting day hour images. This allows for the best quality file. Also, do choose a smaller aperture so that your whole scene is in focus. I find my main landscape lens is sharpest around f14 so I consistently stick to an aperture around that setting when capturing daytime images. From here, set your shutter speed in order to expose your scene well with no blown out highlights. These rules of thumb will get you off to a good start. 

Now having said that, once you’ve captured your scene play around with your settings a bit. If you can, try a longer exposure. Without a neutral density filter, which is again another more advanced topic, you may want to try longer exposures in situations when there’s less light, like just before sunrise or just after sunset or when there is not a large variance in dynamic range.  

ISO 100, 19mm, f14, 1/6

ISO 100, 19mm, f14, 1/6

5. Shoot in RAW and tweak in post processing 

No more jpegs please! Part of landscape photography is post processing a scene. RAW captures a full range of data within a scene. A scene that you’ve likely put a lot of effort and work into capturing. You can make adjustments to jpeg images however this is not advisable. RAW preserves all the data your camera has collected and allows you to make tweaks in post processing in a way that infuses energy and life into an image. Even if you’re new to post processing having some ability to practise on files in programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, Camera Raw or ON1 Photo is a vital part to landscape photography. 

ISO 100, 20mm, f13, 120sec

ISO 100, 20mm, f13, 120sec

6. Practise, practise and practise some more

I think the learning curve in landscape photography is very steep but don’t dismay. There’s truly always something to learn and to work on. I’m constantly learning new techniques and new ways of doing things. The journey of personal growth in the field and in post processing are endless. What will get you learning and growing as a landscape photographer is practise. Bite of small pieces and learn that technique then move on then revisit that technique if need be. Learning and growing as a photographer in landscapes is something I thoroughly enjoy. I absolutely love the challenge and I just know you will too!  

ISO 500, 22mm, f4, 441sec

ISO 500, 22mm, f4, 441sec

Landscape photography is incredibly rewarding in so many beautiful ways. I hope these tips will leave you feeling inspired and help you get started in this beautiful genre this summer while you are out and about capturing your family memories too.