Whether you're exploring the rugged coast, trekking through a stark desert or investigating hidden alpine lakes, perfecting the art of landscape photography helps you preserve every memory and share the beauty of nature with friends and family. From choosing the right photography gear to framing your shot correctly, these top tips for nature photographers make it easy to build a collection of landscape images.
The Right Photography Gear
When it comes to landscape photography, stocking up on the right accessories is a must. Both mirrorless and DSLR cameras capture gorgeous nature shots, so the choice of camera comes down to personal preference. In general, DSLR cameras offer more options for lenses and accessories, while mirrorless cameras are lighter and less bulky.
Wide-angle lenses with a focal length of less than 35 millimeters are a must-have for the serious landscape photographer. You'll easily capture a comprehensive, sweeping view of a large area. Ultra-wide lenses, with focal lengths of 20 millimeters or less, draw the viewer directly into the image while creating a distinct connection between the picture's focal point and the wider context around it. If you're taking pictures in a desert or forest, you may want to switch to a long telephoto lens, which compresses the image to emphasize the visual drama of heat waves rolling off a dune or repeating textures within a stand of trees.
Scope Out Your Location
Getting great landscape shots isn't just about capturing the image you happen to see as you come over the crest of a mountain or gaze out across a seemingly endless field of wildflowers. Thinking about location beforehand helps make your photos more impressive. In some cases, location planning involves hiking a bit off-trail or moving further into the setting to capture a view that isn't available for photographers who stick to the observation deck.
Timing can make a difference as well. Shooting during the magic hours of sunrise and sunset typically intensifies the mood of a landscape photo. The light in a particular area can change a lot throughout the day, especially in places where a mountain or canyon wall casts shadows during specific hours of the day. Visit each potential site at different times of the day to determine where light and shadows fall before you set up your camera.
Find Your Focus
The focal point sets the tone for the entire photograph, so take time to compose your picture before you press the shutter button. Landscape pictures with no specific point of focus often leave the viewer feeling unsatisfied. Pick something in the foreground as your focal point, or focus in on an attention-getting rock or tree out in the distance to ground the image. Use natural lines and curves in the landscape to help draw the viewer's eye where you want it.
When it comes to depth of field, one common mistake made by landscape photographers is to set the aperture too low. While a super-low aperture of f/22 certainly guarantees that everything stays in focus, it can also lead to diffraction that softens the look of the scene. An aperture between f/11 and f/16 is often a better choice.
Add Drama With Filters
Filters are a professional landscape photographer's secret weapon, and they're easy enough to use for your shots. Polarizing filters and graduated ND filters are the two most common types used by nature photographers. Polarizing filters cut glare and reduce the impact of haze in the atmosphere, resulting in sharper photos with more color saturation. Graduated ND filters help balance out the brightness and color in situations where the sky is much brighter than the landscape. Without a graduated ND filter, exceptionally bright skies look blown out. Most polarizing filters attach directly to your camera lens, and you can adjust them to get the precise look you want. You can hold rectangular graduated ND filters in front of the lens or attach them to a holster that hooks onto your camera.
Edit for the Perfect Shot
Creating great landscape photography doesn't end once you've snapped the shot. Editing your photos can help you turn standard shots into standout images. The easiest photographs to edit are those shot in RAW format. Unlike JPEG files, RAW files retain all the image data for every photo you take. This means you can adjust the white balance, tones and color of the final image without losing any details.
Setting your camera to take all your landscape photos in RAW makes it easy to fix any almost-there shots or turn pretty landscape images into stunning photographs. Even if you're not using RAW, take the time to crop, color correct or adjust the contrast in your JPEG photos. It can make a big difference to the look of your nature shots. Consider investing in photo editing software for a truly professional end result.
As you become more familiar with the ins and outs of landscape photography and the specific strengths of your camera, take your nature shots in new and unexpected directions. Capture pictures of the same scene in both calm and stormy weather or over a number of seasons to create a landscape series. Other options include exploring black-and-white nature photography, night landscape shots and images of water in motion.
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