Intro to Landscape Photography

Intro to Landscape Photography

Did you know that the first photograph ever taken was of a landscape?

“View from the Window at Le Gras” was captured by Nicéphore Niépce, in 1827. It features a very abstract view from Niépce’s window. Then, in 1839, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre made history with his image of Boulevard de Temple, marking the first time a human being appears in a photograph. And that’s not even getting into the legacy of famous landscape photographers like Ansel Adams or Edward Weston.

Some photographers who are not open to the infinite possibilities might find landscape photography “boring.” However, one could argue that’s because they haven’t explored it deeply or creatively enough.

Landscape photography is not limited to static images of mountain ranges shot at midday with a wide-angle lens. It can encompass everything from cityscapes to astrophotography and can be shot with all sorts of lenses, and from drones to underwater setups.

It can also be extremely rewarding. Getting up before daybreak on New Year’s Day to capture the first moment the sun peaks over the mountains is an unforgettable experience, or taking a boat out on a lake at sunset on the Fourth of July to photograph fireworks reflected in the water. Landscape photography can take you to new places and push you in unexpected ways. It can inspire you to explore your environment and connect with nature on a deeper level. Basically, landscape photography gets you off the couch and into the world. And the best part is you will undoubtedly come home with something to show for it.

People or animals sometimes appear in landscape photos to give the viewer a sense of scale.
People or animals sometimes appear in landscape photos to give the viewer a sense of scale.

So now that you’re ready to start your own journey into landscape photography, here are some tips to get you going.

Tips for Landscape Photography

As in other styles, one of the most important elements of a landscape photograph is its composition. One rule that might be useful when first learning to compose an image is the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is a way of dividing up a frame to create an energetic and dynamic image. If you’d like to read more, Jill Waterman wrote an article about the Rule of Thirds that explains it well.

It’s also helpful to include leading lines in your images. Look for elements of the scene that will draw the viewer’s eye to the desired subject, whether that’s a river winding down a valley or a road leading to a snowy mountain. Keep an eye out for these useful elements to include in your images.

Another important thing to keep in mind: what time of day are you going out?

The best time to photograph outside is usually early in the morning when the sun is just rising, or around sunset during the golden and blue hours. It’s crucial to plan, though. I’ve dragged myself out of bed before sunrise many times, hoping to capture a beautiful landscape, only to be disappointed by a gray dawn. Don’t forget to check your weather app and give yourself plenty of time to set up. Dawn and dusk can be surprisingly slim but are rewarding windows of time for the enterprising landscape photographer.

Finally, if you have moving elements of your image, like a waterfall or river, then it might be a good time to experiment with long exposures. If done correctly, long exposures can create beautiful, creamy effects that can elevate your images. In order to do them effectively, however, you will need to bring some extra gear with you.

Landscape Photography Gear

Although it’s not mandatory, different types of camera gear can help improve your landscape photography.

Using leading lines in a composition, like the geometry of the dam in the picture above, can guide the eye in a way that gives the photo a sense of depth.
Using leading lines in a composition, like the geometry of the dam in the picture above, can guide the eye in a way that gives the photo a sense of depth.

One way to ensure your picture is as sharp as it can be is to use a tripod. Using a tripod stabilizes the camera, allowing you to avoid camera shake, for sharper photos. Tripods also make it possible to use longer exposure times for capturing the blurred movements of water, traffic, or anything else moving in the scene.

If you’re interested in getting into long exposure photography, like the photo of the Croton Dam shown above, consider investing in a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter helps limit the amount of light reaching your lens. This type of filter is especially useful when trying to use a long shutter speed in bright sunlight. A neutral density filter reduces the amount of sunlight striking the sensor or film plane, allowing you to execute a long exposure without overexposing your image.

Another device key to reducing camera shake is a remote shutter release. You don’t want to go through the trouble of carting your tripod and setting it up, only to have your long exposure ruined by camera shake when you release the shutter button. A remote shutter release remedies this by triggering the shutter without you touching the camera. If you don’t want to invest in another piece of equipment, you can also set your camera timer so that the exposure doesn’t start until after you press down the shutter button. (It should be noted that this method won’t work on your camera’s bulb setting.)

If you plan to hike for your landscape photos, you may want to invest in a good camera backpack. When searching for the perfect bag, keep in mind that you’ll need a strong, weather-proof bag that can handle exposure to the elements. You don’t want to risk your bag ripping in the back country or all your expensive gear being destroyed in a sudden downpour. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for a bag with an exterior pocket for your tripod and an adjustable waist belt to help keep the weight off your shoulders on long hikes. Extra padding on the shoulder straps and waist belt will also help you bear the extra weight.

Cityscapes can be made using the same gear as any other landscape. Depending where you live, this may be a great place to start.
Cityscapes can be made using the same gear as any other landscape. Depending on where you live, this may be a great place to start.

If you decide that you love landscape photography, and you want to take your work to new horizons, a logical next step is to pick up a wide-angle zoom such as a 10-24mm or a 16-35mm. These focal ranges give you some flexibility in the field while shooting landscapes, allowing you to shoot from many different perspectives, which can open new creative possibilities.

You also might want to experiment with a different look by using a telephoto lens to create interesting or new compositions. For more ideas on how to use telephoto lenses in your landscape photography, check out this article by John Harris.

Astro and architectural photographers use much of the same gear and skills that are used in basic landscape photography.

Additional Resources for Landscape Photography

For more tips on how to get into or improve your landscape photography, check out this article. It’s chock full of interesting ideas that you can apply to your photography practice.

If you’re struggling to plan your photo shoots, this piece might help you figure out your approach. Todd Vorenkamp also wrote this excellent article for anyone new to landscape photography. And as a bonus, it’s complete with beautiful pictures from his trip to Yosemite National Park.

Final Thoughts on Landscape Photography

When you’re first starting out in photography, landscapes are a great way to practice learning the fundamentals of the art form. Some photographers start with landscape and never feel the need to shoot any other subject matter. For others, it’s a gateway to countless other styles.

No matter how much research you decide to do, though, the most important thing is to just have fun. So grab your camera and get out there. Whether you’re in the heart of New York City or Yellowstone National Park, you’re sure to come back with some beautiful images.

What kind of landscapes do you like to shoot? Let us know in the Comments section, below.