7 Essential Landscape Photography Tips
1. Magic hour
Light is the cornerstone of photography. Generally, the best light for landscapes occurs during the magic hours: the Blue Hour and the Golden Hour. The Blue Hour occurs just before sunrise and just after sunset when the sky tends to have a rich blue hue. The Golden Hour occurs just after sunrise and right before sunset. Being a landscape photographer means having to wake up early or staying up late to take full advantage of the best light possible. The quality of the light is superior when the sun is low in the sky, which creates less contrast across the landscape, opposed to that of the light found around midday, when the sun is high in the sky resulting in sharp contrast throughout the landscape. Sunrises will usually produce more blue tone on the landscape, whereas sunsets will usually have more golden tones. Both are beautiful and can be used to help set the overall feel to the image.
Sunrise at Dolly Sods
After light, having a great composition can make or break an image. The key to composition is finding the subject and then composing the landscape to draw the viewer’s eyes through the image to the subject. There are many different ways to compose the landscape, which makes it important to know the different rules in order to apply them to different situations. The rule of thirds is a great example of how to compose a landscape. Below is an example. You will notice the tree is located on the left third to the image, and the horizon is located on the bottom third of the image. For more landscape composition techniques click here.
3. Foreground elements
Incorporating a foreground element(s) in to the landscape composition is a way to help take your landscape photography to the next level. A foreground element can be as simple as a rock or field of colorful flowers. When a landscape image includes a foreground element, it gives the viewers an anchor when viewing your image and will help draw the viewer into the image.
Nubble Light, ME B&W
4. Depth of field
Depth of field controls what part of the image will appear sharp. Most landscape photographers choose to make every element in the image sharp. Depth of field is how landscape photographers ensure the foreground through the background appears sharp. To achieve this requires using a small aperture such as f/16 or f/22. Using a small aperture will create a larger area both in front and behind the focus point in which the landscape will appear sharp.
Sunrise atop Bearfence MountainSunrise atop Bearfence Mountain in Shenandoah National Park
5. Use a tripod
When landscape photographers use smaller aperture, less light is able to pass through the lens, which requires the shutter speed to be longer in order for the image to be exposed properly. A sturdy tripod is then required to ensure the camera is completely still during the length of the exposure. If there is any movement or camera shake during the exposure, no matter how minor, the image will not be sharp.
Boone Hall Plantation, SC
6. Use a shutter release
Like a tripod, a shutter release is another tool landscape photographers use to create tack sharp images. Pressing the shutter button on the camera can cause the camera to shake. A shutter release is a tool that releases the shutter to start the exposure without touching the camera. The most common type of shutter release is a cable release, but there are also wireless shutter releases. If you are on a budget, utilizing the camera’s self timer feature is another great way reduce that chance for camera shake when the exposure starts.
Upper Doyles River FallsUpper Doyles River Falls is located in the Southern District of Shenandoah National Park. The main prat of this two tier water fall is just under 30' and is the best waterfall in the Southern District.
Location, location, location! Landscape photography is all about location and using the above skills to capture beautiful and breathtaking images. Scouting a location is very important; when possible, get to the location well before the magic hour to allowing ample time to find the subject and the perfect composition. Google Earth is a great tool to help scout new locations. The Photographers Ephemeris is a very useful app for scouting locations. Some of the features include dropping a pin on a location to get the exact sunrise and sunset times, along with the path of the sun throughout the day. Sunseaker is another useful App used by landscape photographers to help scout a location. Sunseaker has a live 3D view which allows photographers to see the exact spot the sun will rise and set. This allows photographers to figure out how to compose their image well before sunrise and sunset.
Bear LakeSunrise at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.