Landscape Photography Tips and Tricks

Whether you want badass landscape photos for Instagram or for your gallery wall, these landscape photography tips will help you take better landscape photos on your adventures. These tips will work for you whether you’re using a DSLR or a newer phone camera that allows you adjust settings such as aperture and shutter speed. Most will still help even if you’re using a point and shoot or a phone that doesn’t allow you to adjust settings.

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Landscape Photography Tips

Depth of Field

You want your landscape photos to have depth. Go deep, set your aperture at a higher number. One caveat to using a wider aperture is you get less light coming through your camera. To make up for this, adjust your shutter speed to take a slightly longer exposure.

Mountain range landscape photography showing a deep  depth of field
Using a larger aperture allows a larger area to stay in focus. These mountains have all stayed sharp instead of blurry most likely due to a wider aperture.

Use a Tripod

Using a tripod reduces shake and makes for a sharper landscape photo. Carrying around a tripod can be a burden when you’re a hiker or backpacker, adding weight and bulk. A small, flexible tripod like the Gorillapods can ease the weight and bulk while still giving you all the benefits of a full size tripod. Check out this type of tripod here.

If a tripod isn’t on your list of fun things to tote through the woods and mountains, you can find natural tripods in the wild. You can rest your device (carefully) on a rock, tree, sticks, or something similar and use your camera or phones timer or remote shutter button to take the photo. This technique requires a little extra creativity sometimes to get a composition you love.

Find your focal point

A lack of focal point leaves the eye to wander aimlessly. Find something in the area around you to focus on. A large tree, a peak, a waterfall, even a cave opening all make great focal points. When photographing landscapes, a focal point can draw the eye in and gives interest the image.

Having a focal point is one of the most important aspects of great landscape photography. It gives the eye a place to linger and take in the scene.
While still a pretty photo, there is a lack of a focal point.

Use a polarizing filter

A polarizing filter works just like the sunglasses do, by cutting down on glare. A polarizing filter doesn’t always work well if the sun or light source is behind you or in front of you. When using this type of filter, try to position yourself and compose your landscape image with the sun/light at a 45 to 90 degree angle to your lens. Check out this great example of an image with and without a polarizing filter from PetaPixel. Notice how their use of the filter reduced the glare from the waters surface and allowed the true colors of the plant to come to life.

Landscape photography tip showing image without the use of a polarizing filter. The water plant is dull, appears brown, and there is a glare on top of the water
Copyright © 2020 PetaPixel. Click image to see original photo and in-depth post on polarizing filters from Peta Pixel
Copyright © 2020 PetaPixel. Click image to see original photo and in-depth post on polarizing filters from Peta Pixel

Polarizing filters are available for DSLR cameras as well as smart phone cameras. However, finding a good one for a cell phone camera has proven difficult. many times, the clip on filter causes shadows around the edges of the image. A solution to this is to hold a polarizing filter made for a DSLR over your camera lens. Tiffen makes great, affordable polarizing filters, check them out here.

Use a Neutral Density Filter

A neutral density filter helps minimize light. I use them to take longer exposure photos during the daytime.  It’s great for getting photos of silky smooth waterfalls. Neutral density filters come in varying degrees of darkness. The darker the filter, the longer of an exposure you can take without blowing out your photo. The size of filter you need depends on which lens you are using with your camera. Clip on ND filters are available for phones as well.

Large waterfall landscape. Silky smooth water made possible by use of a neutral density filter.
Neutral density filters, sometimes called ND filters, can help you achieve this look.

Work for it

 Sometimes the reason we are awed by a landscape photo is because it’s a viewpoint we’ve never seen before. Relying on lookouts and viewpoints  is a quick way to mediocre landscape photos. Look for spots around you where you can (safely) get a slightly different view of the landscape. 

Landscape Composition Tips

Foreground

Foreground is just as important to a landscape photo as the landscape itself. Having an interesting foreground stops your photo from appearing flat.  A field of flowers, a tree, a rock pile, almost anything can make an interesting foreground. When composing your image, move around, stand tall, squat down, even lay down to see the different ways a foreground can change your image.

Mountainous landscape with pine boughs as foreground.
Notice how the tree branches at the bottom help add depth to the landscape.

In lieu of foreground, use the sky. Interesting cloud formations, the setting or rising sun, or even just colorful hues can add interest to your photos. 

Landscape image with sky as focal point
There’s nothing spectacular in the foreground here, but the sky adds that something extra needed to take a better landscape photo.

Horizon

The rule of thirds is usually pretty consistent with landscapes. The horizon can fall on the bottom third to showcase the sky, or on the top third to show your foreground and lead the eye into the landscape. 

Landscape Image of tree with setting sun showing rule of thirds landscape photography tip.
The horizon falls on the bottom third of the photo, leaving room to show off the cloud formations and coloring

Leading Lines

A leading line is just what it sounds like. A line that leads your eye through the image. They do more than lead though. Employing leading lines in landscape photography can add much needed depth A leading line can be a trail, the lines blown into sand dunes by the wind, streams, boardwalks or docks, even pebbles along a beach.

Leading lines landscape photography tip
Before you scroll down, can you spot the leading lines in this image?

In this landscape photo, the fence leads your eye into the scene and to the lake and mountain. While the mountain slope draw the eye back down to the trees and surrounding mountains. The trees also have a slightly leading line, drawing the eye back up to the larger mountain in the corner. These 3 leading lines have effectively worked together drawn your eye into every aspect of this landscape photo, allowing you to naturally take in the entire scene.

Leading lines, shown with red arrows, in a landscape photograph

Use people

People can add scale to a photo. That mountain looks big on it’s own, but place a human in sight, and it shows how big that mountain really is. 

Image of field with surrounding mountains, with a pa winding path. Human on the trail gives perspective to vastness.
The person on the trail gives this landscape photo perspective and shows just how vast this landscape really is.

Preparing to take better landscape photos

Know Your Camera

Whether it’s a DSLR or your phone, knowing your camera is imperative to taking great landscape pictures. Go out and practice with the various modes and settings as often as you can and before you know it, it’ll be second nature to you. 

Learn Your Location

If I know I’m going to want a lot of great photos of a location, I research the heck out of it before I go. Search the place on Google and look at images others have taken, search for great viewpoints or lookouts. You can also look through trail pictures on the AllTrails app to get ideas of features or places you’d like to photograph, as well as different angles you may want to try out.

Taking landscape photos that you love doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little practice, you’ll be a pro at taking better landscape photos. Try going out a couple times a week and practice using your phone or camera. Play with the settings, try to combine some of the tips above until you find your favorite settings and compositions. Do you struggle with landscape photography? What’s the most difficult part for you? What do you dislike about the photos you take?