By definition, a landscape photograph is one in which natural scenery dominates the image. People and/or animals may be included, although they make up a relatively small part of the image and have been included in the composition to show scale. The same applies to buildings and other man-made structures.

The following tips can help you to produce attractive landscape pictures, regardless of the environment you’re shooting in and the style of photography you adopt.

1. Use Appropriate Equipment.
Wide-angle lenses are generally recommended for landscape photography. But don’t be afraid to use telephoto lenses if they will deliver the image you want. Mount your camera on a tripod whenever slow shutter speeds are required. At all other times, take advantage of any image stabilisation systems provided by your camera or lenses.

Be sparing in your use of filters. Polarisers can deepen the blue in skies, allowing white clouds to appear more prominent. But too much polarisation can result in unnatural-looking shots.

Graduated neutral density filters can prevent over-exposure of skies, allowing darker foregrounds to be recorded more naturally. Unfortunately they tend to divide the image frame in half, which may not suit shot composition. Coloured graduates produce unnatural-looking results, which can be fine for abstract and impressionistic shots, but don’t suit representational landscapes.

2. Choose the ‘Golden Hours’
If you have a choice, avoid shooting landscapes in the middle of the day, particularly when the sun is directly overhead. The ‘golden hours’ for landscape photography occur between pre-dawn brightening in the sky and about an hour-and-a-half after sunrise in the morning and between about an hour-and-a-half before sunset in the evening and about an hour after sunset.

At these times, the low angle of the sun produces long shadows that create interesting patterns and textures in the scene. The quality of the light is also more ‘golden’ at these times due to dust and other particles in the atmosphere that absorb some of the blue from the spectrum.


A tripod was required for this one-second exposure, taken about ten minutes after sunset. 
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 67mm, ISO 200, f/8.)

3. Use the Right Camera Settings
Serious landscape photographers shoot with either aperture-priority AE or full manual exposure mode because both modes give them control over depth-of-field in shots. For most landscape photographs, the objective is to have as much of the scene as possible looking sharp. That means shooting with a relatively small lens aperture setting.

Take account of the fact that sharpness in most DSLR lenses starts to decrease somewhere around f/11 (f/16 with higher-quality lenses) so the optimal aperture setting will be between f/8 and f/11. For a small-sensor digicam, an aperture of about f/5.6 should deliver good results, since the smallest aperture for these cameras is only f/8.

Be aware that the smaller the lens aperture, the less light gets into the camera. You can compensate by selecting a slower shutter speed or increasing the sensitivity (ISO) setting. Most DSLRs can be used at ISO settings of around 800 without risk of image noise; small-sensor digicam users should avoid ISO settings above 200.

If your camera supports raw file capture, learn to use it. Raw images will give you greater latitude for post-capture editing – and all respected landscape photographers work on their images after they have been taken. You will be able to extract details from shadow and highlight areas that would be lost in JPEG shots, and correct colour casts and tweak the shot with tools like sharpening and noise-reduction adjustments.

4. Work with the Weather.
The prevailing weather conditions when a shot was taken will have an impact on the impression that shot creates in viewers. A sunny scene creates a warm and relaxed feeling – but it can be difficult to produce shots with any drama or excitement. Shot composition can be difficult when you’re faced with blue skies with no clouds to add interest.

In contrast, bad weather can be a creative photographer’s best friend. Storms are often associated with dramatic clouds and wind can twist trees and other structural elements into interesting shapes. Sunlight struggling through sombre skies can produce irresistibly engaging images. And, although clichø©d, rainbows, sunsets and sunrises can also be worth looking out for.

5. Consider the Sky
Contemplate the balance between sky and land in your shots – and decide which element you’ll favour. If the scene is dominated by a clear blue sky, don’t let it overwhelm the shot. Think carefully about foregrounds and use them to create a sense of depth in your picture.

Look for elements in the foreground to interest the viewer and position the horizon high in the shot. Place the horizon low when the sky is filled with dramatic clouds and the lighting creates interesting patterns and textures.

Straight horizons are a must in landscape shots – unless you wish to create particular impressions. A straight horizon adds tranquility and regularity to the picture, whereas a tilted horizon puts viewers off-balance. A dramatically canted horizon can be very unsettling and this strategy can be used for deliberately creating this effect.

Although it’s possible to straighten horizons in editing software, this always involves cropping the image (which may not be desirable). Try to get it right in camera, using built-in framing guides – if the camera provides one – and most do.


A low camera position focuses attention to the foreground and compositional lines lead the viewer’s eyes into the scene. A small lens aperture ensured adequate depth-of-field to make all elements in the shot appear sharp. The inherent distortion of the wide-angle lens was used to advantage in the shot composition. 
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 24mm, ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/13.)

6. Lines and Shapes
Use structural elements in the landscape to lead viewers’ eyes into and around the scene. Converging lines can give an image depth, scale and perspective. The lines needn’t be actual lines; they can form from a line of trees, the edges of a road, path or track, fences or streams, or other similar elements.

Positioning compositional elements on a geometric shape can help you to create balanced compositions. Triangles are particularly effective in this respect, with isosceles and equilateral triangles producing a feeling of symmetry and right-angled and obtuse-angled triangles giving a more informal composition.

Look for elements that create a focal point in the scene, such as a striking tree or rock formation – or a built structure like a bridge, archway, building or road. Some of these structures can be used to ‘frame’ the main subject and lead viewers’ eyes to the focal point.

Consider the ‘Rule of Thirds’ composition strategy, which divides the frame into a three-by-three grid onto which key compositional elements are positioned. The easiest way to use this strategy is to position key points of interest in the places where the lines intersect, keeping everything of interest in the shot outside the central rectangle.


Several factors combine to make this a successful landscape shot. It was taken in the ‘golden hour’ just after sunrise. Compositional lines lead the viewer’s eye into the picture and the Boab tree on the left side of the stream is positioned on one of the ‘rule of thirds’ lines.
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 28mm, ISO 400, 1/60 second at f/8.)

7. Use Movement to Add Drama
Although many landscape shots create a static impression in viewers, in fact, there’s often some movement when you take the shot. As the photographer, you can choose whether you wish to ‘freeze’ that movement or allow it to blur and convey the sense of movement to your viewers.

Some types of subjects work best with the former approach. These include shots of waves crashing onto rocks and moving clouds (because both rely on structural elements being reproduced). Fast shutter speeds (1/500 second or faster) are required to achieve this effect.

Moving water is often photographed with slow shutter speeds that blur out the movement and create a ‘milky’ effect. Best results are obtained with shutter speeds of 1 second or longer, and the camera must be mounted on a tripod to ensure the surrounding elements in the landscape are sharply rendered. Neutral density filters may be required to obtain slow enough shutter speeds with brightly-lit landscapes.

8. Think Outside the Square
Steer clear of simply reproducing the standard postcard view of the scene. Develop your own style and vision and seek out different viewpoints and different ways of shooting when photographing scenic locations.

Get off the beaten track to find places that aren’t regularly photographed. Explore the environment before taking any shots to see whether more interesting viewpoints exist. There may be higher vantage points that show more of the scenery than the regular lookout.

Try capturing a different-looking picture by adopting a ‘worm’s eye’ view, lying on the ground and pointing the camera up or down. Take time to find your unique spot that lets you create your own response to the scene.


A ‘worm’s eye’ view can provide a different viewpoint and aid shot composition. Leading lines and graphical elements lend an abstract style to this picture. 
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 24mm, ISO 400, 1/125 second at f/8.)

Use your camera’s monochrome mode to help you to focus on shot composition. Because you’re not distracted by colours, structural elements are more noticeable and you have a clearer view of how they are positioned.

When you’ve found a composition that satisfies you, swap back to RGB colour mode to record the complete picture. All in-camera monochrome modes discard colour information so you’ll never be able to restore the colours if you subsequently decide you want a colour picture. It’s very easy to convert colour originals to monochrome with editing software – and the results are usually better than you could achieve with the monochrome mode in your camera.

9. Shoot Panoramas
Many landscapes are simply too wide for the average lens and end up distorted when very wide-angle lenses are used to photograph them. The best way to encompass these scenes is by shooting a series of images and stitching them together post-capture. Most image editors include panorama stitching facilities and many cameras come with stitching software – and also shooting modes to help with shot composition.

Hold your camera vertically to minimise distortions and avoid focal lengths wider than 35mm (in 35mm format). If possible, put the camera on a tripod and ‘pan’ around the scene, overlapping shots by between 30% and 50% (to give the software enough image data to work with).

If you don’t have a tripod, stand in one place and rotate your body at the waist, taking the shots in rapid succession. Use exactly the same camera settings for all shots (don’t rely on auto exposure controls) and set the white balance to match the ambient conditions (daylight or cloud) to minimise the risk of colour shifts between shots. Shoot JPEGs, as most software can’t stitch together other file types.


When a scene is too wide to encompass with a single shot, shooting a panorama sequence enables you to capture it. Four shots were stitched together to produce this panoramic picture.
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 35mm, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/13.5.)

10. Plan to Crop
Some scenes lend themselves to top and bottom cropping that creates a ‘letterbox’ like effect – without requiring you to shoot a panorama. Scenes in which the main compositional elements are arranged across the middle of the frame can look more dramatic when cropped in this way. (You can also use this strategy to get rid of uninteresting skies, and foregrounds that have been blurred through the use of unsuitable lens apertures.)

Some cameras include a 16:9 aspect ratio setting that blacks out the top and bottom of the frame to aid shot composition. This feature is particularly useful for photographers who like to run slideshows on widescreen TV sets or computer monitors.

Landscape Photography Styles
Three styles of landscape photography are generally recognised – representational, impressionistic and abstract – of which the first is by far the most popular. Each type has specific characteristics and requires different qualities from the photographer. Which style you choose will depend on your own creative instincts, the shooting environment and the effect you wish to create.

Representational Landscapes
The representational style aims to show the scene as it is, with no visual manipulation or artifice. However, effective representational landscapes are rarely mere snapshots because they require the photographer to devote considerable attention to composition and detail. Lighting, time of day and weather are also critical elements.

Impressionistic Landscapes
Like the style of painting that came to be known as ‘Impressionism’, impressionistic landscapes use photographic techniques to produce pictures that recreate an impression of a scene that is not necessarily realistic. A familiar example is the use of slow shutter speeds to capture blurred impressions of moving water.

Abstract Landscapes
This style of photography treats the compositional elements in a scene as graphic elements that are arranged for their compositional values. Shape and form take priority over any desire for realistic representation and natural elements in a landscape may be rendered as unrecognisable – or almost so. Compositional elements may be reduced to silhouettes by under-exposure, isolated by extremely close viewpoints, or juxtaposed for contrast or repetition. The arrangement of elements to create a pleasing design is the photographer’s main objective.


Natural patterns in the landscape can lend themselves to abstract compositions in which colours and shapes play a dominant role. 
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 47mm, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/11.)


Light levels are usually adequate for hand-held exposures immediately after the sun has set. The low horizon focuses attention on the sky but the reflections in the bright patches of water create interesting patterns in the foreground 
(Camera: Canon EOS 40D; lens EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM at 17mm, ISO 200, 1/50 second at f/11.)


Looking down from a high vantage point (in this case a helicopter) gives you a more graphical perspective on the landscape. Structural lines and shapes become more apparent, allowing you to produce abstract shots like this illustration.
(Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II; lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 84mm, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/9.)

Article by Margaret Brown –  see Margaret’s Landscape Photography Guide  

Excerpt from  Photo Review Issue 44    

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