Tips for Better Landscape Photographs

Light on Discovery: Canon 1Ds, Canon 24-70 f/2.8L

Here are a few suggestions, especially for the beginner, to capture more compelling landscape photographs.

  1. Know your equipment.  Read your camera manual and become familiar with your tools before heading out to photograph.  Take test photographs and adjust various settings on the camera to see their effects.  There is nothing more frustrating than hunting for the exposure compensation dial while the evening light is fading.  Make sure the batteries are charged, your accessories are easily accessible, and your memory cards are formatted.
  2. Make sure the camera’s viewfinder is focused to your eyes, especially if you wear glasses.  Most modern cameras allow you to adjust the focus of the viewfinder with a small dial next to the eyepiece.  First obtain sharp focus of an object using the camera’s autofocus function.  Then adjust the eyepiece dial (diopter adjustment) until the image looks sharp through the viewfinder.  Remember, this does not apply to rangefinders.
  3. Always carry a good tripod. Yes, even on a bright, sunny day. Often, a small aperture is required to achieve maximum depth of field. To achieve a tack-sharp image, the necessary shutter speed may not be fast enough if the exposure is made hand-held. Second, on a day with challenging lighting conditions, one may want to bracket the exposure.  Bracketing an exposure refers to obtaining a set of under- and over-exposed images. The bracketed images can later be combined in an editing program such as Photoshop to create a high dynamic range (HDR) photograph.  Camera steadiness is a necessity for proper bracketing.  Third, a tripod is immensely helpful in framing a more compelling photograph. When the camera is mounted on a tripod, I find myself taking more time to insure the horizon is straight, the subject is well placed in the frame, and distracting objects are excluded from the composition.
  4. Bring along a remote shutter release (wired or wireless). The timer function on the camera will work in a pinch, but is a poor substitute for a remote shutter release. The remote allows you the trigger the shutter exactly when YOU want to, not 2 or 10 sec after pressing the button. The remote allows hands-free release of the shutter button, minimizing camera shake.  In addition, if your camera permits, use the mirror lock-up function to further minimize camera movement.  Under certain situations, usually at longer focal lengths and exposure times, minute vibrations from the internal mirror as it slaps down can cause enough movement to affect the sharpness of your shot.
  5. Know the weather conditions before going. Unless you own a weather-sealed camera like the Nikon F5/D1 or Canon 1D/1V series, you’ll want to protect your expensive equipment from the elements (perhaps a simple thing like a plastic bag and a portable umbrella).
  6. There is no strict rule for what focal length lens you should use.  The scene, your compositional goals, and personal preference will dictate the focal length.  I often find myself reaching for a wide-angle lens, but I have also made very compelling photographs with a telephoto.  In general for landscape photography, I carry three lenses:  ultra-wide angle (16-24mm), standard (24-100mm), and a medium telephoto (100-200mm).
  7. Ansel Adams once remarked, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”  Keep this in mind as you read the following “rules” of photography.  The opening photograph illustrates many of the points outlined below.
  • Rule of thirds:  Don’t place your main subject in dead center for every shot.  If you mentally divide your scene into thirds, place the subject at one of those division markers.
  • Don’t place the horizon at the center.  Either have 1/3 or 2/3 sky filling the frame.  As a corollary, the horizon should usually be level in the photograph.
  • When possible, use leading lines or S-shaped curves to draw the viewer into the photograph
  • Look for “natural frames” to surround or bracket your subject.
  • Remember the 3 elements of a good landscape photograph: foreground, midground, and background. If possible, try to have something of interest in each of these positions.  However, avoid making your picture too “busy.”  Don’t go out of your way to include every single detail in your shot.  Avoid unnecessary elements from the photograph that may detract from the overall harmony of the composition.
  • Midday light can produce some compelling photographs, however the best light is usually found during the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Rob (@rbp2)
    March 13, 2011

    Hi Mahesh – love your work! Would you mind if I used this photo aon my blog? I do a “Top Pick Thursday” of a photo that I find either inspirational or simply fascinating to which it makes me stop – and think. Not only did this make me stop and really study the photo, you provided great information that I would have loved to stumble upon 10 years ago starting out!

    I would credit and link back to the photo on your site. You can see my blog and the last two Top Pick Thursday’s here:

    Thanks and let me know when you get a chance!


  • Mahesh
    March 13, 2011

    Thanks for the kind words and for asking permission before using my photograph, Rob. Please see the email I sent you.

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