Can’t Miss Landscape Tips

Twin Captains in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area

Every photographer hears the call of the wild at some point. I used to get up at 4 am to haul a Bush Pressman D model 4×5 out into the wilderness along with a steel tripod that was a handy companion in a bar fight but quite a load to pack around otherwise.

The great thing about shooting landscapes is they’re not moving very fast. It’s easy to keep a bead on them. All the same you keep seeing the same mistakes in shot after shot: The horizon splitting the shot across the middle, no point of interest, bad lighting, and no shot lines for continuity.

Luckily you don’t have to haul a camera the size of microwave oven up a mountain trail in the dark to get good landscape photos. Anyone with a decent camera and a tripod should be able to take postcard quality landscape shots by keeping a few simple rules in mind.

Use A Tripod

Today there are aluminum and carbon fiber tripods that weigh very little, or a Gorilla Pod that will easily fit in your backpack. Take one.

Two reasons for a tripod: One is so you can choose an f-stop to get the maximum depth of field. Unless you’re going for bokeh with a foreground object placement, most of the time you want the smallest aperture (highest f-stop) that you can swing for a landscape to capture the maximum amount of detail.

The other reason for a tripod is for water shots where a slow shutter speed will give the water a foggy, smooth appearance.

Don’t Split The Horizon

Look back on our tips for composition and remember those apply to landscapes as well.

When it comes to the horizon, it’s a rare shot that splits the horizon along the center line and still looks good. Decide whether you want to emphasis the foreground or the sky and align the horizon along the appropriate third.

Horizon line
The horizon line is a little too close to center in this shot

Look For a Foreground Subject

To make mental composition easier look for a foreground with some interesting detail and frame around that.

The biggest offender in this category tend to be beach shots. When the horizon is on the upper third, there’s this huge, featureless expanse of sand in the foreground. Try to find some dunes or beach grasses to break up all that sand.

Converging Lines

One pro tip for taking better landscapes is to start asking yourself what elements are leading the eye of the viewer in your shot.

If you don’t have good foreground lines, start looking around for roads, power lines, tree lines, anything that take a point of reference and lead it toward a subject.

Wait For It

In movie production the hour just on either side of sunset is called the “Golden Hour” for a reason. That’s when the quality of sunlight is at its warmest, with a reddish gold glow that saturates colors and brings out contrast.

That golden moment in lighting is worth waiting for. I try to get setup at least a half-hour early and shoot through the whole range of golden hour. As the light angle shifts you’ll be amazed at the different colors, patterns and shadows that change from one minute to the next. It is really quite a remarkable time of day.