Basics for landscape photography.

Ben Egbert

Forum Helper
Staff member
You want to take landscape photographs? Where do you start? What things should you take into consideration. How can you increase your odds for coming back home with some photographs you can be proud of?

Here is how I do it.

First I choose a place in advance that has some intrinsic beauty and has the potential for some unique quality of light or drama. Mountains, canyons, waterfalls, seascapes grand vistas are all potential locations.

For distant locations involving long drives and motels, choose an appropriate season, winter for snow, fall for color, spring for vibrant green etc.

The next thing is to choose the time of day. You can get help here from the TPE, the Photographers Ephemeris, a program that shows the sun and moon angles and phases, times etc.

This helps you plan when to be there and where the sun or moon will rise and set.

Unless already familiar with the location, you need to scout the places usually the day before for sunrises and during the day for sunsets. You need to have an idea about which lens to use, and where to stand. But some places are actually better mid morning, mid day or even mid afternoon. Not all places require golden light.

For icons, you will probably have other photographers to contend with so you need to arrive early, stake out your place and hope nobody gets in front of you. Icons often have very limited composition choices unless you move a bit and do a non- icon composition in which case it is no longer an icon shot. But I have found the icon is an icon for a reason, it’s usually the best view and or has the best light.

For local places, watch the weather and just head out on promising evenings. Sunrises require a bit more planning and it’s imperative to arise early enough to be someplace at dawn. At home I look for sunrises and sunset each day so that I have a feel for the local conditions that give rise to them.

You only have so many choices about where to stand, which lens to use etc. In most cases when shooting primes, you may need to plan a crop. A properly leveled and positioned camera has a tendency to produce centered horizons. This can be fixed by cropping from top or bottom to get an off center horizon, sometime I tilt the camera, but usually not as it will cause vertical elements to lean.

Example of more centered full size image
130922-4578-5dm3 11716.jan 2016 photo fil.jpg

Example of same image cropped from the bottom

130922-4578-5dm3 11716.jan 2016 photo fil crp.jpg

It’s nice to start taking shots well before the peak light. This is a chance to check first for composition and decide on the lens focal length. Once focal length is chosen work on focus. Next take a few test images and get the exposure figured out. That will change with the light of course.

I sometimes use a polarizer if I am at 35mm or longer, or a ND filter if I need a long exposure, but I no longer use ND grads because of too many color cast issues and witness lines or overly dark sky’s.

F11 is my standard aperture for landscapes. I have my focus training based on f11 and I get most of the possible depth of field, few dust bunnies and near maximum lens sharpness. ISO starts at 100 and shutter speed goes where required. Working from a tripod with MLU and cable release, I usually have the option to shoot at low shutter speeds unless it is windy. I always start with ISO100 but prefer not to have motion in my shots so I bump ISO to as much as 400 to preserve a shutter speed that freezes motion.

171209-3728-Canon EOS M.jpg

If your camera has a timer and auto bracketing in live view mode one press of the release gives a pause then the fires off a set of brackets.

171209-3731-Canon EOS M.jpg

For flowing water shots, try to get 1/10 second and settle for 1/5 to 1/13 or so. This may mean going to f22 and ISO50. A ND filter is useful for very long water shots.

During the peak light, its good to bracket, but the improved DR of modern cameras mean less is required than in the old days. Check the histogram and make sure nothing is blown other than direct sun. Then make sure you have some shots that include shadow detail.

Aperture priority is my preferred mode of shooting. A good bracket set is 3 shots in 1/3 stop increments when the DR is not real challenging. This allows a very fine exposure selection in post processing. But if the DR is difficult go as high as 1-1/3 stops above and below the middle exposure and up to a 5 shot bracket.

Stay well after peak light, sometimes up to an hour after sunrise or ½ hour after sunset. The soft light proceeding sunrise often eliminates shadows and provides a chance to shoot into canyons and get detail never seen in strong light when the canyons are typically in deep shade.

Practicing photography at local places is a great way to get prepared for the times when you have traveled to some iconic or special location that you cannot afford to visit often. I tend to post these for comment and confuse people who think all images must be great art or trashed. Great art is pretty rare. Good quality shots of ordinary scenes are not junk in my opinion. They constitute most of our output and are the means for growth. Every now and again I get a pretty nice image when I was only going out for practice.

Getting up very early like 3:00AM is not unheard of. For me, I am willing to drive long distances, hike up to a mile and climb as much as 500 vertical feet to elevations of 9,000 feet or so. Backpacking is out 3 miles in the desert is out. More vigorous people will go further and get better images, but this is a hobby not a torture. The level we are willing to go to for our hobby is a tradeoff between the desire for perfection and the effort required or even possible.

My best work will be local places with extraordinary light or drama of some sort. Or it will be an icon, again with some extraordinary light or drama. The local shot has the advantage of being less familiar; the icon has the advantage of being one of the most gorgeous places on earth.

Just being there and seeing the gorgeous places we have at the peak of their beauty Is the ultimate reward for me.

Ben Egbert

Forum Helper
Staff member
Glad it was helpful to you I might revise a few things for example with my Canon R5 I seldom bracket I just expose to avoid blowing the highlights and with newer software I can usually bring up the shadows
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