A lot of beginners start by shooting landscapes. It’s a great way to learn your camera because you never have to worry about the subject getting bored while you figure out the settings.
Landscape photography can also be fun, peaceful, and relaxing. It can push you to visit exotic locations and try adventures outside of your comfort zone.
But you have to start somewhere. So if you’re just getting started, these landscape photography tips for beginners will get you going on the right path.
1. Light Is Everything
When it comes to landscape photography, the light is what makes or breaks the photo.
Finding a great location and composition for your photo only gets you part of the way to a compelling photograph. Interesting, unique, or dramatic light is what seperates a great photo from a snapshot.
But you also don’t have any control over the sun or the weather.
There are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance to capture great light when shooting landscapes.
Shoot At Golden Hour
The time around sunrise and sunset is ideal for finding interesting and dramatic light.
Don’t Give Up Quickly
Natural light can change…sometimes quickly. So don’t give up if it isn’t exactly what you had min mind. Sometimes you can spend hours waiting and then all of a sudden, you’ll get a few minutes of spectacular light. Then it goes away as fast as it arrived. So be patient.
Shoot Before And After Storms
A little hack for finding interesting natural light is to track the edge of a storm system. Very often this means the sun will still be out but there will be dramtic clouds in the sky.
Expert landscape photographers are also pretty decent meterologists by necessity. They keep an eye on the weather and plan their outings accordingly. This is a skill that comes with practice so start paying attention to the weather now.
Use Lens Filters To Control The Light
Filters like polarizing filters and neutral density filters are essential pieces of gear when shooting landscapes.
2. Try The Rule Of Thirds (then break the rule)
The rule of thirds is very common in photography and you’ll likely hear it often while you are learning.
In short, the “rule” says that you should divide your frame into three parts (both vertically and horizontally and try to place the subjects or most interesting parts of the image on one of those lines.
The idea is that avoiding placing the subject right in the middle will make the image more interesting or more compelling. Very often that is true.
Most people just naturally place the subject in the middle when they are taking a snapshot. We’ve grown accustomed to that over many years so when you see an image that uses the rule of thirds…it looks different and unique.
So as a beginner, you should practice using the rule of thirds (mostly to break the habit you might have of automatically putting everything in the middle).
But then you should break the rule. Because there are no actual rules in landscape photography.
The only reason the rule of thirds exists is to give photographers a way to break from the norm and create a compelling photograph. But there are unlimited ways you can create a compelling photograph.
Try different things. Experiment. Landscape photography is all about using the landscape creatively.
3. Get A Good Tripod
The tripod is the second most essential piece of gear to a landscape photographer (next to the camera itself).
Many new photographers make the mistake of getting a cheap tripod. Very often a camera store will bundle one in with the camera to get a bigger profit on the sale. Don’t fall for this.
A quality tripod can last a very long time if it is well cared for (perhaps even decades). A cheap tripod can mean buying a new one every year or more…and they don’t work as well either.
4. Go Wide Then Get Small
Part of making creative or compelling images is using focal lengths that are different from what a person sees with their eyes.
Wide angle lenses are perfect for beginners getting started with landscape photography.
Wider lanses make it easier to get focus and the perspective is often more compelling than a more standard lens like a 50mm. A great place to start is around 18-24mm.
Now do the opposite of what I just said.
Look for the small details in a landscape. The leaves of a tree, the petals of a flower, patterns in a rock, or even the way a river bends around a corner.
A landscape is more than just the massive vistas. There are details right at your feet that also tell the story of that location. In many instances, the most compelling images aren’t what you expect.
When you visit a location, instead of just getting the one “money shot” that everyone visiting that spot gets…try to tell a story. Document your journey if you had to hike to the location. Find details that are unique to that location.
Would you rather have 100 frames of the same big vista and end up with 1 photo after you choose the best OR have that one big image PLUS another 100 that tell a story from the location?
Another benefit of finding the small details in a landscape is that you are probably finding something unique that has not been photographed before.
5. Get A Different Angle
A lot of new landscape photographers find a spot, set up their tripod at eye level, attach the camera, and start snapping away.
Don’t be like most new photographers.
Look for a unique angle.
If you are using a wide angle lens, try getting really low to the ground and finding something interesting to include in the foreground. With a wide angle, you can still capture the wide scene as the background, but having an interesting foreground element will make your image all that much better.
6. Move Around
This goes along with No. 5. Don’t set up your tripod in one spot and get so involved in camera settings that you never move it.
A good way to avoid this is to leave the tripod in your bag when you first arrive at a location.
Then take your camera (or even your phone) and start moving around testing different spots and compositions. Don’t worry about focus and exposure at this point…just experiment with different looks.
Make note of a few spots that you like the best.
Then you can break out the tripod and start focusing in on each of those spots one at a time. Because you’ve planned ahead, you now have a plan to “work the scene” and not get bogged down on one spot.
7. Plan Ahead
Planning ahead is equally about creating amazing images and keeping yourself safe. Planning ahead will help you with both.
First the safety stuff.
If you are traveling somewhere remote you either need to take a friend with you, let others know exactly where you are headed, or both.
Do some research on the area you are visiting. Find out if there are safety concerns. Things like difficult terrain or dangerous wildlife are really important to know about ahead of time.
If you are shooting at a beach (especially rocky coastlines) then be familiar with the times of the tides. You could end up going into a shoreline cave and discovering that your exit has filled with water as the tide rises. Don’t be caught off guard.
Finally, know the weather and dress accordingly. Also make sure your gear is prepared for the weather. Rain hoods and other protective gear are inexpensive and can save you the cost of a new camera.
Preparing also can help you make better images.
Use a planner to identify where the light is coming from and where the sun will be rising and setting. Photo Pills is an amazing app that does this (and a lot more).
Use google maps and google earth to do some advance scouting to get a basic idea of that you’ll encounter when you get there. This can save you a lot of time and often reveals great photo opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.
If you can, visit the location a few times. Very often, you’ll get your best images only after you are familiar with a spot and can plan for specific light direction or times of year.