6 Powerful Tips for Prize-Winning Landscape Photography

Landscape photography goes all the way back to the invention of photography. If you’ve struggled with creating great landscapes, or haven’t tried landscape photography yet, this tutorial will provide you with six tips for mastering the technical and artistic aspects of landscape photography.

Landscape photography

The definition of landscape photography is quite broad, however a majority of landscape photographs involve a lot of natural scenery, are usually horizontal instead of vertical, and make use of a wide-angle lens for a broad, wide view.

Landscape photography

1. Choose The Best Time Of The Day For Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is both rewarding and challenging. Often the success of your landscape photography is dependent on good or dramatic weather. In this section you will learn what time of day is best for landscape photography, and how to maximize that time for the best results.

Landscape photography

1.1 Photograph Before Sunrise

While it may not be enjoyable to wake up and leave your house when it’s still dark, creating landscape photos before the sun rises will give you the best chance for success. The reason that professional landscape photographers choose to shoot before the sun rises is because the land gets bathed in a soft and beautiful light.

Landscape photography before sunrise

1.2 Photograph After Sunrise

Don’t go home when the sun has risen! Keep photographing landscapes for another hour or so. Sometimes called the Golden Hour, or Magic Hour, this is when the sunlight is the warmest and softest. Sunlit areas will have a happy feel, while shadows usually have a cool, bluish color.

Landscape photography after sunrise

1.3 Photograph Using Midday Harsh Light

While it’s true that a lot of landscape photographers go home after they create their early morning photographs, you can still keep shooting. Take look at this landscape photo below. It’s a nice shot but a little boring because of the harsh noontime sunlight directly above.

Landscape photography at midday

To give your noontime landscape photo a bit more punch, add a human-made subject which will distract your viewer from the harsh light. You may have to wait awhile for something to enter your picture, but like this sailboat, it will be worth the wait!

Landscape photography at midday

1.4 Photograph Before Sunset

Go to your preferred landscape location an hour prior to sunset, and use that hour to photograph the beautiful sunlit scenery that surrounds you. Most landscape photography consists of natural scenes only, however if you see a beautiful scene with houses or farmland, feel free to add them into your photo.

landscape photography before sunset

1.5 Photograph After Sunset

After the sun sets, the sky and landscape appear to have a soft blue color which works perfectly for landscape photography. Because the light in the sky is not very bright after sunset, make sure you use a tripod to get sharp photos.

Landscape photography after sunset

2. Lens Choices For Landscapes

The lens that came with your camera, often called the kit lens, is perfectly fine for landscape photography. All you need to do is set your lens to its widest zoom length (properly known as the lens focal length). For example, if your DSLR or mirrorless-style camera has a lens zoom range of 18mm-55mm, zoom to the lowest millimeter (mm) number on the lens, which in this case is the 18mm mark.

Landscape photography lenses

To illustrate what 18mm on your zoom lens could look like, take a look at this photo:

Landscape Lens choices wide angle

Next, take a look at the photo below, which is ‘zoomed-in’ to a zoom range much closer to 55mm:

Landscape lens choices zoom

If you feel the kit lens that came with your camera isn’t wide enough for your landscape photography needs, there’s a class of lenses made especially for landscape photographers called ultra-wide angle lenses. Before you ever purchase an additional lens however, confirm with the lens seller that it will fit your specific camera body (the make and model of your camera).

For Canon users, this is the Canon ultra-wide lens which has a wide-angle zoom range of 10mm-18mm:

Canon landscape photography lens

Canon users can also choose from great third-party lens manufacturers such as Sigma. This is Sigma’s 10mm-20mm ultra-wide lens:

Sigma Landscape photography lens

As well as Canon users, Nikon owners can choose between Nikon lenses, Sigma, Tokina, Tamron, plus other third-party lens companies. The Tamron 10mm-24mm lens is a great choice for landscape photography.

Tamron Nikon landscape photography lens

The Tokina 11mm-16mm lens for Nikon cameras is another excellent choice for creating beautiful, wide landscape photos.

Tokina Nikon Landscape photography lens

Mirrorless cameras have been gaining in popularity in the past few years, and if you are an owner of a Fujifilm X Series camera, this Fujifilm 10mm-24mm lens is used by both professionals and amateurs.

Fujifilm landscape photography lens

If you own an Olympus Micro Four-Thirds camera such as the OM-D series, this Olympus 9mm-18mm lens will work well for landscapes.

Olympus landscape photography lens

This mirrorless Panasonic Lumix 7mm-14mm lens will provide the width that you need for expansive landscapes.

Lumix landscape photography lens

3. Why Tripods Are Essential For Landscape Photography

Tripods are great for creating unique early morning or evening landscapes photos. When it’s too dark outside to hand-hold your camera, a tripod is essential. Take for example this photo of the ocean about an hour after sunset. The water looks calm, but it was actually full of waves.

Landscape tripod usage at night

When you photograph landscapes that include water when its dark outside, and you also use a tripod, the water will appear to be smooth like ice. When it comes to choosing a tripod, MeFoto is a reputable company with many lightweight tripod options.

Landscape tripods MeFOTO

4. Composing Options For Landscapes

Composition is central to creating great landscape photographs. Below are seven composition tips that will help you create amazing landscape photos.

4.1 Use Angles In You Landscape Photos

Do you see a triangle shape within the photograph below? The beach sand makes a triangle, and the water also is triangular in shape. To create landscape photos with a strong emotional impact, try to include triangles, circles, curves, and arches in your photos. Each geometric shape has a unique feel to it.

Landscape Composition angles

4.2 Use Verticals Only When You Have A Strong Vertical Scene

People are used to landscape photography being in landscape orientation (the photo is wider than it is high). The exception to this is when your scene has a strong vertical aspect that visually leads your viewer up a pathway. This photo works better as a vertical because of the way that the grass was cut by the farmer.

Landscape Composition vertical

4.3 Use Back-Lighting For Extra Landscape Drama

Back-lighting simply means that the subject in your landscape is being illuminated by the sun, from behind the subject. In the case of the following photo the tree is the subject. This technique works best when your landscape scene has a large tree, as the tree will cast a dramatic shadow.

Landscape Composition back-lit

4.4 Add A Small Recognizable Object For Scale

While landscape photographs often only show natural scenes, its fine to add human-made objects to provide a sense of scale. In the photo below, the farm house provides the viewer with a sense of scale, which helps the viewer understand just how wide the landscape is.

Landscape Composition scale

4.5 Choose To Zoom In Close To Create An Abstract Landscape

Landscape photos are usually created with wide-angle lenses. If you see really interesting light in the distance however, feel free to zoom your lens in” similar to the photo below. The term “zoom in” means that you are changing your lens from a wide-angle view to what’s called a telephoto, or zoomed in view. For example, on an 18mm-55mm kit lens, 18mm is called a wide-angle, and 55mm is often called zoomed in.

Landscape Composition zoom

4.6 Add People To Your Landscapes

While it’s rare to include people in a landscape, sometimes it’ll help make a mediocre photo more interesting. While the photo below was a decent landscape, it lacked a sense of drama. By waiting for a person to walk along the beach the scene became more interesting.

Landscape Composition people

4.7 Compose Your Landscape With The Rule Of Thirds

This early morning landscape photo turned out nicely, however it could be even better if photographed using the rule of thirds. Do you see how there is too much white sky in this photo?

Landscape Composition rule of thirds

The extra white sky really doesn’t add any value to the photo. Instead, it could’ve been composed much better by using the rule of thirds. In the following corrected version, the top 1/3 is white sky, the middle 1/3 is cloud and distant land, and the lower 1/3 is the foreground landscape.

Landscape Composition rule of thirds

Below is the final image that uses the rule of thirds:

Landscape Composition rule of thirds

5. Use “Landscape Mode” For Best Results

Most cameras have a similar rotating dial as the image below. If your camera doesn’t have a physical dial that look like this, it will at least have one within your camera’s menu. For landscape photography it’s best to switch to what’s called ‘Landscape Mode’.

Landscape photography mode

You can access this mode by switching the dial to the little icon that looks like a mountain. Landscape mode helps your photography by keeping everything in your wide-angle photo sharp and in focus.

6. Optional Camera Accessories For Landscape Photography

While there are potentially hundreds of optional gadgets on the market aimed at landscape photographers, there are two that stand out as being very useful. In this section you will learn about lens filters for landscapes, and remote shutter release options.

6.1 Use UV Filters For Landscape Photos

‘UV’ is short for ‘ultra-violet,’ and a UV filter has physical properties that block out unwanted bluish haze from your landscape photos. The UV filter also works as a lens protector, so many photographers keep this filter attached to their lens at all times.

UV filter Tiffen

When shopping for a UV filter make sure you get the correct size, which is always in millimeters. For example, on the front of your lens you will see millimeter lens diameter markings such as 52mm, 58mm, 72mm, etc. The Tiffen UV filter above is for lenses with a common 52mm diameter.

6.2 Use Polarizing Filters for Landscapes That Include Water

Polarizing filters are very good for any landscape photo that includes water, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. By rotating the filter after you attached it to your camera lens, the filter will remove water reflections and make the sky a rich, dark blue color. This Tiffen circular polarizer filter is a popular choice.

Polarizer filter Tiffen

Make sure you choose the right filter diameter that works with your own particular lens. Some common filter diameters are 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 72mm, and 77mm.

6.3 Use Remote Shutter Releases To Avoid Camera Shake

When photographing landscapes it’s critical to keep your camera very still. Tripods are a great help as they can reduce the chance of getting a shaky or blurry landscape photo. An additional option to almost guarantee a sharp landscape photo is to buy a remote shutter release.

Canon remote shutter release

The Canon RS60 remote shutter release attaches to your Canon DSLR via a cable. You can take your landscape photo by clicking the remote shutter release button instead of touching your camera. This helps to reduce camera shake during picture-taking, as your hand doesn’t touch the camera body.

Another remote shutter release option is a radio controlled version that doesn’t have any cables. With radio controlled remote shutter releases you can still take a picture even if you are up to 16 feet away from your camera. This third-party remote shutter release by Neewer is made for Nikon DSLR cameras:

Landscape Nikon Remote shutter release

One of the wonderful aspects of landscape photography is how its definition is very broad. You are free to use as much creative license as you like to create your landscape images!

Landscape nature photography

To summarize this tutorial, choose the best time of the day for your style of landscape photography. Use the widest angle zoom focal length on your lens, and use a tripod when the sky isn’t bright. Remember the composition rules, and use Landscape Mode. Don’t forget about filters and remote shutter releases for even better landscape results. Have fun with your next landscape photography session!

  • Patty

    Excellent! Would you comment on L lenses please.

    • Sure Patty! L-series lenses are the very best Pro lenses in the Canon lens family. They are very expensive, and extremely sharp. I have used L-series lenses for the past decade, and had amazing results from them. I hope that helps! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Yvonne Pratt

    Thanks for posting. I found this a very helpful tutorial📸

    • My great pleasure Yvonne! Thanks for checking out our site . . . we have many great plans for it. Have a great day! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Jerry Morgan

    I love landscape photography. This session was very helpful to me as most of my landscapes are shot with an Olympus DSLR camera using the 9-18mm lens which works very well. However, recently invested in the 12-40 mm PRO lens which is not as wide but takes amazing pictures for the right situation. Your suggestions will enable me to do an even better job on future shots.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise,
    Jerry

    • Hi Jerry, I very much appreciate you taking the time to comment. I too love landscapes, and it will certainly be an important part of this blog in the future. Thanks again! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Congrats on a great blog. Currently out of a camera but soaking as much knowledge as possible. Both my iphone and my DSLR are damaged. =(
    My Oly 4/3 14-45 mm kit lens is not focussing and makes a whirring sound. My 40-150 mm works just fine. Any ideas?
    Love your photos and your writing as well.

  • Linda House

    Hi Mark, thank you for such clear instructions and inspirational illustrations . I liked your very minimalist arty photos. Your suggestions are a very complimentary addition to those from Emil for the iPhone photography. You have inspired me to try harder with my picture taking- Linda H, Healesville, Vic, Australia

    • Linda this is a very lovely comment and I really appreciate it! Thanks for being a part of this site!

  • Lois Harmon

    Hi Mark
    I love your interesting comments and the photos you have included. I have a Nikon Wide Optical Zoom Camera and love experimenting, especially with landscapes.

    • Thanks for commenting Lois, I really appreciate it!

  • Marilyn Sandness McAdams

    Love taking landscapes! These are great steps to compose a photo.
    I have a Nikon D5300 with an 18-140 lens, but want to get the 10-20 lens that’s out by Sigma!

    • Yes the Sigma is super wide and really good! Thanks Marilyn

  • Cliff McFarlane

    Mark, thank you for your informative, logical and clear teaching. The photos really support and give a clear picture to the points you make. I enjoyed your take on lenses especially as I’m in the precess of upgrading mine. Your use of triangles makes the photos full of atmosphere 🙂

    • Thanks so much for this comment Cliff, and all the best with any new lens purchases!

  • Nancy Taylor

    Wonderful article.Can’t wait to try some of these tips on our trip to the Baltic sea.
    Thank you

  • Margaret Burdge

    Thank you, Mark. Your suggestions are interesting, inspiring and easy to follow. Great examples–makes me want to run out and start shooting!

    • That’s the exact comment I am hoping to hear Margaret 🙂

  • Orang Kampung

    Thanks for your article

  • ron clark

    Got some good tips, thanks a lot!

  • Carol Cassidy

    Good information. Since I have so much invested in my DSLR I still want to be able to learn all I can to use it as well as my iPhone for my photography. Thanks

    • That is certainly why I created this site Carol, to help those who have a DSLR get the most out of it. Thanks!

  • Christa Gerard

    Thank you for the great tips!

  • Sandy K Greever

    Thanks for info.

  • Susan

    Thanks for the tips. In particular, I’d never thought of using landscape mode and can’t wait to try it!

  • Bernard Kramer

    great information, with wonderful examples nicely set forth for both amateur and professional alike, thank you Mark once again!

  • John Bean

    Thanks, Mark. Great information. Looking forward to trying some of the techniques.