How to improve your landscape photography

I believe in sharing knowledge and experience, so today I wanted to share some of my tips as to how you can improve your skills and go from images looking like this

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to this

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Plan and research

First off I’ve learned that planning my shots and doing a lot of research before I go out and shoot helps me get the shots that I want more often than not.

I use Flickr, Instagram and 500px to search for images from the area where I’m thinking about shooting. This is great for inspiration, and it also gives me an idea as to how I can get an image with my own twist from the area so that my image stands out. After browsing for images, I use the Photographers Ephemeris to find out when the light will be best for the specific shot.

Then I go scouting. Seeing a location on the screen is not enough to get the real feel for it, so I have to spend some time just walking around exploring and finding the best spots to set up to get the shot that I want. I like to do this in broad daylight. This way I don’t have to throw away golden hour scouting, but can concentrate on getting my image.

Sunrise, sunset and golden hour

As mentioned, I do my scouting and researching during broad daylight. The reason for this is that the light is so harsh when the sun is up high, that it doesn’t give you the best images. Your images from this time of day tend to look washed out and flat like the first image in this post, so try to avoid if possible.

The best times to shoot during the day is around sunrise or sunset. Sunrise happens fast, so you have to be out before the sun is actually rising. Get up when it’s dark, get in position and watch the sky get the golden glow of the sun rising. The light during sunrise is soft and diffuse, and you have to think about this when you do your camera settings for the shot. Think longer shutter speeds and a lower ISO instead of raising the ISO. Morning light is also cooler, so think about this when you set your white balance. If you shoot in raw (and you should), you will be able to adjust the white balance well in post, but it’s always nice to get it as right as possible in camera.

Sunset starts with golden hour. Golden hour is from about an hour or so before sunset, and gives you beautiful golden light. The colour in the clouds come out, and you can find your pinks, oranges and yellows against a sky that is still blue. But it’s not only the sky that looks the best during golden hour, so does the landscape in general. The softer light makes for more debt in your image, and debt is good. Make sure you keep on shooting through golden hour and quite a while after the sun has set. The light will be changing constantly, and this gives you the possibility to change things up with focal length and composition and get several images from one shoot. Remember not only to shoot directly into the sunset, but use the light that the sunset casts on the landscape around you as well!

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Golden hour from Måna, Tynset, Norway.

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As the sun set over Helgøya, Norway.

 Use a tripod

With landscapes the general rule is that you want to be able to keep your camera really steady to make the images as sharp as possible all the way from the foreground to the back of the image. To be able to achieve the field of dept that you want, you usually have to use a narrow aperture. Because you always shoot at your lowest possible ISO to avoid noise, you will often find yourself in situations where your shutter speed won’t allow you to shoot sharp handheld images. So without more explanation I’ll just tell you to get yourself a decent and stable tripod, and use it whenever you shoot landscapes.

A tripod will also allow you to be more creative with your photography as it opens up for shooting long exposures giving you the nice movement in the clouds for instance, or locking your composition and doing multiple exposures for instance.

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Here I have used a tripod to make sure that my composition stays the same through the whole sunset. This image is actually three exposures taken about an hour apart from start to finish.

Keep your hands off the camera

To make sure your images is razor sharp, use a remote or a cable release. That way you avoid camera shake from you pressing down the shutter or removing your hand. If you don’t have a remote or a cable release, fear not. You can achieve the same effect from setting your camera on a two second timer, so that the camera is able to stabilise between you pressing the shutter and the image actually being exposed.

Low ISO and narrow aperture

Here’s the thing about landscape shots; you don’t have to care about your shutter speed unless you are using it to be creative. What you need to think about as far as camera settings go is;

  • Use the lowest ISO that your camera will allow. This to make sure you get as little noise as possible. I try to shoot all my landscapes at ISO 100.
  • Use a narrow aperture (high f-number). Most of the time I use either f11, f16 or f22, depending on light and how I read the composition. Sometimes I will go as low as f8, but that is only whenever I don’t have any foreground interest or I want to blur the foreground out.

Let the camera decide what shutter speed it needs to expose the image correctly by setting your camera to aperture mode, and use the exposure compensation to get the exposure to your liking.

Use filters

It’s totally possible to get great landscape shots without filters. But if you want to take it a step further, try using filters to get the exposures exactly like you want them.

Polarisation filters help you manage reflections, increase colour saturation, darker your skies just make your landscape more vivid. If you’re only going to buy one filter for your landscape shots, buy a polarisation filter. And make sure you learn how to use it. Going overboard will give you a lot of noise, so it’s all about trial and error.

ND-filters (neutral density-filters) are great for helping you get longer exposures. You want longer exposures when you for instance are shooting water and want to either blur it out or capture the movement instead of freezing it.

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Polarisation filters helps your landscapes to be more vivid.

Keep warm, energised and hydrated

Getting the image you want can be hard work. Make sure to remember to pack an extra jacket, mittens or a hat for those hours waiting for the light. If you get cold, it’s so easy to loose your patience and miss your shot. Also an energy bar and water is essential even for the shortest photography hikes.

Go out and shoot – a lot

There’s no way you’ll learn how to make great landscape images without photographing a lot. People might say that landscapes are the easiest form of photography, but I would like to object to that. It demands a lot of days out when the weather is total rubbish. Or the light is just not present. Or you can’t find your inspiration. Or some couple in love are ruining your composition by just totally neglecting the fact that you have set up your tripod to capture that scene in which they now are setting up their picnic basket. But as you spend your fair share of hours out there with your camera, observing nature at its finest, you will have some moments leaving you feeling on top of the world. And you will have amazing images to show for it.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. I would really like to see some of your images, so if you would tag them with #tllp (Tonje Lilleaas Landscape Photography) in Instagram, I would be really happy! Also, make sure to subscribe to avoid missing out on future posts, and follow me on Instagram @tonjelilleaasphotography to see some of my images. Looking forward to seeing your shots, have fun shooting!

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