A Newbie’s Very Basic Guide To Landscape Photography

Yosemite Photo by Scott Bourne

I haven’t always been a bird photographer. I’ve done my share of landscape photography. Since landscape photography is wildly popular and there are new people jumping into the genre every day, I decided to compile a newbie’s guide to getting good landscape photos. If you know someone who’s new to photography who might be interested, please share this with them.

Palouse Photo by Scott Bourne

Let’s start with gear…

First the good news – nearly any camera will do. But for best results, interchangeable lenses cameras offer the most flexibility. Likewise just about any sensor size will do. Some people will argue that you need a full-frame sensor to do this work, but based on the newer cameras available, anything can do the job unless you are planning on printing larger than 60.”

You’ll want a camera that allows you to control the settings manually. You’ll want a wide lens and a medium telephoto lens (or a zoom that covers both) to give you options. For serious landscape work, tripods are a must and ball heads w/Arca Swiss style tongue / groove systems preferred.

Slot Canyon photos by Scott Bourne

Next up is subject matter – what to shoot…

Here your choices are wide open but some suggested starting points are:
Bodies of water
Waterfalls
Mountains
Trees
Canyons
Forests
Sunrise/Sunset

After you know what you want to shoot, you have to know how you want to approach it…

Minimalism
Color
Lines/Layers
Shapes
Patterns
Context

Mountain Photo by Scott Bourne

Next you need to know WHERE you want to shoot…

If you live in North America you almost certainly live within short driving distance of one or more of the following places:
Local parks, lakes, rivers, forests
State parks
National wildlife refuges
National parks

If you want to get a jumpstart on all of this just pay for a guided tour by a reputable photography tour group.

One of the most important factors in a good landscape photo is composition…

Good composition in landscape photography starts out the same as most other types of photography. The following all apply:

Rule of thirds
Balance
Clean background
Use layers (Not Photoshop layers but layering in picking objects in the foreground & background to include in your shot)
Strive for depth
You will also want to pay a great deal of attention to light…

You will also want to pay a great deal of attention to light…Look for, study and be ready to decide on:

Direction of Light
Side lighting often great for landscapes
Backlit for dramatic effect
Quality of Light
Harsh/Soft/Diffuse
Color of Light
Warm/Cold/Natural
Quantity of Light
How much or little

Having good light is usually the difference between an otherwise poor photograph and a good one.

Mt. Rainier Photo by Scott Bourne

Here are some miscellaneous tips…

*Be sure to photograph everything in both horizontal and vertical positions to give yourself choices later.
*Try making panoramic photos using stitching software in your phone or in your photo editing app.
*Don’t forget to account for high dynamic range. Programs like Photomatix Pro can help with this.
*Most of the original masters of landscape photography shot in B&W. You too can do this even with a digital camera. Check your manual for your settings or better still, shoot in RAW and convert to B&W in post.

After you get the shot you’ll need to do some post-processing…

I use Luminar from Skylum Software for most of my post-processing. It’s easy to learn and use and delivers amazing results very quickly. It’s also something you buy once, instead of rent. (Disclaimer – I used to be employed by Skylum.)

Of course you can also use Lightroom and/or Photoshop from Adobe.

Whether or not you have Photoshop or some other post-processing program, you might be better off as a beginner relying on presets or plug-ins.

Presets / Plug-ins save time in post, let you spend more time shooting less time in front of a screen

Presets / Plug-ins help pros and newbies alike by getting images to look good in just a few clicks

Presets / Plug-ins part of my regular workflow and I use Perfectly Clear on every single image to get it 95-100% ready

Conclusion

Like any form of photography, landscape photography takes practice and dedication. The good news is that in most places it’s pretty easy to get to special locations that offer a visual feast for the budding landscape shooter.


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