Landscape photography is one of the most popular photography styles all around the world.
And for good reason.
With the beautiful and varied landscape found around each and everyone of us there are so many places to head for great photo opportunities.
Whether you love nature and wildlife photography or of capturing majestic mountains getting to know the best settings for your environment plays a huge role in how well your images will turn out.
Landscape photography is great as you do not necessarily need a ton of specialized gear to capture epic and jaw dropping images. A lot of people get great images with their smartphones or entry level cameras. But the fun of landscape photography is you can also dig into the gear to help you capture that perfect shot.
As a matter of fact, most people find getting into landscape, and nature and wildlife photography to be easier than many other photography styles such as portrait and street photography.
Keep in mind that easier does not mean that it isn’t fun or that it doesn’t require practice and learning new skills. Just like all styles of photography, the more time you spend behind the camera practicing your art the better you will get.
And to reach your potential it is very important to understand the best place to start with your settings for landscape photography. I have laid out the most important steps to take to get your landscape photography going the way.
Shooting Sunrises and Sunsets
One of the most popular shots to take involves capturing the sunrise or the sun setting. These shots can also be very challenging for less experienced landscape photographers.
This particular setting requires you to take the lighting conditions into account while maintaining the likely darker landscape in clear detail. This requires you to be able to capture some very contrasted lighting conditions.
Once you know how to do this the color in your images will look great.
Getting the White Balance right
Most cameras offer multiple settings for adjusting your white balance and this is a key part to getting the colors in your image right. You likely have an auto white balance setting. This setting will have your camera do it’s best to get the white balance right and this can work under many situations but likely not for the challenging light of a sunset or sunrise.
The reason is because auto white balance is designed to remove color contrast in your images but that color contrast is likely the exact thing you are trying to capture. For this reason you should not use auto white balance in this shooting scenario.
Instead, you will want to set the white balance to the daylight white balance setting.
When you set it to daylight white balance you will give your images a subtle warming effect that is perfect for the warm tones of sunrises and sunsets. This setting will actually enhance the warmth of the natural colors in your shot.
Some cameras do not have a daylight white balance setting and if this is true with your camera you can set the white balance to shade or cloudy. These settings also have a color warming effect, and a more powerful one at that.
If your camera has all of these settings feel free to experiment with each to see which captures the colors the way you like best.
The effects of dynamic range of sunset and sunrise shots
One of the biggest challenges to taking landscape shots of the sunrise or sunset is managing the dynamic range of the image.
When the sky is significantly brighter than the landscape in the frame, you will usually find that your camera will struggle managing the extreme lighting difference between the two sections of the shot.
When this occurs, you will either have a properly exposed sky and a dark landscape or a properly exposed landscape with an over exposed sky. This is not what you are looking for.
Here are some tips on how to manage the dynamic range and exposure of your sunrise and sunset images.
- Take a meter reading so you know the bright areas of the landscape foreground. Then shoot in RAW, and this will produce an image that will have a good exposure for the foreground. You can then recover lost details when you later process the picture.
- You can also utilize a reverse neutral density filter. This will help you even out the dynamic range in the image. These particular filters leave the bottom of the image with little filtering allowing you to just bring down the brightness of the sky while not effecting the brightness of the landscape. This will help you strike a lighting balance between the landscape and sky.
- You can also take two separate shots of the same landscape. The first shot can be exposed for the sky and the other exposed for the landscape. Then when you process the image you can bring the two halves of each picture that are well exposed and bring them together. This blending of images often results in the best final image so it is well worth practicing it as it is a great skill to have in the tool box.
At the end of the day each of these tactics can work so it is best to know how to do each of them to ensure that you can get the exposure right in your sunrise and sunset photos.
Best Landscape Photography Settings
Because there is significant variance in lighting when shooting landscape photography, learning how to dial in your settings for the environment is incredibly important. And the more you shoot and adjust your settings the better you are going to get.
With that in mind, you might not know where to even start. So here are the settings I would recommend you set and adjust from here based on your particular lighting and setting.
Set your exposure mode to fully manual. Then set your drive mode to single shot. Go with a starting aperture of f/11 and an ISO of 100. Shutter speed can be varied depending on your desired effect. And last, set your white balance to daylight, shade or cloudy.
Let’s discuss shutter speed a little as some new landscape photographers get confused on where to start. Shutter speed will take a little experimentation but if you are shooting handheld then you will want to be sure that you do not set it to slow as this will lead to blurring in your images. Remember that a slow shutter speed picks up movement of the camera or subject more than a fast shutter speed. To start I would recommend going with a shutter speed of no slower than 1/30 of a second unless you are using a tripod.
Learn how to Include Motion in your Images
There are times when shooting wildlife, nature and landscape photography where you will want to capture the motion within the frame. This effect can produce some truly breathtaking images and is well worth learning how to do.
To capture motion in your still shots you will want to utilize a long exposure. This will create a blurring effect in the moving subjects and this can be very powerful when used correctly.
Some examples are a running deer, a flowing river, or a flying bird. Even capturing clouds moving across a mountain range can be accomplished.
To get motion in your images you will have to adjust your shutter speed. A slower shutter speed will be selected and you can experiment to find just the right shutter speed to get the motion level you are seeking.
Next you will have to adjust you aperture and ISO to match your shutter speed to ensure you get the proper exposure.
Settings for motion in landscape photography
So if you want to get motion in your images it is pretty straight forward to start, but it will take some tweaking and experimentation to get it just where you want it. But here are the starting points I recommend for capturing motion in your landscape images.
Set your exposure to full manual mode and your drive mode to single shot. Then set your aperture to f/16 and your ISO to either 50 or 100. Start your shutter speed at 1/4 of a second. As for your white balance that will depend on the lighting.
When shooting it is great to use a remote if you have that option. If you do not have a remote for your camera then setting a timer will work as well. If using the times set it for between 2 and 3 seconds. This will let any vibration caused by triggering the shutter to settle down before the image is captured.
When adjusting your shutter speed use the rec above as a starting point. But it will need subtle adjustments depending on the speed your subject is moving. The faster the subject is moving the faster your shutter speed will be set to. So if you are shooting a fast flying bird you will want a faster shutter speed than if you are shooting a slow moving river.
When adjusting your white balance you have to consider the light in your environment. If it is sunrise or sunset use the recommendations at the beginning of this article but if you are dealing with consistent lighting you may be fine using the auto white balance setting. If you are not getting the results you want with your exposure adjust your white balance until it is how you like it.
Learn depth of Field and how it effects your images
Understanding depth of field is one of the most important aspects of landscape photography. Learning how to get it right will drastically improve the quality of your images.
Depth of field refers to the part of an image that is in focus. When shooting landscape and nature photography, a deep depth of field is often utilized. This means that more of the image is in focus. This would mean the foreground and background will likely be kept in focus.
There are a number of settings and factors that impact the depth of field of your images. Generally when shooting landscapes you will be using a wide angle lens with a low aperture. Usually you will want to use an aperture of f/11 or smaller. Then you will want to set your focus point approximately one third of the way into the depth of your image. If you do the above, then your image will likely remain in focus through the entire image.
More about aperture in landscape photography
To start, you should utilize aperture priority mode for landscape photography. Aperture priority mode will allow your camera to adjust it’s shutter speed based upon the aperture setting you choose. The benefit of shooting like this is that it will save you some time in dialing in your exposure compared to the time it will take to do it all manually.
Now remember, I do suggest shooting in manual mode but when you are getting started using aperture priority mode some of the time can save some frustration over getting everything dialed in. The key is to balance your use of aperture priority mode as to not use it as a crutch.
For getting your depth of field right here are the starting settings I would go with.
Set your exposure mode to aperture priority and your drive mode to single shot. Put your aperture to f/8 and set your ISO to 100. Remember that with aperture priority mode your shutter speed will be set automatically. Keep your focus set to manual and your white balance will be dependent on the current lighting conditions when you are shooting.
Remember that you will be using manual focus mode and you will want the focus point to be about one third of the way up from the bottom of the image.
These settings will help you get some great shots with clear and deep depth of field. This means sharp image detail from the front to the back of the image.
Wrapping it up
Landscape photography is one of my favorite styles to shoot. I go backpacking as often as possible and capturing those moments is one of the great joys in my life. If you are just getting started try out the landscape photography setting tips above and get out there and shoot. The more you are behind your camera the faster you will improve. So get out there and get those shots.