How Landscape Photography Works

By: Jill Jaracz
Glorious sunset over rural farmlands.
Image Gallery: Paradise Capturing scenic sunrises and other landscape shots isn't hard when you know the right technique and ways to use your camera. See more pictures of paradise.
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A stunning sunrise. Majestic mountains. Rushing rivers. Nature can be awe-inspiring, and photography is an excellent medium through which to capture the beauty of a landscape. Landscape photography can be a way to see the world in all its glory and show art through life. But finding that perfect frame isn't restricted to the likes of professional photographers such as Ansel Adams. With the proper equipment and techniques, you can take great landscape photos, too.

By definition, landscape photography is just that: pictures of nature or landscapes. Very rarely does a landscape photograph have people in it. When it does, the person is there to show scale -- how large or small an object is. Landscape photography comes in a variety of styles, which we'll take a look at below [source:].


Representational photography can be thought of as, "What you see is what you get." In this style of landscape photography, the photographer doesn't do anything to alter the scene but captures the essence of nature. Composition of the photograph, light, timing, and weather are all important aspects when using this style.

Much like an impressionistic painting, landscape photographs can employ impressionistic techniques, and use of soft filters can give photos illusive effects. Although the viewer can still make out what the subject of the photo is, the actual picture itself might not be sharp or clear.

Abstract landscape photography uses a variety of techniques, namely shape and proximity to shoot aspects of nature, but not necessarily an entire landscape. The resulting photographs may play with patterns, shapes and close-ups.

Landscape photography doesn't always have to be nature photography. Urban landscapes full of skyscrapers can also make for stunning pictures. Lines, angles, shapes and tall buildings give landscape photographers a lot of options to play with.

Up next, we'll look at the type of equipment you'll need for landscape photography.


Landscape Photography Equipment

It's not necessary to own the fanciest camera on the market in order to take decent pictures. Many point-and-shoot cameras can produce beautiful shots.

The first choice in purchasing a camera is whether to buy a 35mm film or a digital camera. Film cameras do still exist, and some photographers prefer the picture quality that film produces. Digital cameras capture an image digitally and allow to you instantly see whether you got a great shot, but owning a computer is pretty essential for storing images.


Budget restrictions can also determine what type of camera you buy. A point-and-shoot camera might be more affordable, but it has limitations in the types of pictures you can take. This type of camera is good for shots within a certain range, but it doesn't do well on close-ups, nor does it allow for zooming in on one particular subject. Even a point-and-shoot camera with a zoom lens allows you more flexibility in pinpointing certain objects.

SLR cameras are single-lens reflex cameras that use mirrors to project the image from the lens onto the film or screen. These cameras have interchangeable lenses that allow for different zooming capabilities. Although they're extremely flexible in photographic options, they can also be expensive, ranging in price from around $500 to more than $6,000, and that might be just for the camera body without any lenses. A basic lens can produce great shots, yet some objects, such as wildlife, are better shot with long zoom lenses.

Another valuable piece of equipment for a landscape photographer is a tripod. A tripod keeps a camera steady, a necessity for avoiding blurry photos if shooting in low light or using a low shutter speed. Tripods come in varying weight, so get one that's heavy enough to support a camera with a heavy lens attachment, yet light enough to tote on a long hike.

Filters are translucent sheets that can heighten or sharpen both colors and black and white. You can use them to make your skies bluer and your sunsets more colorful. If it's a grey day, they can add color to your pictures or adjust the contrast between shades of grey in the landscape. They can be pieces that attach to the camera, or a piece of material held in front of the camera.

Whatever the camera you choose, make sure you can carry your equipment because you may be hauling it across long distances to get the perfect picture.

Equipment alone won't get you the perfect picture -- you also need to know the right techniques. Up next, find out how fractions can help you set up your shot.


Landscape Photography Techniques

By mastering certain photographic techniques, you can take your pictures from "blah" to "wow." Composition, or framing the picture, is one of the most important aspects of photography. In composing a photo, use a technique called the "rule of thirds." Divide the view into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Align the focal points of the picture where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect, and the resulting photo will be much more interesting to look at.

Good composition can also convey depth and scale. Placing an object in the foreground will help the viewer know where to start looking. Larger elements in the background can convey depth to the picture.


Weather and sky can also work to your advantage. Horizon lines work well for the rule of thirds. Weather can provide a sense of motion, and choosing how much sky to add to a photo will help determine scale and depth.

Lines can help your landscape photos come to life, because they draw the viewer toward a focal point further back in the picture. You can include roads in landscape pictures to help lead the viewer's eye through the picture.

Panoramic shots might convey a scene's grandeur, but zooming in on a subject can show incredible details. Look for patterns in the landscape. Close-ups of leaf patterns or bees zooming around a flower can be effective and beautiful photos.

Simply changing the point of view can turn a shot from so-so to stunning. A simple shot of a river may be adequate, but try walking around and examining it from other angles to get a more interesting picture. Take the time to look from all angles -- including high and low vantage points -- to come up with that extraordinary shot.

Finally, consider lighting in your picture. Natural light is key to landscape photography and might take some getting used to. Many photographers refer to the "magic hours," or times when natural lighting is exceptionally good [source: Frazier]. This timeframe comprises the hour before and after both sunrise and sunset. However, even bright sun in the middle of the day can make a picture interesting. Study where the sun is and how it will affect the picture. Using sun as backlight, sidelight and even in the foreground can create interesting shadows and effects. When light is low, adjust the settings on the camera to allow for more exposure in order to capture that moment.

Once you get your technique down, there are a few extra tips and tricks you can use to snap the perfect shot. We'll take a look at them next.


Landscape Photography Tips

Not all nature is the same. Different types of nature need to be examined in varying ways in order to capture them in photos.

Water can be an interesting focal point or a complicated feature. Flowing water behaves differently than still water. A rushing river may be difficult to freeze in a photo, but a slower shutter speed can produce a blurred effect to show the speed of the water. With still water, take the reflection into account and compose the picture accordingly.


Forests can easily look like a lump of trees in pictures. Scan the area for patterns or unusual features, such as stumps or fallen logs to use as focal points. Be aware of how sunlight falls through the trees and the levels of light in the woods.

Prairies and wide-open spaces can be difficult because they may not have many natural features to make them interesting. Be sure to look around for a focal point or interesting feature that can convey the spaciousness of the landscape to the viewer.

Desert photography can be rugged, rocky landscapes with lots of sun. Playing with light and heat can convey great feelings in pictures. Try shooting both with the sun as backlight and as focal point, but be careful that the bright sun in the foreground doesn't fade out the rest of the landscape. Look for angles that can capture shimmering heat. Nighttime desert skies can also be great places to capture the stars.

Coastlines can be varying in their styles, and it's important to spend a little time observing the shoreline and how water interacts with it before capturing the image. With rocky coasts, work on timing the crash of waves over the rocks. With tropical coasts, try getting greenery in the picture to convey the lushness of the landscape.

As with other elements of nature, mountains can be different in their styles. They can be rugged crags, rolling hills or snow-capped peaks. Observe how the light creates shadows on the peaks, and look for angles that can convey the majestic of the terrain. Shadows can also make or break photos of valleys and canyons. An interesting shadow on a canyon wall might look like a dark spot in an actual photo. Pay attention to where the light lands and doesn't land. This could involve trekking around to find the perfect angle or waiting for specific times of day.

Read on to the next page to find out even more information about photography tools, techniques and tips.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Digital SLR Cameras." (Date accessed: December 2, 2009.)
  • Caputo, Robert. "Landscape Photography." National Geographic. August 2007. (Date accessed: November 27, 2009.)
  • Frazier, Ian. "Big Tips in Big Sur: A How To Guide to One of California's Greatest Landscapes." April 2, 2007. (Date accessed: December 2, 2009.)
  • Icon Photography School. "Landscape Photography: Types and Styles." (Date accessed: November 27, 2009.)
  • Outdoor Photographer. "The Top 100 Iconic Photo Locations of the World." (Date accessed: November 27, 2009.).
  • "Landscape Photography: Capturing Scenery at Its Best." (Date accessed: December 2, 2009.)
  • PopPhoto Reviews. (Date accessed: November 27, 2009.)