If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to give your landscape photos a bit of a boost.
Whether that’s a unique perspective on photographing a subject, a new post-processing trick, or something in between, there’s certainly a lot we can do to make our images just a little bit better.
If you’re a beginner (or, even if you aren’t…) I’ve put together a few tips that can help you elevate your landscape photography game.
The beauty of these tips? They’re all dead simple to implement, so there’s no excuse not to try and improve.
Let’s get to it!
Shoot in RAW
If you’re shooting your landscape photos in JPEG, there’s a much better choice…
JPEGs are great if you need the space on your memory card, but memory cards today have tons and tons of space, so that’s no longer a very valid excuse.
JPEGs are also nice for sharing on social media, via text, or through email because they are immediately viewable – anyone can see a JPEG, so if time is of the essence, JPEGs do have that going for them.
However, JPEGs are compressed. That means that your camera decides what data to keep from the sensor and what data to essentially throw out.
With less data comes less capability to manipulate the image in post-processing. What’s more, the data your camera decides to throw out might be important for what you intend to do with the shot.
Instead, you can shoot in RAW mode, which retains all the data captured by the camera’s sensor.
That gives you much more data to work on in post-processing, which is especially helpful when you have a high dynamic range photo, like the sunset image above. That’s because you’re more able to extract detail in shadowed and highlighted areas in a RAW file than you can in a JPEG.
What’s more, a RAW file allows you to make non-destructive edits, so if you edit the file and want to edit it a different way, you can do that.
A RAW file can be worked on in programs like Adobe Camera Raw too, which allows you to make edits before you even get the image into Photoshop or Lightroom.
In other words, RAW format is much better for editing your photos, and if you want to create images with more impact, RAW is the way to go.
Don’t Worry About Shooting in Manual Mode
There’s a misnomer that all the great landscape photographers always shoot in manual mode, but this simply isn’t the case.
Yes, manual mode gives you complete control over what your camera is doing, and that’s certainly a skill all photographers should strive to develop.
But when time is of the essence and you don’t want to mess around with all the manual settings, shoot in aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, or program mode.
These semi-automatic shooting modes give you more control over what the camera does than if you shoot in fully automatic mode, but at the same time, they help you out by controlling one of the three exposure settings.
For example, if you want to maximize depth of field, shoot in aperture priority mode, which allows you to choose the aperture while the camera selects a matching shutter speed.
If you want to capture motion, as was done in the image above, go with shutter priority mode so you can dial in the shutter speed you want and the camera will handle the aperture.
In program mode, you select an ISO, and the camera controls shutter speed and aperture, though you can override the settings the camera selects in program mode.
In other words, rather than worrying about all the exposure settings, these modes help you out by controlling part of that all-important exposure triangle.
Add a Little Something to the Composition
No matter how grand or beautiful a landscape is, every shot you take will benefit from having a little added interest in the shot.
This might take the form of a leading line to direct the viewer’s eye.
You might add some interest in the foreground to give the shot a little more depth.
Layering the composition makes the image seem more three-dimensional.
You get the point…
Paying attention to the details gives the viewer one more thing to delight their eye.
But be sure that when you add in details that they have a purpose. Don’t just add details for the sake of doing so. Instead, find a way to incorporate details so they support your overall vision for the scene.
For example, adding the mountains in the foreground of the photo above makes the image of the moon much more interesting and dynamic than the previous image of the moon by itself, does it not?
The second image is simply more engaging, with a better composition that still highlights the moon, but does so in a way that captures the viewer’s attention in a more salient manner.
Use a Tripod
When I started in landscape photography, I was a little anti-tripod.
If I’m honest, I thought having a tripod slowed me down. If I shot handheld, that meant I could work faster, see more landscapes, and photograph more landscapes too.
The problem with that approach is twofold.
First, rushing around won’t do you in favors. That doesn’t mean you have to take five minutes for each shot, but you can at least take two minutes to set up your tripod, frame up a shot, and double-check your camera settings.
Second, even if you shoot at a shutter speed that helps you avoid camera shake, taking photos handheld just isn’t going to get you the same level of sharpness as you can get with your camera on a tripod.
And believe me, sharpness matters!
You can have a totally amazing photo, but if it isn’t sharp, the image won’t have near the impact.
A tripod helps solve both of these problems.
Worry Less About Other Photographers and More About You
There is a lot to be gained by looking at what other photographers are doing with their landscape photos.
In fact, you can add that to this list as a step to improve your own photography.
After all, no two photographers see the same scene alike, and you might just find that looking at photos of a spot you’ve photographed a hundred times might open your eyes to a new way of portraying that landscape.
Having said that, be wary of comparing your photos to those that other people take.
There will always be someone that has more experience than you, and perhaps more talent than you too. And that’s okay.
Instead of spending your time wishing you could take photos like this photographer or that photographer, spend your time and energy in actually improving yourself!
Though the tips outlined above might seem really simple and straightforward, believe me when I say that their impact can be profound.