Everyone loves shooting landscape photos, right? OK, maybe not everyone, but what’s not to love? Landscape photography gets you out of the everyday busyness of life and into the stillness of our wide open and wild spaces. Whether in the rugged mountains and alpine meadows, or the dry and unforgiving deserts. Or perhaps the mysterious coastal forests, or the wind-blown prairies. No matter which direction you go, eventually you will find nature in all its beauty. It’s out there, just waiting to be captured. It’s up to us to be there and be prepared to bring but a miniscule part of it home in our images.
When I was just starting out in photography, I remember looking at incredible landscape photography images in such places as 500px, Flickr, and other photo sharing sites. My thought was that now that I have a “good” camera, I can take pictures like that. Wouldn’t you know it, my images didn’t look anything like those. (For the most part, they still don’t, but that’s another topic.) It quickly became evident that it was about much more than just the gear. A whole lot more.
First, A Word About Camera Settings
The main crux of this article is not necessarily to share what camera settings to use for landscape photography. There are so many variables, and the settings will be different depending on the situation. Here are a few pointers, however, to help get you started.
Most of the time, Aperture Priority (A or Av on most cameras) will work just fine for landscape photography. This is where you set the aperture and let the camera work out the rest for a correct exposure. However, landscape photography affords you great opportunities to experiment and try different settings. There’s usually plenty of time, so go ahead and explore Manual mode. Try working out the exposure by adjusting all the settings yourself and see what you come up with. After a bit of practice, it will become second nature.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are hand-holding the camera, the shutter speed should be roughly the reciprocal of the focal length or faster. In other words, if the focal length is 30mm, then shutter speed should be at least 1/30th of a second. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes, you can cheat and go a little slower if your lens (or camera) is image stabilized to offset camera shake. Then there are other times you actually want a slow shutter speed to show movement. More on that later.
For landscape photography, you will usually want to have a large depth of field to have everything in the image in focus. To accomplish this, set the aperture to a large number, such as f/13, f/16, or even f/22. Just keep in mind that diffraction could be an issue for the smallest lens apertures.
Keeping the ISO to its lowest setting will typically produce a “cleaner” image. That means an image with less noise, or grain. Your camera most likely either goes down to 100 or 200 for the lowest ISO setting. Start there and bump it up only if you need to increase shutter speed while hand-holding the camera.
Shoot RAW! If you like to edit your images on the computer, there’s really no reason to not shoot RAW for landscape photography. The RAW image file will preserve much more of the data than a JPEG, allowing you to pull much more detail out of the shadows and highlights. Yes, the RAW file takes up more space on the memory card and hard drive, but it’s worth it.