Landscape Photography Guide for Beginners

The best landscape photography can (and should) transport you. When you look at a pristine landscape photo, it’s almost like looking into a fantasy world. It’s hard to imagine not being right there, in a mist-filled valley as the sun comes up and warms the dew off of the trees.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. Not just anyone can go shoot amazing landscapes out their back door. Read on for some tips on getting that shot that might end up somebody’s computer wallpaper someday.

What is Landscape Photography?

Landscape photography captures images that embrace nature and the outdoors in natural light. These photographs are typically taken from a distance.

Different Types

Mountainscape photograph shot on a Sony a7sii

Landscape photography falls into several different focuses or genres. While the main gist of these photos is the same – a photo of the outdoors taken in natural light – you can have a few different focuses within this field.

For example, nature landscape photography is what people typically think of when they consider this photography style. These are photographs of mountains or prairies with little else in them. Yet including people or animals can add scale to the photo so that viewers can see the true magnitude of the landscape. 

Another way to divide these photos is by the type of landscape you photograph, such as:

  • Mountainscapes 
  • Sunscapes
  • Forestscapes
  • Snowscapes 
  • Stormscapes
  • Starscapes 

You can also photograph non-traditional landscapes, such as a city skyline, or more intimate ones, which take a smaller scene from the larger landscape view. 

A Luminary in the Field: Ansel Adams

Of course, it’s hard to talk about landscape photography without mentioning one of the most well-known photographers in the field, Ansel Adams. An absolute inspiration to many shooters of nature and other subjects, his most well-known photos are full of deep contrast and clarity.

Adams is quoted as being the one who said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Throughout his work, it’s clear to see that he truly believed that concept. Spending countless hours in the darkroom to perfect each print, he developed the Zone System to take some of the guesswork out of creating photographs. With the Zone System, it became possible to measure and standardize the luminance values of your photo before even releasing the shutter.

Adams also believed that you should shoot a scene how it feels as opposed to how it looks. It’s hard not to feel some kind of emotion when you’re standing and looking out across a vast distance. Most of the time, conveying that feeling of awe to your viewer is more important than documenting what it looks like.

10 Landscape Photography Tips

1. Bring a Good Camera and Tripod

Camera displaying a digital image of a mountainscape

Your ideal landscape images have a ton of details. Certain types of photography don’t require every megapixel or speck of film grain that you can possibly achieve, but landscape photography is different. High-resolution digital cameras like the 50-megapixel Canon 5D S, the 61-megapixel Sony a7R IV or the 45.7-megapixel Nikon D850 would really shine here. There isn’t a required minimum resolution of course, but the more you can squeeze out of your budget, the better. A Fujifilm X-T2 would work just fine for social or website sharing.

To some photographers, though, there’s nothing quite like shooting nature on film, though. The organic process can make one feel more connected to the scenery. Usually, any 35mm body will get the job done as long as you remember to use a UV filter to cut down on glare from the sky. If you want next-level landscapes, though, try a medium-format Contax 645 or a Pentax 645NII. Don’t forget, both of these models require additional viewfinders and film backs.

Landscape photograph of fields and mountain with sun rising

Our buddy Ansel, of course, shot his landscapes using a 4×5 view large format camera. If you haven’t tried large format film photography in the past, this is a perfect way to start. The gargantuan film negative produced can capture an absolutely stunning amount of detail. It’s also pretty much the ultimate photography experience if you’re up for it.

Even if you aren’t a fan of lugging extra equipment along, a tripod will stabilize your camera and make it much easier to make tiny adjustments like keeping your horizon level. A small compact tripod like the Sirui A1005 would be perfect for a lightweight hiking setup and will prevent camera shakes.

2. Use the Best Lenses for the Shoot

While it may seem like wider is always better when it comes to landscape lenses, this isn’t the case. A 14mm prime lens will allow you to get up close and personal with some things, and they’re great for astrophotography. However, you can get some truly compelling images with a 70-200mm zoom by compressing the background and making it seem like a mountain in the background is overwhelmingly huge.

Some other general tips when choosing a lens for landscape photography include:

3. Learn About Photography Composition

Keeping your composition in mind, you’re going to want to take your viewers on a journey. Let their eyes bounce from element to element in the image as if they were there in person.

You can achieve this by keeping your aperture small like f/16 or higher. This allows you to get more of what’s in front of the camera in sharp focus. A wide aperture with lots of blurry bokeh around your subject can be beautiful in the right context, but ultimately closes down and isolates your subject.

By having foreground elements like grass or rocks that are as clear as the faraway clouds and mountains, you give your landscape pictures a sense of great depth. It allows the viewer to look from place to place and really tour the landscape on their own schedule like they’d do if they were there in person.

Leading Lines

This composition technique involves positioning your subject so a natural line leads the viewer’s eye through the photograph to the main subject. In a landscape, this might be a country road that meanders to the mountain’s base or wind-blown lines in sand dunes that draw the eye toward the lone desert tree in the distance. 

Leading lines can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, but they typically run from an edge of the frame to the subject. Find a line in the landscape, then position the image in the frame to place it as a leading line.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds involves dividing the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically to create a grid of nine rectangular sections in the frame. Place your main subject in one of these sections, rather than in the middle, to make the image more compelling. If your landscape photo doesn’t have one primary focal point, like a building, person, or tree, you can apply the rule of thirds by moving the horizon to the bottom third or top third of the frame rather than having it run down the center.

Using this technique makes your photo more compelling. Many novice photographers try to position the subject of their photo in the dead center of the frame, horizontally or vertically. This can work for some images, but using the rule of thirds and shifting the position of the subject can actually amplify the overall effect of the image.

4. Do Your Research

Gorgeous landscape photos don’t happen by accident. More than many other types of photography, much of the work in creating epic vistas takes place before the shutter is pressed. It’s vital to plan out your location and the time of day you want to shoot so that your light is perfect. Even then, you may want to wait for the opportune moment when the fluffy clouds are just right or there’s some wildlife in the frame.

Find the right location first. As Ansel Adams once said, likely with a smile, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Whether this means hiking to the top of a mountain or finding the perfect clear spot in some trees that overlook a lake, the idea is the same. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to get to that perfect vantage point.

Also, when it comes to finding the perfect spot, try to venture off the beaten path. Sure, many people have seen the face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, but most people see it from the same angle day in and day out. Try to present a unique view to show the viewer something they haven’t seen before.

5. Get Good Lighting at the Right Time

Cityscape photograph shot on a Sony a7sii

Shot on Sony a7sii, Minolta MD 35-70 f/3.5 Macro

Once you’ve got your location, it’s worth doing some extra planning to choose the right time of day to take your shots. Since you’re outside, you’re going to be at the mercy of the sun and the weather. The most flattering light is going to be angled and slightly filtered, meaning your best photos are mostly going to come from early morning or late evening. Midday sun is often too bright and strong, blowing out any details and subtlety in a landscape image.

What you likely want to aim for is the golden hour, or the first and last hour of sunlight in the day. This sunlight is low and the filtered color appears softer and warmer in color. In the morning, you can catch a beautiful sunrise that melts away the morning fog, or you can wait for twilight when wildlife is moving from place to place.

6. Play with Your Camera Settings and Filters

Having the right camera equipment is essential, but you also need to know how to use that equipment to capture gorgeous images. Learning the best camera settings for landscape photography means the difference between crisp and grainy images, and understanding how to use filters to reduce glare or change the color contrast of the image is also helpful.


Filters are essential to consider with this type of photography. A circular polarizer can be a godsend to landscape photographers. They’re great for reducing reflections in water sources, and can also cut the bright UV glare of skies to make them a deeper blue. A well-utilized polarizer can also cut reflections on tree leaves, making them appear greener.

Neutral Density filters are also a great addition to the landscape photographer’s kit. By adding an ND filter, you can keep your camera’s shutter speed open longer in order to smooth out the waves in those flowing water sources. If shooting in black and white, consider adding a few color contrast filters to your kit as well.

Find out more about ND filters & Polarizers here, or Color Contrast filters here.

ISO Settings

ISO is a setting that controls the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. The lower the ISO, the less light it will gather. 

You’ll want to adjust your ISO based on available lighting, but a general rule of thumb is to shoot landscapes at ISO 100 if there’s enough light. The higher the ISO, the more grain you introduce to the image, so set this as low as you can without compromising the exposure quality.

7. Understand Manual Exposure Basics

One of the best tips for landscape photography for beginners is to learn to shoot in manual mode, as this gives you the most control over the shutter speed, aperture, and overall depth of field.

First, choose your aperture, also known as the f-stop. This number indicates how large the lens opens, and it directly affects the depth of field. Choose a high aperture of f/11 or higher to get a deep depth of field. 

Shutter speed indicates how long the lens stays open. Balance the shutter speed with the aperture and ISO to properly expose the image. To freeze all movement in your photo, use a fast shutter speed of 1/250 or higher. To show motion, like flowing water, use a lower shutter speed and a tripod.

8. Shoot in RAW for More Digital Detail

Landscape photograph with clouds rolling over mountains, a hiker in the forefront

You’re probably going to want to shoot your landscapes in a low ISO, once again preserving as much detail as you can without letting the details get muddy. It’s also a good idea to shoot your landscapes in RAW digital format, provided your camera allows it. RAW format is essentially an unprocessed file that holds most of the data absorbed by your camera sensor, as opposed to JPEG files which have had color, sharpening and other processes applied already.

Shooting in RAW format adds an extra step for you in the processing phase, as you’ll have to select what changes to make. However, it preserves more information from the original image, giving the shooter more flexibility and control to adjust their files any way they like. For example, RAW files are easier to edit for color enhancements, white balance corrections, and other photoshop editing techniques that will improve overall image quality.

9. HDR Could Do More Harm than Good

HDR—or High Dynamic Range—photography is best used sparingly. This is really a matter of opinion but many enjoy seeing photos that are based in reality. Many overprocessed HDR photos tend to go beyond this threshold of possibility and start to look like if you could give images some version of bad plastic surgery.

10. Edit Images with Photoshop Software

Using high-quality editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, you can perform a variety of post-processing tasks, like adding depth to shadows, reducing glare, adjusting color casts, and cleaning up distracting elements in your photo. Use tutorials to teach you how to adjust landscapes using these programs.

Take Your Landscape Photography to the Next Level

Camera on tripod on cliff looking out at ocean landscape during sunset

Landscape photography is an exciting part of the world of photography, and the images you capture can be almost as breathtaking as the locations themselves. However, the right equipment is essential to making this an enjoyable hobby. To save money as you stock up on the best equipment, shop for used gear at KEH Camera. Browse our available lenses, cameras, and accessories to equip yourself for success.

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