How to Take a Picture
...of a landscape, specifically.
Amateur photographers who want to start taking landscape photography seriously. You are mostly familiar with how to do things on your camera like change the exposure compensation or white balance profile, and can figure out these details if needed.
Skip this post if...
- You don't care about taking nice landscape photos
- Your camera of choice isn't a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Not having one of these is totally fine, and oftentimes the best camera for a photo is the one you have with you. But I can only speak from experience from using DSLR and mirrorless cameras — Nikon D3300 and Sony Alpha a6000, respectively.
Okay, with that said, let's get into the guide!
1. Your camera – I think most of you will have this one.
2. A good lens – The starter lens on most cameras — 18-55mm for Nikon, 16-50mm for Sony, or the equivalent for Canon — will do. No need for fancy lenses yet since we're just learning.
3. A tripod – since we'll be shooting most of our photos with a high aperture, the camera's shutter (or equivalent) will be open for a while, relatively speaking. Image stability requires a tripod.
4. A remote shutter release – pressing the main shutter release button on the camera can jostle the camera, so to avoid this, use a remote shutter release for your camera's model. I use a wired shutter release, but I've seen wireless versions be effective too.
5. A filter, depending on what you're shooting. For waterfalls, rivers, or general landscapes during the day, you will need a good polarizing filter. For sunsets and sunrises, you will need some graduated split neutral density filters. I've linked mine, but you don't have to drop that much cash for a nice photo.
Let's say you've found a nice spot to take a photo. How do you go about doing it?
1. Get set up Put your camera on your tripod, your filter on your camera, and the shutter release in your camera. Make sure your camera is in aperture priority mode (the dial at the top is pointing at the “A”). This should take around 30 seconds, and if it takes longer, practice this process at home when you have a spare minute.
2. Compose your image Position the camera so you have a nice composition. This is more art than science, but some general guidelines I use are the rule of thirds and to create visual paths between parts of the image with its components. This second point keeps the viewer's eyes on the image for a longer period of time. As an exercise, try to look for this concept the next time you're looking at photos.
3. Adjust your focus Most of my landscape photos use f/22 aperture. Waterfalls generally vary from f/13 to f/22. Because your aperture is so small, you can focus on foreground components and the background will, for the most part, also be in focus. I use the automatic focus to get close to what I want, then I flick the little switch on the lens from “A” to “M” and fine tune the focus with the focus ring until I have the foreground object I want in focus.
4. Adjust your filters With a polarizing filter, try to make the image as dark as possible. With graduated split neutral density filters, try to find a clean break between elements (i.e. the horizon) and position the edge of the dark portion there.
5. Take your picture For the trained photographer, the above steps should take around 60 seconds. Now that we have everything set up, we can take our pictures. A few things to try doing here:
- Adjust the exposure compensation. I generally find that -0.33 gives me the best results, but your mileage may vary.
- Adjust the white balance. Your camera has several pre-programmed white balance settings: “cloudy”, “direct “sunlight”, and “shade” are the ones I use most often. Use the one that looks best for this photo.
- Bonus: you can adjust the sharpness, contrast, and saturation of the photos you take in the Picture Control settings. How to do this is camera dependent, so I'd look up “<camera make and model> adjust picture controls” on Google.
That's it! Following these steps, or at least keeping the composition step in mind, should help you take better landscape photos. Also keep in mind that many of the landscape photos you see online are edited in Photoshop/Lightroom, and that a “perfect photo” is often the result of patience, good timing, and luck in addition to good composition. That said, the only way to learn the “good timing” and “good composition” components is to practice, so get out there and capture that pretty scenery!