Landscape Photography Guide

I have been planning to write this landscape photography guide for a long time, but held it off for a while, thinking that I could do a better job after learning about it more. My landscape photography journey has been a big learning curve and I have been enhancing my skills so much during the last few years, I realized that I could spend the rest of my life learning. Therefore, I decided to write what I know today and keep on enhancing this guide in the future with new techniques and tips.

1) Preface

It is amazing to see how quickly the world is changing around us. What seemed to be intact and perfect just several years ago is getting destroyed by us humans. One of the reasons why I fell in love with photographing nature, is because it is not only my way of connecting with nature, but also my way of showing people that the beauty around us is very fragile and volatile. And if we don’t take any action now, all this beauty will someday cease to exist, not giving a chance for our future generations to enjoy it the same way we can today. Hundreds of movies have been filmed, thousands and thousands of great pictures taken and yet the world is not listening. What can we do and is there hope? It is very unfortunate that we only act when a disaster of a great scale hits us and the unbalanced force of nature enrages upon us. But we as photographers must continue to show the world the real picture out there – the deforestation of our rich lands, the pollution that is poisoning our fresh waters and causing widespread diseases, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of species and many other large-scale problems that are affecting the lives of millions of people and animals around the world. Therefore, it is our responsibility as photographers to show the real picture.

Dead Horse Point Panorama at Sunrise

2) Introduction to Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is a form of landscape art. While landscape art was popularized by Western painting and Chinese art more than a thousand years ago, the word “landscape” apparently entered the English dictionary only in the 19th century, purely as a term for works of art (according to Wikipedia). Landscape photography conveys the appreciation of the world through beautiful imagery of the nature that can be comprised of mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans, waterfalls, plants, animals and other God-made scenery or life. While most landscape photographers strive to show the pureness of nature without any human influence, given how much of the world has been changed by humans, depicting the nature together with man-made objects can also be considered a form of landscape photography. For example, the famous Mormon Row at the Grand Teton National Park has been a popular spot for photographing the beautiful Tetons in the background, with the old barns serving as foreground elements.

Photographing landscapes involves three key elements: photo equipment, skill/technique and light. Let’s look at all three elements one by one.

3) Photo Equipment

Good and reliable photo equipment is extremely important to achieve the best results for landscape photography. If your camera can take exceptional photographs, but cannot withstand extremely cold or hot temperatures, it will certainly limit you in what you can do. Therefore, it is best to have a camera that can both take good pictures and withstand tough weather conditions. Why is the latter important? Because some of the best landscape photographs are taken in very challenging weather – during a storm, after a heavy snowfall, early in the morning at below freezing temperatures, etc. Take a look at the following picture of sand dunes that I captured last year:

Sand Dunes Rising

A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

At first, you might think that the weather was nice and pleasant when I captured this photo. But the reality of the situation was quite the opposite – it was extremely cold and windy, with the sand hitting me on my face like those icy snowflakes hit you when you ski. The Nikon D700 I carried that day suffered pretty badly, with the sand piling up in every dent and hole. My Nikon 24-70mm zoom ring was full of dust and I remember the screeching sound I had for months, because I could not get the sand out of it. My 24-70mm is still alive today and I have taken over 200,000 pictures with my D700 and it is still working perfectly fine. And this is just one example; I abused my camera gear like that countless times and always relied on it in the most challenging situations.

What about camera capabilities? No matter how weather-resistant your camera is, it must be able to deliver images that are sharp and vibrant, with good contrast. That’s where having a camera with a large sensor/film, good support and a selection of good lenses/filters is important. Let’s talk about the gear in more details.

3.1) Camera Selection – Film or Digital?

The question of digital vs film is a never-ending debate and I do not have any intentions to bring up another heated debate over which one is better. I will simply state what is true for landscape photography today and what works best. If you want to print wall-sized pictures, film is the way to go at the moment. To get an equivalent of medium format film, you would need to get a 40-50+ Megapixel medium-format digital camera that starts at around $20-25K+. Even then, many photographers claim that medium format digital does not have the same dynamic range as medium format film. Check out this great “Digital vs Film” article from Wikipedia that explains this in more detail, with advantages and disadvantages of both. Combining medium/large format together with good post-processing skills (more on that below) can yield exceptionally sharp and colorful commercial-grade results. But film is certainly not for everyone, since it has its own challenges and the cost of owning and operating a film system can get quite high overtime.

Yellowstone Lake Sunrise

3.1.1) Film Systems

There are many different film systems out there at different price points that all work great. If you shoot medium format, Mamiya, Rollei and Hasselblad medium-format systems are quite popular. There are many large format systems out there and the more popular ones seem to be by Sinar and Linhof, but there are many more great choices and sizes. The selection of lenses for both medium and large format systems is also huge with big names such as Nikon, Rodenstock and Schneider providing a good selection for all kinds of needs.

3.1.2) Digital Systems

Despite the above-mentioned advantages of film, small format digital is the most popular system for photographing landscapes today. Easiness of use, low cost, relatively short learning curve, immediate results, free unlimited exposures and much shorter post-processing time are the reasons why small format (full-frame and cropped sensor) systems became so popular. An entry-level DSLR with all required accessories for photographing landscapes can be purchased for under $1,000 today. To get around the problem of large prints, photographers employ special digital techniques to stitch single-row and multi-row frames to get large panoramas and some even combine bracketing and stitching hundreds of frames to create High Dynamic Range Panoramas. Obviously, multi-row panoramas do not always work, especially for sunrise/sunset shots where light changes quickly and clouds move too fast, but single-row panoramas generally work quite well for the most part. Here is an example of a single-row panorama:

Sand Dune Panorama #6

A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

The popularity of small format digital cameras and the latest technology developments allowed some camera manufacturers like Hasselblad, Phase One and Mamiya to retain their image in medium format niche and create large sensors with lots of pixels, for those who do not want to bother messing with film. These expensive camera systems are primarily targeted for landscape and fashion photography, where large print size is important. As I have pointed out earlier, these systems are extremely expensive and only a few photographers can afford such high-end cameras.

The second best alternative to medium format today is 35mm or “full-frame” digital cameras. Nikon D3x, for example, is currently considered to be the top choice for landscape photographers that have budgets less than $10K. Some photographers even compare it to medium format quality and websites such as DxOMark place D3x’s sensor performance higher than most medium-format sensors in terms of dynamic range and color depth. The 24mp sensor of the Nikon D3x can deliver exceptionally good images that can print as large as 14×20 inches at 300 PPI. With some good photo enlarging techniques, you could easily double that print size without much loss of detail.

For those on tighter budgets, cheaper full-frame/cropped sensor cameras are less preferred, but most popular choice for landscape photography. Most popular because of cost and less preferred because low price means less ruggedness/minimal weather-sealing and in most cases, less dynamic range and color depth. Let’s look at both. As I have stated earlier, you could buy a brand new entry-level DSLR with a lens, a tripod and all other accessories for under $1,000. At this price point, I know that many film shooters will claim that you might as well go with cheap film and get a lot more resolution and print sizes, which is true – a 35mm film camera will give you larger prints than a 12 Megapixel digital camera. However, the biggest issue is convenience, or lack thereof, and complexity of use – film requires time-consuming development (which you could do for less than $5 a film) and if you needed to post-process images in Photoshop, you would need to scan it first. Since you cannot see what you are photographing, you need to be relatively good with the equipment and need to know how to control the exposure. I typically post images from my trips on my blog as soon as I come back and sometimes even while I’m on the road. I import my images into Lightroom, spend very minimal time editing images and then directly post them to my blog online. With film, this process would have been considerably longer. What about construction and weather sealing? Cheaper DSLRs have much less resistance (or none) to tough weather conditions and you have to be extra careful while photographing in dust, under rain/snow and sub-zero temperatures. Cropped-sensor DSLR cameras also generally have less dynamic range and color depth, due to their small sizes.

To sum it all up, here is how I would categorize cameras, in the order of preference for landscape photography:

  1. Large format/Medium format film cameras
  2. Medium format digital cameras
  3. High-resolution full-frame digital cameras such as Nikon D3x and Canon 1Ds Mark III
  4. Lower cost full-frame digital cameras such as Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mark II and Sony Alpha A900
  5. High-end cropped-sensor cameras such as Nikon D7000, Canon EOS 60D and Sony Alpha A580
  6. Low-end cropped-sensor cameras such as Nikon D3100, Canon EOS T1i and Sony Alpha A33

For those, who are wondering about the difference between full-frame and cropped sensor cameras, I highly recommend reading my DX vs FX article.

Let’s now move on to lenses – a key part of the photography setup for landscapes.

3.2) Lenses and why they are important

No matter how good your camera is, if the lens you have mounted on it is poor, you will get equally poor results. Lenses are like your eyes – if you have bad vision, the picture you see is going to be soft and blurry. Therefore, it is extremely important to use lenses that have high contrast, great color reproduction and sharpness across the frame. When photographing portraits, the corner performance of the lenses is typically not important – your subject is going to be close to the center of the frame most of the time. However, when it comes to landscape photography, corner sharpness becomes almost equally important as center sharpness, since foreground elements can be located on the lower frame and sometimes touch corners. That’s why I pay a lot of attention to corner sharpness in my lens reviews.

While selecting lenses, you have two selections – zoom lenses and prime/fixed lenses. For landscape photography, prime lenses used to be the number one choice (and still are for large/medium format film). However, with the latest advancements in optical technology, manufacturers are able to produce exceptionally good zoom lenses that match and sometimes even surpass the quality and sharpness of prime lenses. For example, the legendary Nikon 14-24mm (although not the top choice for landscapes due to inability to support external filters) is the sharpest ultra-wide angle zoom lens that is actually sharper than most other Nikon prime lenses in the 14mm to 24mm focal range. Zoom lenses have a big advantage over prime lenses due to their ability to zoom in/out, which I personally find very important for landscape photography. I have been in many situations, where I had to stand at a particular spot and could not move to frame my shot. Without a zoom lens, I would have to crop a lot, which would negatively affect my ability to print large. So you have to weigh in these factors for your landscape photography. I personally carry both with me, which gives me greater flexibility.

For large and medium format, prime lenses are the way to go. For full-frame and cropped sensor formats, the landscape photography world is divided to 2 parts – those who shoot Zeiss prime lenses and those who shoot everything else. Zeiss lenses are popular for their sharpness and color rendition, but they are all manual focus lenses (Nikon and Canon mount), which means that you have to know how to properly manually focus the lens under different conditions. Gladly, most landscape photography is shot at infinity, so it is usually not a problem. Some landscape photographers swear by Zeiss glass and others like me are fairly comfortable working with other brand lenses. I personally prefer Nikon lenses, but do not have a problem using Sigma or Tamron lenses.

3.2.1) Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

So, what are the best lenses for landscape photography? I personally do not have much experience with large and medium format lenses, so I will only talk about lenses for 35mm film and full-frame/cropped sensor cameras. In terms of brands, I will only include Nikon and Canon, because the list can get pretty long if I include others.

3.2.1.1) Best Nikon FX Lenses for Landscape Photography

Here is the list of lenses that I personally consider to be the best for Nikon format, in my subjective view:

  1. Nikon 24mm f/1.4G – the sharpest Nikon lens you can find today. Exceptional detail, color rendition and high contrast make this lens my #1 choice for landscape photography. I really like working with the 24mm focal length and I find it to be wide enough for most situations. Its biggest drawback is the fixed focal length, which means that you will have to move a lot to properly frame your shot. Read my Nikon 24mm f/1.4G Review.
  2. Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G – my second most favorite lens for photographing landscapes. It does have a few problems, specifically some distortion at 24mm and corner softness when shooting at large apertures, but since I shoot at f/8 and higher most of the time, this is not that big of a deal for me. Distortion is easy to fix in Lightroom, especially with the Lightroom 3 Lens Correction feature that fully supports this lens. In addition, the lens is built like a tank and can withstand pretty much any challenging weather. I have used it extensively in all kinds of cold/moist/sandy conditions and it has never failed me once. Read my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G Review.
  3. Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II – for longer-range telephoto shots, the 70-200mm is the best lens you can find. It is sharp across the frame and the color rendition is top of the class. I always take the 70-200mm with me and use it quite a bit, even with teleconverters. Read my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G Review.
  4. Nikon PC-E 24mm f/3.5D Tilt/Shift – a special purpose tilt/shift lens that can be immensely helpful for photographing landscapes. It allows you to change perspective directly on the camera, delivering results no other regular lens can. The lens certainly requires some skill to use it properly.
  5. Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR – a cheaper alternative to the 24-70mm. I have recently used this lens for some landscape work and found the extra focal length and VR to be very useful when compared to the 24-70mm. Its construction and weather resistance are certainly much weaker than of the 24-70mm. I don’t think it would survive a hit on the front side of the lens when it is extended, so I would use it with care. Similar to the 24-70mm, it also has some corner softness, distortion and vignetting, although the latter is certainly better controlled on the 24-70mm. Read my Nikon 24-120mm f/4 Review.
  6. Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR – another relatively inexpensive lens with excellent sharpness and color rendition. It is a great choice for situations, where you need to go wider than 24mm and would be a great lens to go with the 24-120mm. I found the older 17-35mm f/2.8D to be softer in the corners at large apertures, so given the cost of the 17-35mm, it is no longer in my list of the best lenses for landscape photography. Read my Nikon 16-35mm f/4 Review.

Another lens worth mentioning is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, which did not make it to my list, because it cannot take regular filters (read about filters below). It is certainly one hell of a lens when it comes to sharpness, contrast and color. Its inability to use filters is its biggest drawback, although if you do not mind paying extra, Lee filters designed a filter system for this particular lens. It is by no means a cheap solution, but certainly solves the filter limitation issue for those who can afford it. Read my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Review.

There are many more lenses that work great for landscape photography (including great Zeiss Distagon lenses), but I personally do not have much experience with them, so I cannot comment on their performance. Please feel free to provide your recommendations from your own personal experience.

3.2.1.2) Best Nikon DX Lenses for Landscape Photography

Although all of the above FX lenses would work perfectly fine on DX, the field of view is changed due to the sensor crop factor and such lenses as Nikon 24-70mm might feel a little “too long” on DX. In addition, DX lenses are generally much cheaper than their FX counterparts and also weigh less. Let’s take a look at the best DX lenses for landscape photography (again, based on my subjective opinion):

  1. Nikon 12-24mm f/4G DX – I used to own and love this lens for my landscape photography for a while (until it got stolen). It is an exceptionally sharp lens that is capable of delivering great contrast and color across the focal range. It can take 77mm circular filters, but I would be careful with using large filters at 12mm – the lens will vignette heavily.
  2. Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G DX – a great alternative that will give you even wider perspective at a lower cost.
  3. Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G – another great lens with a wider perspective and longer focal range than the 17-55mm. While it is much slower than the 17-55mm lens, its performance is impressive, with the weakest performance on the short side at 16mm. Stopped down to f/8.0, the lens is great across the frame.
  4. Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G – an expensive, but pro-level lens that is capable of delivering great results even wide open. Its performance tops at f/8.0, where the corners look almost as good as the center.
  5. Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX – the only prime lens that made it to this list, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G is a great lens that is sharp across the frame. Stop it down to f/8.0 and it will produce better results than any other DX zoom lens. The only downside is its focal length – due to the 1.5x crop factor, it falls into a “standard” lens category at ~52mm, which is often not wide enough.

If you need one lens to cover most landscape photography needs, I would either go with the Nikon 16-85mm or the Nikon 17-55mm lens. If you want to cover wider angles and some telephoto, the best current lens combo, in my opinion, is the Nikon 12-24mm or Nikon 10-24mm coupled with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR. The latter works on both FX and DX, but better on DX (less vignetting, distortion and sharper corners).

3.2.1.3) Best Canon EF Lenses for Landscape Photography

Although I personally do not shoot Canon, I have many friends that use Canon DSLRs for landscapes. Here is the list of Canon lenses they recommend for landscape photography:

  1. Canon 14mm f/2.8L II – top choice for super wide angles, the 14mm f/2.8L is extremely sharp across the frame. Contrast and colors are exceptional.
  2. Canon 17-40mm f/4L – one of the top choices for landscape photography, both in terms of price and performance. It is known to be sharper in the corners than Canon’s 16-35mm f/2.8L lens, which is more expensive than the 17-40mm.
  3. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L – a great overall lens for landscape photography. Also has some problems with distortion and vignetting, but gets much better at smaller apertures.
  4. Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II – superb optics, exceptional image clarity and sharpness across the frame for longer-range telephoto shots.
  5. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS – similar to the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR, the Canon 24-105mm f/4L is an overall superb lens with a very useful focal range. It also suffers from some corner softness, distortion and vignetting wide open, but gets much better stopped down.
  6. Canon 24mm f/3.5L Tilt/Shift – a special purpose tilt/shift lens for Canon format that is similar to Nikon’s PC-E 24mm f/3.5D.
  7. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS – a lower-cost and a much lighter/smaller alternative to the 70-200mm f/2.8L, the Canon 70-200mm f/4L is a great lens for photographing distant subjects.

Again, there are many other Canon/Zeiss/Sigma/Tamron lenses that also do a great job for photographing landscapes. Please feel free to provide your recommendations from your own personal experience.

3.2.1.4) Best Canon EF-S Lenses for Landscape Photography

Here are some of the best Canon EF-S lenses for landscape photography:

  1. Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 – a great lens that is similar to Nikon’s 10-24mm in terms of performance.
  2. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS – also similar to Nikon’s 17-55mm f/2.8G DX, the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 is a very popular Canon lens that is sharp across the frame. Color and contrast are pro-level.

The list is shorter than Nikon’s, but for a reason – some of the EF lenses work great on EF-S mount and are generally the way to go. The Canon 17-40mm f/4L, for example, is very popular for both EF and EF-S mounts. For a single lens solution, I recommend either going with the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS or the Canon 17-40mm f/4L. If you need to go wider, the best combo seems to be the Canon 10-22mm coupled with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L, which will cover everything from ultra-wide angles to telephoto (~170mm equivalent FoV).

3.3) Camera Support – Tripods

A landscape photographer without a tripod is a handicapped photographer. Although modern cameras such as Nikon D3s are capable of producing high-quality images shot at high ISO sensitivities, some images are impossible to capture without good support. For example, it is impossible to photograph the night-time sky with stars without a tripod. Another example is taking pictures of moving water at slow shutter speeds of several seconds. Basically, any photography at slow shutter speeds of 1 second and longer must be taken with a tripod. Here is a recent example that would not have been possible without using a tripod:

Maroon Bells at Night

A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

The above image was shot at a shutter speed of 30 seconds at ISO 800 – there is no way I would have been able to capture this shot hand-held.

While these examples show cases when you might need a tripod, I personally consider a tripod a must-have tool, rather than an optional accessory. I once talked to a well-known landscape photographer about camera support and I stated that I prefer to shoot my landscapes hand-held when there is plenty of light. In response, he told me that he could not think or compose until he puts his camera on a tripod, even when shooting with a digital SLR on a bright day. It was shocking to hear what he said and I kind of criticized him in my head, but then as I continued to learn more and shoot more, I realized that what he said actually made a lot of sense. I went back and looked at my images shot hand-held and realized that many of them were badly aligned and many shots were either blurry because of camera shake or had too much grain due to increased ISO. Lately, I started taking my tripod with me everywhere and pretty much started doing the same thing – putting my camera on a tripod before taking pictures. My images improved in their quality significantly and I now spend even less time post-processing in Lightroom/Photoshop.

One last thing I wanted to suggest, is to get yourself a remote shutter release. Tripods do a great job in reducing camera shake, but since you are the one who presses the camera shutter, you could introduce additional vibration. For situations when you need to use a slow shutter speed (as described above), a remote shutter release can help eliminate camera shake. Entry-level and some of the semi-professional DSLRs have infrared remote shutter releases that are very cheap, typically under $50. If you use a professional camera, you will most likely have to get a more expensive cable release, which will run between $70 to $250, depending on the model and features.

If you want to find out more about tripods and if you need help choosing a good tripod for your photography, check out my “how to buy a tripod” article.

3.4) Filters and why they are important

Let’s now move over to filters. As you have seen earlier, I excluded the excellent Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens from the list of best lenses simply because it cannot take regular filters, which shows how important I personally think filters are for landscape photography. Any experienced landscape photographer will tell you that filters are an essential and integral part of landscape photography. Some shots are simply impossible to capture without specialized filters. There are three types of filters that I personally classify as “requirements” for landscape photography: Circular Polarizing Filter, Neutral Density Filter and Graduated Neutral Density Filter. Let’s take a look at each one individually.

3.4.1) Circular Polarizing Filter

Landscape photographers heavily rely on Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) for three reasons – the filter removes reflections from objects, which adds more contrast and color to images, it reduce haze on distant subjects and finally, it darkens the sky and brings out the clouds. As you might have noticed, I personally use the CPL a lot for my landscape photography. Here is a shot that I took with a polarizing filter:

Arches National Park

A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

See how blue the sky is and how white the clouds are? This shot would have looked completely different if I had not used a circular polarizer. Here is an example of a shot where the polarizer helped me to reduce haze and remove reflections from water:

Badwater with water

A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

Without a polarizer, the image would have looked horrible – the distant mountains would look very hazy and cloudy, while the reflections on the water would not have allowed me to show the darkness underneath.

Polarizing filters can be challenging to use, especially for those who have never used them before. You also have to be very careful when deploying them on wide angle lenses. If you want to know more about polarizing filters, I have written a detailed article on how to use polarizing filters, with plenty of examples and useful information.

3.4.2) Neutral Density Filter

Do you know how images of waterfalls with silky and smooth-looking water are captured? For most such shots, photographers use Neutral Density (ND) filters that only let very little light through (or better put, reduce the intensity of light), which basically slows down the exposure. Without a filter, you would have to increase the F-number to let less light through the lens. However, if you are shooting on a bright day, increasing the F-number would not help much, since there is too much light – you would either end up with an over-exposed image or the effect of the water blur would be minimal/unnoticeable.

Using a dark neutral density filter requires a good support system, since the shutter speed will decrease significantly, based on how much light the ND filter lets through. For example, a 6 stop ND filter by B+W that I personally use only transmits 1% of the light. With this little light getting through, the scene looks very dark when I look through the viewfinder and yet surprisingly, autofocus is still operational. 6 stops means that if I were shooting a scene at 1/250th of a second @ f/8.0 without a filter, the shutter speed would drop down to 1/4th of a second as soon as I mount the 6 stop ND filter on the lens. I could then further reduce my shutter speed by increasing my aperture to f/11 or more, if I needed longer shutter speeds for whatever reason. Here is an example of a waterfall that I captured using the ND filter:

Waterfall

As you can see, the image was shot during the day and yet the water looks “silky” in the photo, due to a slow shutter speed that I was able to get thanks to the 6 stop ND filter.

3.4.3) Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Graduated filters are similar to regular ND filters, except they gradually go from dark to completely clear. This gradual transition is important for landscapes, because it should only darken the brightest area of the scene without touching the darker parts of the scene such as the ground. Although a lot of photographers seem to be utilizing bracketing/HDR techniques to capture the full range of tones, I personally prefer to use Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters whenever possible. For example, if I am photographing a sunrise or sunset and the sky is several stops brighter than the ground, I will use my 0.6 (2 stop) or 0.9 (3 stop) Graduated ND filter to darken the sky. Take a look at this shot:

Sunrise at Maroon Bells

To properly expose the sky, I used a two stop Graduated Neutral Density filter – that’s what added some of the blue to the sky. Without the filter, the sky was overexposed and looked completely white. I actually had to add another half a stop of Graduated ND filter through Lightroom, which made the sky a little darker (I shot in RAW, which preserved the darker tones). If I hadn’t used any filters, my only choice would have been to shoot in brackets for HDR – not something I wanted to do for this particular shot.

Similar to circular polarizing filters, you have to be careful when using GND filters, because you might end up darkening other parts of the image. Take a closer look at the above image – you will see that both mountains on the left and right side of the top frame also got darker, which is not good and not something that is easy to fix in post-production…

Another major problem with graduated neutral density filters, is that they cannot (and should not) be circular. Why? Because you should be able to control the point from which the scene will turn from dark into clear. In one scene, the sky might take up 20% of the image, while on another one with beautiful clouds it might take up 50% or more of the image. That’s where you will need to move the graduated filter up and down to accommodate different situations. In order to be able to do this, you will need a filter holder system with square or rectangular filters. I personally use the Lee Filter Holder system, but there are many others to choose from.

3.4.4) Recommended Filters

Here is the list of the filters I recommend and personally use:

  1. B+W 77mm Kaeseman Circular Polarizing MRC Glass Filter
  2. B+W 77mm Neutral Density 1.8 Filter (6 Stops)
  3. B+W 77mm Neutral Density 3.0 Filter (10 Stops)

If you want to use top-of-the-line filters, Singh-Ray makes the best filters in the world. Their 77mm Vari-ND filter allows blocking up to 8 stops of light by turning the filter like you would turn a polarizer. Singh-Ray also makes the superb 77mm Warming Polarizing Filter for regular and ultra-wide angle lenses. They make everything from circular, to 4×6 and larger filters that fit any filter holder system (below). For landscape photography, Singh-Ray is the #1 choice when it comes to quality filters.

Filter Holder System by Lee Filters:

  1. Lee Filters Foundation Kit with a 77mm Adapter Ring
  2. Lee Filters 4×6 Graduated Neutral Density ND 0.6 Resin Filter
  3. Lee Filters 4×6 Graduated Neutral Density ND 0.9 Resin Filter

Alternative Filter Holder System by Cokin:

  1. Cokin X-Pro Filter Holder with a 77mm Adapter Ring
  2. Cokin X-Pro 121S Gradual Grey G2 Soft Filter

If you do not use ultra-wide angle lenses shorter than 24mm on FX or 16mm on DX, you can also use the much cheaper Cokin P Filter Holder System:

  1. Cokin P Filter Holder with a 77mm Adapter Ring
  2. Hitech 0.6 GND Soft Edge Filter
  3. Hitech 0.9 GND Soft Edge Filter

4) Photo Technique

Now that you know what camera gear you need, let’s move on to the fun part – photo technique, which is comprised of three parts: Camera Gear Technique, Composition and Post-Processing Technique. These three elements are all equally important in landscape photography and you have to master them all in order to be able to produce great-looking images that you could potentially showcase and even sell.

4.1) Camera Gear Technique

The first thing you need to learn how to use properly, is obviously your camera. If you have never used a DSLR before, get prepared for an intensive learning process. Your first lesson is to understand how a DSLR camera works and what it consists of. Next, you need to master the “exposure triangle”, which I call the “three kings” – Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Once you get a good grasp of these individually, you need to then learn how they work together to create a picture. Next, I would learn about camera modes and metering modes. Lastly, I would recommend skimming through your camera’s manual to understand how to change the exposure and camera modes.

A good starting point to learn the basics of photography is through my “Photography Tips for Beginners” page that contains a number of easy to understand articles.

If you are able to comfortably shoot in Manual Mode while being able to adjust the exposure by increasing/decreasing the ISO, your basic knowledge of the camera is pretty solid.

4.1.1) Camera Settings

What are the optimal camera settings for photographing landscapes? Here are the settings that I personally use and recommend (good for most DSLRs):

  1. Camera Mode: Manual. Learn how to shoot landscapes in manual mode. Use the built-in camera meter to see if you need to increase or decrease the shutter speed.
  2. Aperture: Start at f/8.0 and increase the number based on how much of the foreground and background you need to keep sharp. Try not to shoot above f/11 (on DX) and f/16 (on FX) to avoid diffraction.
  3. Shutter Speed: Doesn’t matter as much adjust the shutter speed based on what your camera meters. In some cases when you need to freeze or blur movement, you will have to keep the shutter speed low or high. You can do this by changing aperture or using ND filters.
  4. ISO: 100 or 200, whatever your camera’s base ISO is. Many of the modern Nikon DSLR’s have a base ISO of 200, while Canon DSLR’s have a base ISO of 100. If you have a setting for “Auto ISO” on your camera, turn it off.
  5. Image Format: RAW and RAW only, if you want the best possible results. Set camera bit-rate to the highest number (if available). Many professional cameras allow shooting 14-bit RAW.
  6. White Balance: Auto, since it doesn’t matter if you shoot RAW – you can easily change White Balance in post-production.
  7. Color Profile: Again, doesn’t matter due to RAW format. I personally leave it at AdobeRGB.
  8. High ISO Noise Reduction: Off, you should not be shooting at high ISOs anyway.
  9. Vignette Reduction: Off, best to deal with it in post-production.
  10. Autofocus: Move your autofocus from the shutter release button to a dedicated button on the back of your camera. Some entry-level DSLRs might not have this feature, but most do. Most Nikon DSLRs either have a dedicated AF-ON button or AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera that can be programmed for autofocus (D3100, D5000 and D90 can do this). You certainly do not want your camera to autofocus every time you press the shutter button, especially if you are shooting panoramas. By switching autofocus action to a dedicated button, you can focus just once and then shoot in a continuous sequence.

4.1.2) Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance

When you photograph landscapes, it is vital to understand the concept of depth of field very well. One of the biggest challenges of landscape photography is to master lens focus and make everything look acceptably sharp. Why is that a challenge, you might ask? Because optics have certain limitations and it is not always possible to bring everything from foreground to background into perfect focus, especially when some objects are very close and others are very far. A good way to illustrate this is to do a quick experiment with your eyes (as you have seen from my other articles, cameras and lenses work just like our eyes). You will need two objects that can stand on a flat surface – a small and a large object (like dice and a box of playing cards). Place the larger object vertically about 10 feet away from where you are on a straight surface like a table. Then move back to your position and while holding the smaller object with your index and thumb fingers, extend your hand half way, pointing it towards the larger object. Focus your eyes on the smaller object. Note how blurry the background is and how blurry the larger object is, almost to the point where it blends with other background objects. Now, take the smaller object and place it by the larger object and move back again to your position. Take a look at the smaller object from this distance now. This time, you will notice that both objects look sharp to you and even if you move the smaller object a little away from the larger one, it will not make a difference. The larger object will not get completely blurred like it did when you looked at the smaller object from a close distance. This very simple experiment demonstrates how lenses focus and how subject distance impacts sharpness.

While our eyes work like a fixed 50mm lens, camera lenses allow us to capture much wider perspectives, or allow us to get closer to our subjects. Without understanding the relationship between lens focal length, aperture and camera to subject distance, focusing for landscape photography can get rather difficult. For example, if you were photographing starfish on a beach from a close distance and wanted to get the background horizon to be equally sharp as the starfish, which would you focus on – the starfish or the background? Would you be using a wide-angle or a telephoto lens to get both in focus? What aperture would you be using? A good landscape photographer should know answers to all of these questions and come up with the right solution to the problem. For example, I would have certainly used a wide-angle lens (since long focal lengths would only isolate the subject more), a relatively high aperture number between f/8 and f/16 and would have focused on an area somewhere between the starfish and the background. Where exactly would I focus? This is where you need to understand what hyperfocal distance is and how to find it.

What is hyperfocal distance? Basically, hyperfocal distance is the point where you should focus your camera to get the maximum sharpness. When you focus your camera on the hyperfocal distance, everything from half of the distance all the way to infinity will be in focus. For example, if my hyperfocal distance is 50 feet, everything from 25 feet to infinity will be in focus. My depth of field basically starts at 25 feet. Why is hyperfocal distance important? In the previous example with starfish, if I focused my camera on the starfish or the background (infinity), either the starfish or the background would have been blurry. I want both to look sharp, so if I knew where the hyperfocal distance is and I focused on it, I would have theoretically gotten both sharp. Obviously, my focal length, camera to starfish distance and aperture are all variables that play a huge role here, but you hopefully get the point. Some photographers give advice to focus somewhere in the middle, between the closest foreground object and the background at infinity, without knowing all variables. I would be careful listening to such advice, since you might end up with blurry images, especially if you shoot with film.

For those who shoot digital, here is a trick that works for me when I am too lazy to use a hyperfocal distance calculator. Simply focus on your background (infinity) and take a shot. Then look at the image at 100% on the rear camera LCD and scroll from the background to the foreground. The last point where your image looks sharp and starts transitioning to blur – that’s roughly your hyperfocal distance. Remember this spot, then focus on it, take a picture and then see if the image looks sharp across the frame.

If you want to know the precise location of the hyperfocal distance, there are plenty of websites and various applications for your phone that compute this for you. You can even print out a hyperfocal chart and carry it with you everywhere. If you use an iPhone, there are plenty of apps such as DOFMaster that serve this purpose.

4.1.3) Bracketing

When you face tough situations with the light, where you have a big contrast between the darks and the whites, shoot in brackets of 3 to 5 (depending on your camera capabilities). Bracketing not only allows you to try post-processing techniques like HDR, but also gives you options for better exposure. You might choose one exposure over another and then further work on it in Lightroom or Photoshop. You might pick some parts of one image and merge them with another image through masking in Photoshop or do things like exposure fusion.

4.2) Composition and Framing

Composition is a key element of every type of photography, including landscape photography. Without good composition, pictures can look plain, lifeless and boring. How should you compose your images and are there any rules for composition? What is good and bad composition? How should you frame your shots? I get these kinds of questions from our readers every once in a while, so I decided to write about it in more detail.

When it comes to composition and framing there are no real set “rules” per se. However, there are some guidances and suggestions that might help with composing and framing your images better. Here are some of my guidelines:

  1. Communicate and transfer the mood through your photographs – every photograph should have a mood and a message to it. What are you trying to say? What is your story? What is the mood of your photograph? Will the viewer feel amused by the power of nature that you are trying to show, or feel crushed by the dark, dreadful clouds in your image? Or perhaps the viewer should just enjoy the beauty of the colors you are trying to show? Your image needs to be able to communicate and bond with the viewer, triggering his/her emotions.
  2. Scout the area beforehand – you never know what might be around you. Scout the area before the best light kicks in and find the best spots to be in. How many times have you been in situations where the light is perfect, the subject is perfect, but you are standing in a bad spot? Avoid those kinds of problems by doing the homework early.
  3. Slow down and be patient – if you are not photographing wildlife or other fast-moving elements, slow down and take time to compose your shot. Wait for the right moment, the right light and be patient. Take pictures, then wait more – your best photo might be minutes or hours away.
  4. Align/level your photograph before taking a picture – while composing, make sure that your frame is properly aligned. If it is not, you will have to align it in post-production and you will ultimately lose some of the image resolution. I personally use the horizontal and vertical lines inside my viewfinder to align my camera most of the time, which works great. Another tool I use occasionally is the “virtual horizon”, which works like a leveling tool. If you do not have a virtual horizon feature, you might want to get yourself an external level that goes on top of your flash hot shoe.
  5. Avoid placing your main subject in the center – many beginners do this a lot and while in some cases it is OK to place your main subject in the center, you should avoid doing it repetitively.
  6. Rule of thirds – I’m sure you have heard of this one, but it kind of goes along with #2. Simply visually cut your image into three parts and move your subject away from the center, so that it intersects with some of the lines. If you have a horizon in your frame, you can place it horizontally at 1/3 or 2/3 of the frame for a better composition. Here is an example of an image where I used the rule of thirds:

    Delicate Arch

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

  7. Center of interest/attention – a photograph should contain a center of interest where you want the viewer to focus their attention on. Whether it is a tree, a bush or a house, there should be an element that instantly grabs the attention of the viewer. Here is an example, where the center of attention is the kiva in the lower bottom of the frame:

    Canyonlands Wallpaper

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

  8. Exclude/avoid straight rivers, streams and roads – instead of straight rivers and roads, try to locate curved ones, especially the ones with an “S” shape – they look much more pleasing to the eye. Here is an example of a curved river:

    Curved River

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

    And here is an example of a curved road:

    Fall colors and road

    If the road was curved all the way, the composition would have been even better…

  9. When photographing mirror reflections, make sure that nothing disturbs the subject or its reflection – I remember when I posted one of the images of Maroon Bells with a log in the reflection, one well-known photographer criticized the image, saying that I should not have included the log in the frame. Here is that image:

    Maroon Bells

    Besides being an over-cooked/over-saturated image, the big straight log that cuts through the image destroys the essence of the photograph, becoming an ugly part of the image (which at the time, I thought was a nice composition element). The attention of the viewer is no longer at the center of interest (which is the mountains and their reflection), but on the large log. After his rather harsh critique, I went back to the same spot and took another picture, but without any disturbing elements in the reflection and got this:

    Maroon Bells

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

    As you can see, the image certainly looks better and you can concentrate on looking at the beautiful mountains and their reflection, without getting disturbed by other unnecessary objects.

  10. Balance your shot through symmetry – one more thing to keep in mind when photographing landscapes, especially reflections, is to achieve a “balance” – one part of the image should not heavily outweigh the other. You can achieve this through symmetry, as shown in the above image of Maroon Bells.
  11. If you have trees, single bushes or other objects in your corner frame, try to either fit them into the frame, or exclude them completely – there will be situations when it is too difficult or impossible to do that, but try your best.
    Sunrise

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

    As you can see from the above image, I did fit the bush in the center into the frame, but could not fit the one on the right, so it is cropped. There were too many small bushes and plants in the area and it was just impossible to fit them all. But since my center of attention is the sky together with the strange formations on the right (which fit the frame), the bushes hopefully do not look too distracting.

  12. Carefully frame your shot – in the past, I never paid attention to proper framing – I would just point my camera and take a picture, without putting much thought into what I was doing. I ended up with thousands of useless pictures… It is very unfortunate, because I had very unique moments with beautiful sunset, cloud formations and good light, but just because of my own errors, those pictures are all useless. Learn how to properly frame your shot and think before you press the shutter. Don’t just point and shoot like you used to before.
  13. Don’t get stuck with horizontals – I personally prefer taking horizontal images of landscape, but I do take a lot of verticals as well. In some cases try doing both and give yourself a chance to choose which one is better later. Sometimes vertical shots communicate better than horizontals.
  14. Don’t let tall trees and other large objects touch the frame – leave some “breathing” space. Even very little free space is better than none. Take a look at this example:
    Old Mine #1

    The tip of the mountain is almost touching the top frame. If I had some clouds that day, I would have probably included more of the sky, but I purposefully reduced the sky to have the viewer concentrate on the old building with the walking man. Note that I still left some space in between the mountain and the top of the frame though.

  15. Be careful when using ultra-wide angle lenses – ultra-wide angle lenses always make the foreground objects much larger than they are and make the background look much smaller. For example, take a look at this shot:
    San Juan #18

    I captured the image with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens @ 14mm on full-frame Nikon D700, which is an extremely wide focal length. If I pointed the camera down just a little more, you would have seen my shoes. As you can see, the foreground looks gigantic compared to the objects just 10-15 feet away. The tall building on the horizon is barely visible and insignificant.

    When using such extreme wide angles, it is typically best to approach your subject close to force the attention of the viewer on that object, rather than shoot from a distance. If you shoot from a distance, everything will look small and the objects close to you will look too big in comparison. Try not to use ultra-wide angle lenses too much for landscape photography. I find focal lengths above 28mm on FX and 18mm on DX to work best for my landscape photography.

  16. If you include animals in your shots, try to capture them in different poses – animals often move towards the same direction. Wait until they change their poses so that they are not facing the same way and then take a picture.
  17. Keep it simple – avoid adding too many distracting and busy elements to your images. Sometimes keeping it simple is the key to a good composition.
  18. Pick diagonal lines rather than straight vertical or horizontal lines – diagonal lines are much more dynamic than straight vertical/horizontal lines:

    Indian Writings

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

    For this shot, I had to angle my camera so that the line runs diagonally.

  19. Try multiple lines – sometimes a mix of straight and diagonal lines at different angles can give a different feel to the image:
    Mountain Reflection

    In the above shot, I have a bridge that is positioned diagonally, while the lake line cuts straight through the middle horizontally.

  20. Have a sense of depth with diagonals – having a sense of depth in your images is important – you do not want the images to look very flat. A 3D look is always better than a flat 2D look:
    Old Gas Pump

    Here, the diagonal fence gives some depth to the image, showing the viewer that the building with the gas pump are located at the end and stacked closely to each other.

    San Juan Streets

    Here, the diagonal lines are creating a “tunnel” with lots of depth to the image.

  21. Get close – this is different than getting close with an ultra-wide angle lens. If you have a zoom lens, see if you can improve your composition by zooming in closer and eliminating other objects around the subject. Sometimes having a telephoto zoom lens helps to achieve this.

    Mammoth Hot Springs #1

    For the above shot, I zoomed in to 100mm with my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens to focus on the slightly curved diagonal branches. With a wider lens/shorter focal length, I would have captured a lot of other objects around.

  22. Get those “S” curves – as I have already pointed out above, curves always look better than straight lines, especially the “S” curves:

    Frozen Dunes

    A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

    Here is another “S” curve:

    S Curve

  23. Recurrence of objects/elements – another interesting concept that you can apply to your composition, is recurrence of objects or elements in your photograph. The element of recurrence itself is not always important – you can do this with fences, electric poles, trees, buildings, etc. Here is an example of recurrence:
    San Juan mountains with a fence #1
  24. Try taking panoramic images – rather than being stuck with square or rectangular images, try shooting panoramic images. You can either crop images to be panoramic (see below on cropping) or you can shoot a bunch of vertical or horizontal frames and then stitch them together in Photoshop or other third party software. I have a detailed guide on how to photograph panoramas and you can find plenty of information on how to properly photograph panoramas there.

While the above composition guidelines are there to help you, feel free to play around and do something different – after-all, photographs are created by your vision and your creativity.

4.3) Post-Processing Technique

Post-processing is an integral part of landscape photography. I remember once seeing a small photography contest online and one of the rules said to submit only original, untouched photographs. Apparently, the contest organizers thought that post-processing images was an unfair practice and they did not want one person to have an advantage over another, just because of better Photoshop skills. I personally think that such rules are silly. Is it unfair when one photographer can use Photoshop better than another? Ansel Adams, the master of landscape photography was a darkroom magician. He spent countless hours working on his images and I am sure that if he was alive today, he would have loved Photoshop! How are Ansel’s post-processing skills in the darkroom different than someone’s Photoshop skills? Knowing how to post-process images is a big part of every photographer’s life today. And that’s a fact.

At the same time, you hear many photographers say “do everything right in camera”. I mostly agree with this statement – when it comes to landscape photography, it is best to minimize post-processing efforts and do as much as possible in the camera. It is one thing to photograph a scene with a heavily overexposed sky, thinking you can fix it later in Photoshop and another to use filters and other tools to expose the sky at least partially right, so that you could finish it up in Lightroom/Photoshop. Some things like the effect of a polarizing filter cannot be replicated in post-processing. Other things take enormous amounts of time to fix. Just learn to balance your workflow and you should be in good shape.

4.3.1) Cropping

When it comes to cropping, I highly recommend minimizing your cropping efforts for landscape photography if you shoot digital. The main reason is that cropping results in smaller images, which means smaller prints. If you are just posting images for the web you can certainly crop as much as you want, but what if somebody gets interested in buying a large print of your photograph after seeing it on the web? That’s where cropping might hurt your image. If you shoot medium format or large format film, you have a lot more resolution, so slight cropping is generally not a problem. But I would still frame your images right from the very beginning, instead of having to resort to cropping later. The type of cropping you certainly want to avoid, is cutting verticals out of a horizontal image and vice versa – you will lose half of your resolution (if not more) by doing that. Aligning and leveling images also results in cropping and losing resolution. Therefore, as I have recommended above under “composition”, you should always align and level your camera before taking pictures.

Other than that, very slight cropping to improve your composition and remove clutter is quite normal. I personally do crop some images when necessary as well.

4.3.2) Sharpness and why it is important

While sharpness does not matter as much for certain types of photography, it certainly carries a lot of weight in landscape photography. A sharp landscape image is always better to look at than a blurry or a fuzzy image – it communicates good technique by the photographer, gives a more realistic feeling to objects and just looks more pleasing to the eye. Having good sharpness across the frame requires the following:

  1. A good lens that is able to resolve a lot of detail and is sharp from center to corners.
  2. A high-quality film or digital camera with plenty of resolution.
  3. Good camera technique by the photographer that can set proper exposure, acquire correct focus and eliminate camera shake.
  4. Good post-processing skills by the photographer for adding additional sharpening for printing/publishing.

All of the above depend on each other. You might have the best post-processing skills, but if your lens is soft, you will never be able to get sharp results. Similarly, you might have the sharpest lens in the world and yet if you cannot set the right exposure and calculate your focus point correctly, you will end up with a blurry image that you cannot fix by sharpening.

If you have the right gear and camera technique, sharpening images in post-processing is easy. Take a look at my article on how to sharpen images in Lightroom to get an idea. You can also use special plugins in Photoshop for selective sharpening and they also work great.

4.3.3) Post-processing images

Other than sharpening and cropping, there are many different ways to improve your photographs. You can darken the sky and make it look more blue, you can saturate some of the colors more, you can add more contrast to your images, you can convert images to black and white and much much more. I am not going to go through all of these techniques, since there is just too much to cover, but you can get started by reading my Lightroom landscape photography post-processing tutorial, where I share some simple techniques to make your landscape photographs look better without using Photoshop. You can find some other tutorials in my growing “Post-processing tips for Beginners” section.

Here are some additional post-processing tips for landscape photography:

  1. Be careful with dark shadows in the scene – while shadows are a normal fact of life, don’t let the shadows steal your viewer’s attention. Make sure that shadows do not occupy too much space, or they will spoil your image. Also, if your shadows are too dark, try to lighten them up either by adjusting the exposure or in post-production. In Lightroom, you can use the “Fill Light” feature to add some light to the shadows. Don’t overdo it though – you still want shadows to look like shadows. That’s one of the biggest problems with HDR photography – the shadows rarely look real. Here is an example of a shadow eating up half of the image:

    Hells Half Acre #2

    Although I did brighten up the shadows a little, the image still looks unbalanced and the shadows are too distracting to the eye.

  2. Don’t oversaturate your images – it is very common for photographers to purposefully oversaturate images. I personally used to oversaturate images a lot in the past. Now, when I go back and look at them, I realize that I should have taken it easy on colors. In some cases, you might actually need to desaturate some colors or an entire image. Here is an example of an over-saturated image that I shot a couple of years ago:
    Arches National Park

    It is actually not just over-saturated, but also underexposed. Sometimes underexposing can result in too much color saturation as well. Even some of my recent images look over-saturated to me, so I have been actually decreasing saturation levels in Lightroom.

  3. More tips coming soon!

4.3.4) Monitor Calibration

When you work on your images, make sure that your monitor is calibrated. You do not want to be editing images using a non-calibrated monitor, because your colors might be way off. I have an article on “how to calibrate your monitor“, in case you do not know where to start.

5) Light

Let’s move on to talk about Light – the third most important element of landscape photography. I know many photographers will argue that it is the “first” in terms of importance – and I agree. Although photo equipment and skill/technique are certainly important, no photograph can look good without beautiful light. Portrait photographers can work with pretty much any light, because they have powerful external flashes that can imitate natural light. Landscape photographers do not have such luxury – we have to work with the available light all the time (except when painting some foreground objects with flashlight).

What is the best light? What are the best times of the day? Or best times of the year? Let’s see if I can answer some of these in more detail.

5.1) Sunrise and Sunset

The best landscape pictures are either taken at sunrise or sunset. I personally prefer sunrise/early morning light than sunset/late afternoon light, because it seems like there is less haze in the morning (obviously depends on many factors, pollution, wind, wildfires, etc). But it all depends on the direction of the subject I want to photograph. In Colorado, some mountains are best photographed at sunrise, while others are best photographed at sunset. Before you decide when to be at a particular location, I would highly recommend scouting the area first. Mid-afternoon is a good time to scout and estimate where the sun will rise and where it will set. I personally rely on some apps for my iPhone to tell me when the sun rises/sets and where in the horizon the sun will show up and where it will set. My favorite app is Focalware – I simply set my location and it tells me everything I need to know.

5.3) Best Light

When people ask photographers about the best light, the typical answer is “early in the morning or late afternoon, with the worst light at mid-afternoon”. While it is true for many locations around the world, the statement is not necessarily correct for some regions. For example, if you live in Nordic countries or shoot in Antarctica, you could shoot all day long with great light. How? It is all about the angle of light in relation to the sun. Direct sunlight that we typically see in the mid-day is the worst, because it creates straight and ugly shadows. But if sunlight is always at an angle, there is no bad time for taking pictures. Sunrise and sunset times are the best, because you see the most amount of colors. So if you asked me when the best light is, I would say “it depends on where you are located”.

5.4) Seasons

What about seasons? Again, it depends on where you are. In Colorado, for example, mid-summer is a great time for landscape photography because of wildflowers that bloom in mid-July at high altitudes. In other places, summers are horrible due to heat, too much haze and harsh light. Winters in Colorado are typically hard to photograph due to harsh weather, snow, ice and dangerous road conditions. And yet winters are the best in terms of haze and angle of the sun. Spring and Fall are typically my favorite seasons to photograph landscapes everywhere, not just Colorado. The fall season is something you do not want to miss, especially in places with lots of non-evergreen trees. Some trees and plants go through dramatic color changes. For example, aspen changes its colors several times before the leaves fall off – from dark green to light green, then from light green to yellow, then from yellow to red. In some cases you might even see brown leaves, if there is no wind.

Fall Aspen Colors

Fall

A desktop wallpaper version of the above image can be downloaded from here.

Spring is also great in many ways, with fruit trees having the most beautiful blooming season:

Spring in Colorado

This article is a work in progress – I will be adding more information to it in the future.


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Teng Chelsea

    NICE … AND LEARN A LOT ..

  2. 2
    ) pasquier

    Wow, very detailed useful article Nasim. This will be a great help to budding photographers.
    To protect your gear from the elements, I suggest covers such as those made by ThinkTank or Acquatech.
    They are great not only for rain, but also sand, snow, salt etc.
    As a long time medium B&W format photographer I can testify that nothing compares to a “fat, saturated” 6×6 cm negative. Sadly, this is becoming a dying art, just getting the right tools these days is a chore – and medium format digital is out of reach of mot of us, although new cameras and backs may become cheaper.
    Concerning lenses and FX bodies, a lot of older Nikkor zooms such as the 28-70mm f3.5 give stellar performance at f8+, which is where a lot of landscape work is don. These can be obtained rather cheaply on Ebay etc.

    • Thank you for additional tips and suggestions Pasquier! I should add another section on protecting camera gear…

  3. 3
    ) Eric

    Impressive. Many advices are available elsewhere, but this is a good opportunity to remind and improve. Thanks!

  4. 4
    ) Morten

    SIMPLY AMAZING Nasim, this is a “guide of all guides” and I differently will return again and again to this guide! Job well done and thanks for sharing!
    Br,
    /Morten
    Denmark

    • Thank you Morten! I have not finished it yet and hopefully will keep on adding more and more to this article in the future!

  5. 5
    ) Imtiaz Rashid

    Hi NasIm,

    First of all thank you for this great article, I think a lot of people will definitely find it very useful!

    I always wanted to ask you this question since I first saw your ‘Sunrise’ (http://photographylife.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Sunrise.jpg) picture.

    What do you have to obtain the “dusty” effect? To me it just looks amazing. Did you use a filter or is it done through post processing (both probably)?

    Once again, amazing job and thank you for sharing.

    Imtiaz

    • Thank you for your feedback Imtiaz and I apologize for a late response!

      As for the sunrise image, the image is a result of using a Neutral Density filter + some post-processing using HDR and other techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop. HDR is what brought up some of the ground colors to the image, while the sky came out the way it did thanks to the ND filter.

  6. 6
    ) BRob

    Amazing article (once more). Very detailed and full of little useful tricks. So detailed that I will have to read it once more, at least, to grab some important concepts in mind. I have an Hoya circular polarizer almost welded to my lenses but after reading your article, one ND filter will come soon. Thank you.

    • Thank you Sir! ND filters are a must for nature photography, so it is great that you got one :)

  7. Very well done, Nasim!

    • Thank you Murray, appreciate the feedback!

  8. 8
    ) GB

    Very good! Itcould be useful a printable version.

  9. Ну Насим и статьища! Все по делу.

    • Алексей, спасибо! Статья еще не закончена – буду добавлять больше всего в будущем :)

  10. 10
    ) steven ross

    All I have to say is WOW Nasim and thank you very much for all the information.

    I have paid for beginning classes that required 4 two hour sessions and did not provide this much detailed information/recommendations. You really should start charging to read this blog lol.

    I was also happy to see that my 12-24 and 24-120 f4 is a recommended landscape dx lens set. Next on the menu is the 77mm B+W CPL to be followed by the ND filter. Glad they will fit both lenses.

    I really appreciate all the info and every time I visit you have more facebook fans. Nice to see others finding your site as useful as me. Unfortunately I am not on facebook so I can’t add to that list, sorry.

    Have a great holiday,
    Steven

    • Thank you for your feedback Steven, I appreciate it :)

      Yes, the 12-24mm and 24-120mm are excellent lenses and a great combo! Filters work great with these, although I would be careful about using a CPL on the 12-24mm – it will vignette heavily at 12mm.

  11. 11
    ) Eric Abbott

    This article, and your entire website, is so incredibly well done and useful. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this.

    Eric Abbott
    Denver, CO

    • Eric, you are most welcome!

      We should go and shoot together sometime! I was thinking about hiking at RMNP on a weekend…

      • Nasim that sounds great. I own a couple of muffin & bagel cafes (My Favorite Muffin) in the Denver Tech Center area. Next time you are down South – let me buy you breakfast or lunch. It’s the least I can do for all the help you give me from your site!!

  12. 12
    ) Leer

    Thank you so much for taking your time for sharing your experience and teaching us be a better photographer, immensely appreciated!!

    • You are most welcome Leer, glad you found the article useful.

  13. Great article. Thank you!

    Liju Augustine

  14. Wow, that is an impressive guide!! A must read to landscape photographers!!

    • Thank you Martins, appreciate the feedback!

  15. 15
    ) Noreen

    They are definitely a guide to taking landscape photos. My first read of the article is not thoroughly registering in my mind right now. I will definitely be coming back to read it all over again! Thanks, Nasim

    • Noreen, you are most welcome! I will be adding more to this article in the future!

  16. 16
    ) Mariano

    Great guide, very well written and organized. I’ve been looking to improve my landscape photography, and I’ve learned a lot reading this.

    I found your site just a few weeks ago, and it’s one of the best photo blogs I’ve seen on the net; lots of useful information. I guess I’ll have to start reading… :)

    Keep up the good work!

  17. 33
    ) Prajakt

    Excellent artical Nasim. I was actually not aware of the fact of “Hyperfocal Distance” and how to set it. I will try it and let you know in case of any queries.

    Regards,

    Prajakt

  18. 35
    ) George

    Really appreciate the work that has gone in to making so many informative articles.I think I will read them one by one.Thanks a lot for parting with your experience for the benefit of everyone out there.I am sure anyone who wants to learn more about photography will benefit from it.God bless you.

  19. 36
    ) George Augustine

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. Great article..Its actually a course on photography..Very useful.Thanks again.

    • Thank you for your feedback George! Now I need to go back and add more stuff to it, because it is incomplete ;-)

  20. 37
    ) DJ

    Absolutely one of , if not, the best site on the net. Great info. The pictures and locations are top notch. Even though I’m a beginner, I have a good sense for when I see great talent. Keep up the good work.

    One thing I hope to see in the future is the data included with the pictures; camera body, lens, aperture, ISO, etc.

    Godspeed!

    DJ

    • Thank you for your feedback DJ!

      The data is already included in each picture via EXIF Data – I specifically leave it on all of my pictures for our readers to learn.

  21. 42
    ) Rahul Chatterjee

    Hi Nasim,

    I have been following your blogs and article ever since I have bought my Canon 550D in late January. I can say that most of my knowledge on photography I owe to you. Thanks for creating such a informative and demonstrative blog. It takes a huge heart to write about the skills you have meticulously learnt over the years and I must congratulate you for doing the same. Also the way you respond the reader’s query and solve their day to day problem is beyond appreciation.

    I have a simple confusion: my camera came with a kit lens 18 – 55 IS f/3.5 – 5.6, which is a generic lens with good performance. For faster performance and portraits I have got a 50 f/1.8 which works good on the APS-C sensor. Now I wanna add another lens which is 70 – 300 to complete the environment for a while. I have zeroed in on Tamron SP70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD. Can you please guide me whether to buy this lens or not.

    Thanking in advance

    Best regards,
    Rahul , New Delhi, India

  22. 43
    ) Sally

    Hello

    Just amazing shots! Wow!

  23. 45
    ) Vivek

    Fantastic article Nasim, you continue to be an inspiration for many amateurs like myself!

  24. 46
    ) Mukamo

    Hi Nasim,
    I enjoyed reading on all your articles and learned a lot. I’m still newbie on this hobby and love to take landscape but at the same time portraiture. I have D7000 and lenses 50mm f/1.8 & 55-300 mm f/4.5 already. Can you help me to decide what single lens should I invest to fit on both (landscape and portraiture)?

  25. 47
    ) Jay

    Hi Nasim – your site is very informative and helpful. Going forward, how do you feel about tagging your photos with what type of lens you used and the location? Thanks for this awesome site!

  26. 48
    ) Olcay AYDIN

    Mr. Nasim,
    I am newbie. I have been trying to learn about photography more and more since i had my D5000. This is the first time i have satisfied with what I read. For example, thanks to you i found out that nikon 35 mm 1.8 is not just for potraits. I love this web site. Thank you very much.

  27. 50
    ) Ravi

    Nasim,

    I recently chanced upon this site by googling “D300 tips and tricks”.. and little did i know i had stumbled upon a goldmine of information so elaborately and neatly put, i was hooked and i couldn’t stop reading your other articles and looking at your pictures. They are fabulous !

    I am an enthusiast and have been playing around with cameras and lens for a few years now when time permits. My first encounter with a SLR was with a Yashica Electro 35 that my cousin had and i was hooked. My first DSLR was a Nikon D70s. I still have it and would never get rid of it. But just got a D300 recently and its mind boggling in its scope and functionality. I think camera’s are reaching a point where we need AI systems to do all the settings for our voice commands. A Siri for the Nikon would be cool at the rate at which the tech wizards at Sendai Nikon are taking this instrument, mechanically and optically.

    I have been reading a lot of photography related sites for years now, you name it i probably have read it. But never have i ever encountered such a simple yet beautiful way to figure out HD as you said…

    ” For those who shoot digital, here is a trick that works for me when I am too lazy to use a hyperfocal distance calculator. Simply focus on your background (infinity) and take a shot. Then look at the image at 100% on the rear camera LCD and scroll from the background to the foreground. The last point where your image looks sharp and starts transitioning to blur – that’s roughly your hyperfocal distance. Remember this spot, then focus on it, take a picture and then see if the image looks sharp across the frame.”

    Makes you wonder “Why didnt i think of that? It was that simple !”..

    Hats off to you sir ! Appreciate all the time you spend from your family and work to enlighten us mortals. Shows your passion.

    Just subscribed to your feed and always looking forward to your articles ! :)

  28. 51
    ) Sid

    Hi Nasim… really loved your website! Found your site when i was searching for reviews on Nikon 70-300 lens. Youve got awesome reviews and I loved each an every lesson/tip you have posted in this site. Keep up the great work :) Wish I had stumbled upon your site much earlier!

  29. 52
    ) Ravi R

    Nasim,

    I have a question regarding the Aperture used for landscapes. I have heard that anything beyond f/11 or f/16, diffraction sets in, robbing sharpness. Given that,doesn’t landscape photography require large f-stops? And the pictures are still sharp !

    Or, do some lenses have good sharpness throughout their f-stops that make them ideal for landscapes?

  30. 53
    ) Angga

    This has to be one of the best or THE best photography blog i have ever visited. So suprising that it took me a long time to stumble upon this. Your articles are very helpful, easy to digest and very well organised. It has helped me alot and am sure so many other photographers would agree. It seems that many great photographer bloggers use Nikon. I don’t know if this is a coincedence or it is because the knowledgeable ones know which to use. I use canon anyways, though it is not important and i do not want to start the brand argument. Anyways, thanks for these useful guides. Looking forward for the next posts.

  31. 54
    ) Thor

    Awesome Article! Can u reccomend a lightweight tripod/octopus for using with a Nikon d90 ?

  32. 55
    ) Olfat

    Nasim,

    Great collection of articles, nicely written & simple enough even for the beginner. I’m just starting to take baby steps to decide on a camera. I’d love to get into landscape photography, something similar to what you have in this article. It’s a long way to go to have the skill to produce such amazing images, but for a starter, I’m thinking of getting the Nikon D7000. Apparently it doesn’t have full frame like D700 but it’s by far more reasonable in terms of price. Any advice!

  33. 56
    ) ccw

    Hi Mr. Mansurovs,

    Thank you sharing all this information with us. I have been reading your blog since I bought my D90. I am having so much fun about it and ready to advance to new lense.

    I am currently owning the kit lense, 18-105mm. Majority of the pics that I took are landscape and potrait. I am thinking a better lense for landscape, either Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G DX or Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G. May I know what are the main differences between these 2 lenses? which lense will be more compatible to D90? is 16-85mm kind of overlap with 18-105mm?

    I appreciate your thoughts

    thank you
    Ccw

  34. 57
    ) Deepak

    i am speechless. i wonder how could i missed your website and your tremendously erudite articles. thanks for every single line you have written.

  35. 58
    ) Naresh

    hello nasim, just wanted to say a big thanks for magnificent words…well explained in an easy manner…i appreciate your efforts …keep rocking:)

    -naresh

  36. 59
    ) Jay

    Thank you for a great tutorial. I’m an aspiring nature photographer and I found it very usefull. Although I don’t have the best equipment (D3100 and some filters) I now feel more confident that my pictures can yield atleast abit better result than before.

    - Jay

  37. 60
    ) Saleh

    Thanks for sharing. Great stuff.

  38. 61
    ) Mei

    Love this article so much that I bookmarked it :) simple but very detailed. Thanks for putting this up

  39. 62
    ) Albert

    That is really amazing! With so much of details and good stuff, I really learnt a lot from your articles.
    Such a great stuff, I have no regret to address you Nasim, as my “Sifu”.

    Looking forwards to learn more from you, Sifu.

  40. 63
    ) Ivan

    Hi Nassim, happen to stumble on your website today of which i find this very informative for a rookie like me. i knows there’s still a lot of things to learn to be able to get those great photos like yours. but anyway, i have the Nikon D7000 with 18- 105mm and 55- 300mm lens. i know you didnt even mentioned these lenses in your column but so far these two lenses are the ones i’m using and i’m trying to get the best out of these. by the way i like landscape or nature photography. as i read through your column you mentioned 14x24mm lens as the best lens for this kind of photography so with 16x85mm and 17x55mm as combo lens for the same use. you know i’m looking for a lens that i can use for different types of shots. which of the three lenses would you recommend. thanks for your time Nassim, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing !!!

  41. 64
    ) Suzaxs Barun

    This is the best artical i have ever read about the Landscape photography… lots of information thank you for posting :)

  42. 65
    ) Glenn

    Just stumbled onto this site. Great article and fantastic web content overall.

  43. 66
    ) alene

    Nasim, great article–would love to see an update section based on the recent camera bodies that have been added as some have really amped up megapixels like d800, and others have gotten into the mid 20s. Thanks!

  44. 67
    ) Luc Poirier

    Hi Nasim
    Best article I have read so far on landscape photography.
    May I ask you two questions:
    1- why do we have to buy expensive ND filters while we can do a similar job in Lightroom with the “Graduated filers “M” ” ?
    2- Why trying to avoid to make HDR images in landscapes, by using ND filters ?
    Have a nice day

  45. 68
    ) Jon

    Hi Nasim,

    It has been a few years since you wrote this article. Since then, as you know, the Mirrorless market has exploded. Could you add to your list of recommended cameras based on your recent experience with mirrorless? What’s your favorite mirrorless specifically for landscape photography?

  46. 69
    ) orlando

    Hi Nasim, instead of using all those filters you suggested, would i be able to get the same effect as using those filters by shooting RAW and then tweeking it on lightroom? Would i essentially get the same results?

  47. 70
    ) Debayan (Dean)

    Hi Nasim…What about a D3200 ?? I mean it has a large image sensor for a cheap entry level DSLR…Will it be good for Landscape photography ??

  48. 71
    ) Jabu

    I really liked your article Nasim :). I’m a photography student from South Africa, and I have been very interested in doing landscape photography in SA. Problem is, it’s not as big as fashion, wedding, photojournalism etc. so I hope one day that could change.

  49. 72
    ) Thomas

    I really appreciate your site and all you do to educate everyone. I do have one photography question though and as I’m not sure where to post it, this seemed like a somewhat relevant thread to ask for a review or information on underwater photography options for cameras, gear, and techniques unique to that environment.

  50. 73
    ) Vipul Kapadia

    What would you recommend for fader ND filters like this? Wouldn’t they make a better choice as you can pretty much use 2-8 stops just by rotating the filter?

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/758946-REG/Fader_Filters_VND_77II_77mm_Mark_II_Variable.html

  51. 74
    ) Michael

    Hi Nasim,

    First of all thanks a lot for the articles – I’m learning a lot from your website!

    I have a D7100 with a 18-200 f/3.5 that came with the kit.
    Would you recommend getting the 24mm f/1.4 instead of it?

  52. 75
    ) bhai dupare

    wts abt tamron 17-50 2.8 and i bought hoya cpl

    Bhai Dupare
    India

  53. 76
    ) Luc Poirier

    Hi Nasim

    Great review as always on landscape photography.

    I do not understand why Nikon and other lens manufacturers creates lenses with aperture well over F11, if diffraction is a serious problem. I own the 10-24 F3.5-4.5 DX . This lens aperture can go as high as F27. Can you explain their reasoning on that subject ?

    I took a few pics at F27 and the images don’t seem as sharp as at F8. Yes it creates much more depth of field but it also shows any dirt located on my camera sensor with much softer images.

    Luc

    • Luc, it is better to have options than no options at all. Sometimes people are OK with taking pictures at very small apertures, even if diffraction negatively affects images. I have done that myself a few times when I needed maximum depth of field. With good post-processing technique and some down-sampling, those diffraction issues could be minimized a little.

      • 78
        ) Luc Poirier

        Thanks Nasim for your answer its greatly appreciated
        Luc

  54. 79
    ) Dominic

    Hi Nasim,

    I’m going to Melbourne soon and is considering a suitable lens for some landscape photography. But Since I don’t normally shoot landscape, and buying a wide angle could be a little wasted, will my Nikkor 35mm 1.4 G serve my purpose? Thanks

  55. 80
    ) Austin

    Hi Nasim,
    This was an incredible article! I’ve been looking to get into photography and definitely have a foot forward. I am on a bit of a budget, so I was looking into the more entry-level items, such as the nikon d5200 body with a nikon 16-85mm (per your recommendation above). A few questions I have were:

    1) I looked at some other shots taken by other photographers (throughout google) and they just don’t seem to capture the crispness of the images you have. Is that pretty standard with this lens, or does it come down to the addition of filters/etc.? Here’s an example of a shot. They just can’t match the images above in terms of clarity and vibrance.
    http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Nikkor_DX_16-85mm_VR/images/gallery/Nik1685_gall8.jpg

    2) This is my first time even realizing how filters work. Of the three you listed as your choice filters, what’s the difference between 2 and 3? Which one is your graduated ND filter? And how do these affect images outside of landscape photography?

    Thanks,
    Austin

  56. 81
    ) Paul

    Hi Nasim,

    I have been admiring the beautiful Dead Horse Point Sunrise wallpaper photo that you have posted elsewhere on your website. The sharp focus throughout the photo is amazing. I just wondered if you remember what method you used to obtain that level of sharpness. Did you use focus stacking?

    Thanks,
    Paul

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