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10 Landscape Photography Tips & Tricks

10 Landscape Photography Tips & Tricks

I’ve just finished a landscape photography class. I feel like I learned so much – from two full day field trips and from listening to the weekly critiques from our teacher of our work. There’s nothing like looking at several hundred images every class to understand what makes the good shots pop.

"Deserted fishing village on Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior"
Deserted fishing village on Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior

I thought I’d share what I learned about landscape photography over the last six weeks. And then hopefully you’ll see a huge change in the caliber of my photos as I practice away. For the next week I’ll have a great subject too – Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase – Escalante Wilderness area in southwestern Utah.

Here are 10 landscape photography tips that I hope you find worthwhile.

The Rule of Thirds

Once you’ve divided your photo onto thirds put the main subject on one of the four lines or at one of the four intersections.

"The rule of thirds at work - with the lake edge and the mountains"
The rule of thirds at work

The Golden Rule

The most important area in a photograph is located near the bottom right corner of the image. I haven’t taken advantage of this photography trick very often.

"A plant in Okefenokee Swamp"
A plant in Okefenokee Swamp

The Golden Triangle

If you can links three points of interest it will pull the scene together.

"Hay bales cast a shadow on a fall day"
Hay bales cast a shadow on a fall day

The Golden Spiral

Think flowers, shells, stairwells – anything with a curve that draws your eye in.

"Flower illustrating the golden spiral"
Flower illustrating the golden spiral

The 80/20 Rule 

Decide what’s most important in the scene. Is it the land, the water or the sky? Eighty percent of the shot should then be weighted towards what you want the viewer to focus on.

"Big prairie skies"
Big prairie skies

Framing an Image

One tree is enough to frame an image. Dead tree trunks work well too.

"Framing the Sheep River Valley with trees"
Framing the Sheep River Valley with trees

Leading Lines and S Curves

Paths and rivers are a good place to look for leading lines and S curves.

"Leading line of a path in the Gardens of Villa Melzi, Bellagio"
Leading line of a path in the Gardens of Villa Melzi, Bellagio

Don’t Forget Your Foreground

Give your viewer somewhere to stand.

"Use of a foreground to lend interest to the photo"
Use of a foreground to lend interest to the photo

Take Advantage of the Golden Hour

Use the beautiful light from the golden hour to your advantage. The 15-20 minutes before the sun rises and after the sun sets can lend magic to your photos.

"The golden hour at Elk Island National Park"
The golden hour at Elk Island National Park

Change Your Point of View

Look up or get low, really low for a change of view.

"Looking up"
Looking up

Of course there are always times when the rules are meant to be broken but when you’re first learning I think sticking with the rules helps a lot. Chances are if your photograph can incorporate more than one of the composition rules it will be even stronger.

Some things to think of when you’re shooting outside:

  • Use a tripod.
  • Avoid putting trees in the middle of your photo.
  • Take lots of images.
  • Bracket your exposures – especially for sunrises and sunsets.
  • Always use a lens shade. Keep the sun off the front of the lens.
  • Use different filters – like a polarizing, neutral density or graduated neutral density filter.
  • Try changing your white balance.
  • Use your histogram. Learn how to read it.
  • At mid-day with bright sun a neutral density filter works well. It decreases the amount of light but not the colour.
  • Move the composition around.

One other useful trick I found worthwhile and I now use on almost every shot is to underexpose my shot – from anywhere between -1/3 to – 1 1/3, especially if it’s really bright outside. You’ll find you get more contrast with your colours. Look for the exposure compensation button on the back of your camera and then start playing around. You can always bring the exposure up again in a software editing program whereas if you’ve overexposed a photo there isn’t much you can do.

Do you have any landscape photography tips you’d like to share?

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 42 Comments
  1. Wonderful tips – thank you for sharing some of what you’ve learned in class. It seems that many people who travel want to capture special moments with photography, and you are helping us all to do a better job.

  2. I’ve seen a some of these tips before but never all together in one place! I’ve book marked this to help get me focused before shooting. Thanks!

  3. These are such great tips, Leigh. Your photos are a testament on how much you’ve accomplished in the class. I wish I had time because you’re truly inspiring me with these photos to take a class. My husband takes the landscape shots but I’ve bookmarked this as a reference and hope to start applying them. Have a wonderful time in Utah! We hope to make it to Bryce and Zion next month. Can’t wait to see you pictures of Bryce!

  4. Thanks for the tips Leigh….not that you needed a course!! So much to remember, but I’ll certainly be trying to incorporate some of your points in my photos. All stunning photos but I love the first one of the deserted fishing village!

  5. Hints came just in time. I’m heading off this morning to see some fall leaves in the mountains of northern Arizona. While I was familiar with some of the tips, I’ve definitely learned some stuff. Now if I can just remember it in the heat of the moment! BTW, I LOVE the hay bale shot!!

  6. Awesome Article, I found this really helpful. I’ve only had my DSLR for a couple of months and still have a lot to learn in the ways of photography. This post helped a lot

  7. I’ve had my Nikon D3100 for over a year but I still haven’t mastered it. Sometimes I look at photography books but most of them I don’t understand at all. So thanks so much for condensing some tips here! I do a lot of them already, not knowing there are really rules like that hehe

  8. I already loved your photography! I can’t wait to see what great new things you’ll be posting. I have a new point-and-shoot that I’m still trying to figure out. My white areas keep getting blown out. As for your Golden Hour rule, I still remember an outdoor portrait session my kids did years ago. The photographer was begging them to cooperate, telling them that we were losing the light, but they frankly didn’t care. oh well

    1. @Michele Spend a few hours with your manual and take lots of photos to see the different effects. Try using your exposure compensation and you may need a neutral density filter if your shots have subjects that are more than two stops apart.

  9. Good tips. And while I know I’ve heard and read them all before, it seems I keep forgetting them, judging by the pictures I end up with. I appreciate the reminder; plus you’ve kind of motivated me to go out and spend the day shooting some pictures, which I’ve been neglecting recently.

  10. Good tips. And while I know I’ve heard and read them all before, it seems I keep forgetting them, judging by the pictures I end up with. I appreciate the reminder; plus you’ve kind of motivated me to go out and spend the day shooting some pictures, which I’ve been neglecting recently.

    1. @Daniel Pick a one word subject – a broad one to focus on – even something like rocks or clouds or up or down and you may find yourself getting very excited about a day out taking photos.

  11. @Aleah I was in the same boat you were in a year ago. I started by reading Bethany’s Getting out of Auto which you can buy for $10 on the beers and Beans website — great value and a fantastic place to start.

  12. Beautiful shots Leigh. I think your photography has improved a lot over the past couple of months.

    I’ve discovered that I really don’t like online photography courses. As you’re doing I want to do something off line, so that means waiting until I’m in a city/country where I can find a photography course offered by an Engish speaking expert. In the meantime it practice practice! 🙂

    1. @Nancie I’ve taken 5 courses now through SAIT in Calgary. I think looking at others photos is a huge learning experience as well as getting the depth of knowledge provided by the instructor. Online wouldn’t cut it for me either.

  13. The 80/20 rule RULES. 🙂 I love interesting skylines. Many people would argue (and have argued) with this rule, stating it doesn’t fit into the rule of thirds. Well, I say break one to make another! Thanks for the tips here! I will save them to refer to later as I review my photos.

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