LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

Top tips for shooting landscapes

Essential camera skills, shooting techniques and advice to help you take your landscape photos to the next level.
Canon Camera
You can stumble upon all kinds of interesting places and stunning scenes when out and about. But it takes dedication to seek out photo-worthy spots. So when you find a great location, you want to do it justice. In this article, we'll look at some of the most common landscape photography mistakes and how to fix them.

1. Landscape composition: capture foreground detail

A landscape shot showing a large tree on a sloped hill.

While this photo is still a perfectly good landscape image, using a lower camera angle could improve the shot. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 24mm, 1/100 sec, f/16 and ISO 160.

A landscape shot of a large tree on a sloped hill, showing frosted grass in the foreground.

A slightly lower camera position enhances the frosty stems in the foreground of this image, adding interest and depth to this part of the frame. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 24mm, 1/100 sec, f/16 and ISO 160.

Think about how to complement distant scenery with closer details. Often referred to as foreground interest, these closer details can do wonders for your composition by leading the eye through the scene. By contrast, a dull empty foreground simply wastes a large portion of the frame.

When seeking out foreground interest, try using Live View and experiment with camera positions to find the best balance between foreground and backdrop. A camera with a vari-angle screen like the Canon EOS RP is convenient for getting low to the ground, which is often necessary when framing rocks or plants. Including objects like this in the front of your scene, you can craft a balanced composition. But also keep in mind that not every landscape photo necessarily needs foreground interest. It's simply a useful compositional device to call upon when you need it.

2. Landscape lenses: don't always use a wide angle lens

A landscape showing rolling green fields separated by rows of trees.

A tight angle of view highlights the strong late-afternoon colours in the distant scene. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 105mm, 1/8 sec, f/16 and ISO 100.

A wide landscape showing rolling green fields separated by rows of trees, covered by cloud.

In contrast, the same landscape but shot as a wider view offers less detail. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 24mm, 1/8 sec, f/16 and ISO 100.

Wide angle lenses let you capture the whole breadth of a beautiful scene, but not every shot needs a wide field of view. Sometimes zooming in to distant details can lead to more interesting landscape photos. A standard zoom lens like the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM used here has a useful focal range for landscape beginners. Our two highlighted shots were taken at either end of the 24-105mm range, so if you're just getting started with landscape photography then this lens is ideal. When the time comes to upgrade, L-series lenses like the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM offer a step up in weather proofing and a faster max aperture. But for beginners, a standard zoom will let you capture stunningly detailed scenes.

3. Landscape lighting: choose your time of day

A large tree on a sloped field rising high above low clouds.

Shooting into direct sunlight can often lead to messy shadows and too much contrast. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/80 sec, f/16 and ISO 125.

A large tree on a sloped field rising high above low clouds against a pink and purple sunset.

Waiting for softer light at the start or end of the day can yield more atmospheric results. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 0.4 sec, f/16 and ISO 100.

The light you shoot in is a creative choice, it adds atmosphere, and this can take landscape photos to the next level. A classic mistake is to photograph scenes in hard sunlight. While this can be good for bringing out bold colours, it usually results in scenes with too much contrast. Look at the difference in these two images. The first was taken in direct sunlight. It captures the scene, but lacks atmosphere. The details in the tree are a distraction, there's an unsightly band of shadow along the bottom of the frame and even a careless photographer-shaped shadow. Coming back to the same scene later in the day, when the tree is in shade, results in a scene with less detail, but more atmosphere. Now there's colour in the sky, the tree makes for a bold silhouette and the distant misty scenery looks more dramatic.

4. Keep things level: straighten your horizon

An image of a tree against a cloudy sky open in Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Wonky horizons are best corrected in-camera using the grid lines or level display, but it's also easy enough to fix afterwards by cropping.

A shot of a Canon EOS RP on a tripod, showing grid lines and electronic level on the flip out screen.

As well as using the thirds grid to level out the horizon, you can make use of the level display available in many cameras including the Canon EOS RP here.

There are several ways to ensure a level horizon while shooting. Engage Live View and use the thirds grid to level out the horizon. If you're using a tripod, there may also be a helpful spirit level in the head. Even with these aids, you may still occasionally have to correct an uneven image. This is easy enough in Canon Digital Photo Professional. Simply use the angle slider within the Crop tool settings to correct the tilt.

5. Stay in focus: keep foreground and background sharp

Mossy trees in a forest surrounded by fog.

This first image was taken with an aperture of f/4 and the background is noticeably soft. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/160 sec, f/4 and ISO 100.

A sharp image of mossy trees in a forest surrounded by fog.

By using a narrow aperture of f/16, both the foreground and background are sharp. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/80 sec, f/16 and ISO 800.

Often with landscape photography, the goal is to capture your scene completely sharp from front to back in order to show the maximum amount of detail. This is called maximum depth of field. To achieve this, you need to set a narrow aperture (high f number). The examples above demonstrate the difference between shooting a landscape with a wide vs narrow aperture.

In the first image here, an aperture of f/4 was used. The tree in the foreground is sharp, but the scene beyond is soft. In the second frame, a narrower aperture of f/16 records both foreground and background more clearly. If the aim is to single out a key feature of the landscape, a wide aperture can be very useful, but most of the time a narrow aperture and maximum depth of field is preferable. An easy way to set your aperture for landscapes is to use AV mode, then dial in a narrow aperture like f/16. Watch the shutter speed – if it drops too low you may need to use a tripod or increase your ISO to avoid blurred images.

For the sharpest landscapes, you also want to be shooting at the 'sweet spot' of your lens. A general rule of thumb is that your lens is sharpest at two f-stops from your widest aperture setting. So if using a lens that is f/2.8 at its widest setting, your sweet spot on that optic will be around f/5.6.

A common problem for landscape photographers is that you can focus on something in your foreground but risk everything behind it being soft. Conversely, if you focus on elements in your background, your foreground is blurry. Hyperfocal distance focusing helps you get more of your frame sharp by finding the closest point at which you can focus and keep your background acceptably sharp. This technique isn't as complicated as it sounds, and the Depth of field (DOF) and Hyperfocal distance calculator on the Photo Companion app does all the hard work for you.

6. Landscape angles: don't shoot everything at eye level

A photographer crouching on a beach to take a low angle shot of a Victorian lighthouse.

A lower angle makes for a stronger composition by enhancing the reflection and narrowing the bland strip of beach in the frame.

A Victorian lighthouse is reflected in the water on the sand.

A vari-angle screen lets you compose from unusual heights with ease. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 1/100 sec, f/11 and ISO 4000.

It's common to shoot at eye level, but this might not always result in the most interesting shot. Try moving your camera up high or down low to experiment with different heights – you might find more interesting angles. Reflections, for example, will often look better if the camera is held low to the water. It helps if you use a camera with a vari-angle screen, such as the Canon EOS RP, as this lets you compose from a comfortable height while holding your camera low to the ground or high above your head.


Written by James Paterson

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