A Beginner's Guide to Landscape Photography (From One Amateur to Another)

If you're just starting out with taking pictures of nature's beauty, some beginner's tips from a fellow amateur may be helpful to you. Whether you are just having fun and enjoying the great outdoors or trying to develop as a photographer, there are some standard principles one must understand to achieve beautiful results. You don't need a $1.000 camera or special lenses - all you need is knowhow, and a little bit of passion.

Knowing your camera

Whether you have a birthday-party-point-and-clicker or an expensive, high end camera, knowing the basics about it is key to taking beautiful photos. Before shooting, get to know your camera and its functions. Read the user manual and learn about the different controls and experiment with them until you become familiar. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the extra time and effort spent will definitely be worth it. All cameras have an automatic mode, but others have manual settings for you to play with. Auto is easy, the camera does everything for you - you just point and shoot. However, adjusting different manual settings can really help you get that outstanding shot. There are a few different settings you'll want to learn about in manual mode:

  • Aperture
    A hole in the front of the lens that can be adjusted to let different amounts of light through when the shutter opens. Aperture is controlled by the F-stop.
  • Shutter speed
    How quickly the shutter opens. A faster shutter speed captures no movement, "freezing" the subject (such as a windblown branch). A slower speed lets you capture movement, such as flowing water or moving clouds, using blur. Shutter speed, combined with aperture, determines the photo's exposure, or how dark or light the photo will be.
  • ISO speed
    A measure of how fast the camera's digital "film" reacts to light. A low speed means that it reacts slower to light, and a high speed reacts faster. Different speeds are used for different lighting conditions. Generally, the lower the light, the faster speed you will want. Very high speeds are more prone to graininess.

Getting a little technical for you? Well, maybe just stick with automatic mode for now. There are, however, some features and settings you will want to take note of even when using auto. The first is knowing the difference between digital zoom and optical zoom. Your camera may have one or both of these modes. Optical zoom allows you to zoom in without losing quality, whereas with digital zoom your picture can become and muddy and pixelated as you zoom in.

For a good quality photo, I recommend avoiding using digital zoom altogether. The second setting you will want to consider is the image quality output settings, which can be adjusted in your camera's menu. I recommend putting these settings on high, or "fine" for all your photos. This will consume more space on your media card, but the quality is well worth it - especially if you plan on printing your photos.

Composition and the rule of thirds

A Beginner's Guide to Landscape Photography
Now that you know a bit more about your camera and its settings, there are some things you should know about composition, or how you arrange the elements in the photograph. A big mistake I see in amateur photographers is crookedness. When aiming the shot, always remember to keep the horizon line level and straight in your viewfinder. The second thing you'll want to remember is to avoid distracting objects in your photo, like telephone lines, trash, or other objects which can ruin the impact or distract the viewer from the focal point of the shot. Thirdly, it is a good idea for general landscape shooting to consider including elements from the foreground (near you), the middle, and the background (such as the sky or trees in the distance). This adds depth to your photo and creates the whole scene.

The key to getting a unique and eye-catching shot is to try different views and angles, such as getting low to the ground or up higher - to capture something in different ways than what most people see. The rule of thirds is an important principle when composing your shot as it adds visual interest and balance to a photo. The key is to imagine your divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, creating 9 equal parts, and aligning points of interest at the intersections of these lines. For example, a horizon line may sit at the line that divides the top two thirds in the composition. The sun may sit at the intersection of that dividing line, and the right or left vertical dividing line. I will provide a link to more info on this important visual concept at the end of the article.

Tips from one amateur to another

Over the time I've spent photographing the great outdoors, I've picked up a few general tips that I'd like to share. One very important thing to keep in mind when photographing is to keep a steady hand, especially when using a lower shutter speed or ISO speed (IE, low light conditions). Use a tripod if you have one. And because the human hand is naturally unsteady, I recommend taking several similar shots, in case the one you want ends up blurry. I suggest taking as many shots as possible to get the best one. The fewer shots you take, the less keepable photos you will end up with! Use many different angles and vantage points. For going places to photograph a sunset or sunrise, you may consider arriving 30 minutes to an hour early and staying 30 minutes to an hour late. Sometimes the best effects from these events can come when you least expect it!

Camera care

Always keep the lens clean and avoid touching it. If it becomes dirty or dusty, clean it gently with a soft, microfiber cloth - never your sleeve or a napkin, and never use chemicals. Be aware of your surroundings when photographing, and always use the wristband or neckband on the camera to avoid accidents. And last but not least, always remember to bring extra media cards and batteries, because you never know when you will need them!

The technical ins and outs of photography may seem a bit complex or overwhelming at first, but if you put a little time and effort familiarizing yourself with your camera and its settings, you will get the hang of it and be taking great quality photos sooner than you think. Even if you just rely on your camera's automatic mode, composition will be the "make-or-break" factor of your photo, so always remember to line up a good shot before you press that button. Best of luck with your future adventures in landscape photography!
A Beginner's Guide to Landscape Photography (From One Amateur to Another) | Victoria Knight | 5