is a professional landscape photographer from Muskoka, Ontario. He teaches workshops to help budding photographers understand and enjoy landscape photography. He says it’s important to have fun with your photography and to stick with it. “The more you are out shooting, the quicker you will learn – usually from mistakes,” he says.
Calgary-based landscape photographer Cody James
agrees. “Ultimately the best way to learn any kind of photography (especially landscapes) is by just getting out there and experimenting with your equipment! Good photos won't fall on your lap, so be adventurous.”
Capture beautiful landscapes – whether they’re in your own backyard or an exotic destination
– with these 10 tips from two professional landscape photographers.
1. Every part of the frame is important
“Look for elements throughout the land that will hold the viewers’ interest and arrange them in your composition. Keep an eye out for distracting elements that may take away from the rest of the image such as white, featureless skies,” says McDougall. Examine the scene through your lens. If something distracts you, it will distract others, too.
2. Use lines
James says some of his most successful images utilize lines: things like train tracks, roads, car tracks or footprints. “This type of composition technique is visually appealing and will draw viewers into your images and really allow them to be captivated and engaged with what's going on,” he says.
3. Remember the rule of thirds
The simplest rule for great landscape photos is a classic: the rule of thirds. McDougall says landscape photos work best when the horizon is shot at the 1/3 or 2/3 plane of the image. Place it higher if the foreground is most interesting or lower if the sky is stunning.
4. Avoid shooting with the sun behind you
When the sun is directly behind you, you get “frontal light” which McDougall says creates flat images lacking shadows. Instead, “try to shoot with the sun on either side of you or directly in front of you,” he says. The shadows in the image will add definition.
5. Capture the golden hours
The lighting at sunrise and sunset “often creates the most pleasing images due to its warm colour and softer intensity,” says McDougall. Try shooting the same landscape in mid-day and at sunset to compare.
6. Soft light can be great light
“When shooting waterfalls or forest scenes, overcast skies provide beautiful soft light without harsh shadows which helps balance the exposure and saturate colours,” says McDougall, so don’t think you can only shoot on sunny days.
7. Learn to stitch
Sometimes you just can’t fit everything into one frame. “I love panoramic images,” says James. “One of my favourite images I've ever captured features a dark ominous sky across the prairie plains leading across to a beautiful sunset. To really capture this image I had to stitch multiple shots together.” This is a bit more advanced, but worth it for many shots. Practice with your camera’s settings to take a series of images, then experiment with stitching and touching up on the computer.
8. Be prepared and take care of your equipment
“The more prepared you are the better chances you'll be ready to capture that once in a lifetime shot,” says James. Similarly, good habits go a long way. You might do everything right for the perfect shot but ruin your photo with smudges and smears if your lens is dirty.
9. Use a tripod
McDougall says having a tripod
is a must for landscape photography. “Not only do they allow you to produce the sharpest images possible, but they also slow you down and make you look at and compose your image with a more careful eye,” he says.
10. Get the right gear for you
An expensive camera doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll take better photos, especially if you have no idea how to use it. “Don't worry too much about professional gear until you actually understand why you may need it. Composition and light are what make an image and are the most important things to understand,” says McDougall.
If you are ready to upgrade, though, James has simple advice: start with a decent body, but you don’t have to go overboard. “You don't need a million megapixels to get a good shot or print it,” he says.
Additionally, McDougall says Canon and Nikon both make great DSLR cameras
“and you can’t go wrong investing in either system.” Speak to an expert at a camera store to determine what suits you best. Both brands’ bodies come with a “kit” lens that’s great for beginners – and landscape photos in particular because they usually have a wide to medium field of view. Grow your collection from there.
Above all else: Have fun and shoot for yourself.
“Break the rules!” says James. The fundamentals will help you get started
, but you don’t have to follow them all the time. “Get creative on your angles, try different settings, be bold… I really think photography should be something you do to enhance life, your experiences, and the adventures you embark on. Capture the world how you see it and want it to be expressed.”
Hone your photography skills by using our guide for everything you need to know about taking great photos