Landscape photography is a rewarding art form. A beautiful scenic image can make people see even well known places in a new way. How do we keep our images from being mere snapshots of places? Instead taking a landscape scene and turning it into a work of art?
Primarily by remembering to be an artist, and a scientist. Both the artist and the scientist needs to know his tools and how to get the best the use out of them. For photographers, our tools are cameras and lenses, filters, lights, tripods, programs…
For now, let’s talk about the tools used on location to make the landscape shot, our cameras, lenses, and tripods.
How To Setup Your Camera & Tripod For Landscape Photography
RAW vs JPEG
While there are many variables involved in answering this question, I like to start out with my file size and format. If my camera has RAW, that’s what I’m going to use most often for a landscape.
This gives me options in post processing to adjust and tweak my image to the fullest extent. JPGs are fine, too, if that’s what the camera puts out, but I’ll still use the largest file size available.
ISO & Aperture Settings
I also like using a fairly low ISO (ASA for you old school film togs), to maximize image sharpness. For depth of focus, I tend to use a smaller f/stop or aperture. However, use your mind’s eye when choosing aperture.
Sometimes, a great landscape image is better served by a larger f/stop, giving a more selective focus. Or a higher ISO, offering different exposure options. In addition, some lenses actually lose sharpness with smaller apertures, due to an optical phenomenon called diffraction. A lot of photographers will test to find their lens’s “sweet spot” aperture.
Visulise What You Want To Capture Before Turning Your Camera On
I tend to take some time going over in my head what I’m trying to accomplish with this imaging session before even setting my camera up. I’ve studied some of the old masters, like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Elliot Porter, and a large part of their photographic process was the previsualization stage.
Using my camera’s histogram display helps me know what is happening in the exposure. Seriously, when I started paying attention the histogram, I felt like one of the Old Masters was right there with me, giving me helpful hints.
Finding That Sweet Spot With Your Lens
I already am thinking about my lens settings when considering exposure, but there are other settings to think about. Focus mode, focal length, image stabilization are all part of the artful image equation.
Unless I have a specific reason to do otherwise, I usually set focus to manual and turn off image stabilization. This gives me complete control.
Focal length is a setting, too, with a zoom lens anyways. Is an extreme wide angle the preferred focal length? Sometimes, sometimes not. Going back to that previous thought about depth of focus or selective focus, my lens choice is part of that equation.
9/10 Time I Will Turn Image Stabilization Off
Why do I turn off image stabilization? Well, I’m usually on my tripod, for one. Also, image stabilization sometimes affects overall image sharpness, even while eliminating sharpness issues caused by camera movement. Know your tools!
Setting Up Your Camera With a Tripod
have a great tripod I use for nature and scenics. It has a good balance of portability and stability. After all, the best tripod to use in the field is the one you brought. Since I’m using my tripod, I can set up my camera and lens for whatever my mind’s eye has previsualized. You can check out my full guide here on the best landscape photography tripods. This is also another helpful guide on tripods for different types of photographic uses.
I am also never without my remote camera release when I have my tripod. I’ve used both wired and wireless, both work fine for my purposes. With the utmost stability in mind, I generally won’t extend the tripod center column much, instead using the legs for height adjustments.
Eye level isn’t the default setting, by the way. Sometimes a slightly lower, even a ground level, camera placement works out best. A bubble level is invaluable as well.
Try Get It Right Out On Field Rather Than On Lightroom
I don’t want to “fix it in post” when I can get it right in camera. I use post processing to ENHANCE the image, not to FIX it. So, getting the camera, lens, and tripod settings right is an important factor in capturing a great landscape photograph.
Using filters, such as polarizers or neutral density, can also enhance the final image. Even just looking around for a slightly better vantage point can be the difference in taking a picture, or creating an artful image.
What tips, tricks, and methods for how to setup your tripod and camera for a landscape photography shoot do you have to share?