The allure of landscape photography has enchanted photographers and audiences since the early days of the art form. In fact, the oldest surviving photograph, by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce — perhaps one of the first photos ever taken, captures the view from a window looking out at his estate in France. Ever since what was possibly the very first attempt at landscape photography, this art has not only captured the beauty of the natural world, but also inspired people to take steps to protect the great outdoors.
In the United States for instance, Civil War veteran, painter, and geological survey photographer William Henry Jackson’s photographs of the American West brought distant wonders and spectacles of the landscape like the towering Teton Range, the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone, and the Rocky Mountains to the forefront of the American imagination. Jackson’s images of what is now Yellowstone National Park encouraged Congress to name it as the very first National Park in 1872.
Other notable photographers like Carleton Watkins, Philip Hyde, and Ansel Adams continued to bring the wilderness into the public consciousness, inspiring city dwellers to seek out and protect the glorious solace and splendor of nature for future generations. While these photographers had to work with the bulky, awkward photography equipment of their time, landscape photographers today are fortunate to enjoy not only easier access to many of the world’s most scenic areas, but also advanced camera gear that makes landscape photography both an approachable pastime and a profession for so many.
Here are 10 tips to help you continue the landscape photography legacies of the masters! For newcomers to landscape shooting, be sure to check out our list of 10 of the best books for learning about landscape photography.
1. Light is the essential ingredient in landscape photography
There’s a reason the name of this website is It’s Just Light! Light is the most important ingredient when it comes to photography, and with landscape photography, it’s especially so. There’s no one particular ideal time of day for landscape photography, but with experience will come a better understanding of how to utilize particular types of light to better craft an image that expresses your style and vision.
Although great landscape images can be taken during the middle of the day, the soft, golden light of early morning and early evening before sunset is often a favorite time for many landscape photographers. Landscape photography masters like Ansel Adams utilized light and shadow to draw the viewer into the scene. The book Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, is a well curated resource of some of his finest work to draw inspiration from – it’s one of my personal favorites!
2. Shoot in RAW
This is a piece of advice that you see A LOT, both on this website and on other photography websites. If you’ve seen it dozens of times and already shoot using RAW, just disregard this tip. There’s a reason everyone keeps repeating this advice over and over…and that’s because it is not only good advice, but it’s also something that a lot of new photographers don’t do. Even many compact cameras and smart phones are now offering support for RAW image capture, so it’s no longer a feature you’ll find only on more advanced cameras.
If you aren’t shooting RAW yet, here’s a quick rundown. At the heart of a digital camera is the sensor, which records light information from millions of tiny pixels. To produce an image, this information needs to be processed — when shooting JPEG, the camera uses presets to adjust numerous image settings like sharpness, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction on the spot, compressing the resulting file into a JPEG image that you can use for printing or web uploading right away without ever needing to make use of image editing software.
RAW, on the other hand, preserves much more of the image information, requiring the photographer to adjust things like exposure, contrast, white balance, etc. and allows for some detail recovery in areas of highlights and shadows that would be unrecoverable in a JPEG file. While these added steps in processing are more time consuming, the greater latitude for making adjustments and corrections is worth the effort and additional file size! Even the ability to adjust white balance without affecting image quality is a worthwhile reason to switch to RAW if you haven’t already.