Photographing Landscapes Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing Landscapes Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Landscape photography done right is stunning. Your digital SLR can capture the mystery and grandeur of a place for an image worth framing. Your vantage point and the way you compose the photograph go a long way toward creating something that’s a work of art and not just a snapshot.

Camera settings for landscape photos

Whether you’re pointing your camera at a distant mountain or a murky swamp, optimal camera settings remain basically the same:

  • Metering Mode: Evaluative

  • Drive Mode: Single shot

  • Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority

  • Aperture: f/11 to f/16

  • ISO Setting: 100 to 200

  • Focus Mode: Single Shot

  • Auto-Focus Point: Single auto-focus point

  • Focal Length: 24mm to 35mm

  • Image Stabilization: If your camera or lens has this option, enable it — especially if the shutter speed dips below 1/30 of a second

Whenever you photograph a landscape, an object such as a flower, or a stationary creature such as a bird roosting or alligator on a log, Aperture Priority is the obvious choice. If you’re photographing a flower, zoom in to fill the frame with the flower by using a telephoto focal length of 100mm or longer. Alternatively, you can use a macro lens and a large aperture. You also use a large aperture and a long focal length when you photograph animals in a swamp.

Taking landscape pictures

When you photograph a landscape, you photograph the big picture: a wide sweeping brushstroke that captures the beauty of the area. So, you want every subtle detail to be in focus, which means you want a huge depth of field. In addition to a large depth of field, composition plays a key role. Placing a tree smack-dab in the middle of the image isn’t as interesting as setting it off to the side:


If you’re constrained by having to stay on a boardwalk or walkway, scout vantage points before settling in for a photo session. Keep your eyes open, though, you never know when a bird might be watching you from a tree or an alligator may decide to surface nearby.

Move yourself or your camera to keep unnatural objects — telephone poles, power lines, walkways, and the like — out of your pictures.

Don’t place the horizon line in the middle of the picture. Place the horizon line in the upper third of the image when the most important part of the landscape you’re photographing dominates the bottom of the scene, such as when you’re photographing sand dunes in the desert. Place the horizon line in the lower third of the image when the most important part of the landscape dominates the upper part of the scene you’re photographing, such as when you’re photographing a mountain range.


If the landscape is a bit monochromatic — a swamp, a field of grain — get a more interesting picture by adding a splash of color, such as golden rays of sun shining on foliage: