The best landscape photos aren’t just pictures of the great outdoors. They have drama, depth, and mood. They make you feel that you can walk into the picture and enter another world, or take your breath away by its sheer beauty. They make you think, “Wow, Mother Nature is awesome.”
But what’s the secret to powerful landscape photography? Professional photographers share their favorite tools and tips for capturing nature at its finest.
How to Pick the Best Camera for Landscape Photography
Professional photographers say that it’s essential to have a camera that has a dynamic range. That means it can capture the full range of light to dark tones. In one single photo, you may find bright areas that are fully bathed in the sun, shadows, or the deep blue hues of the sea and sky. A field of grass is never just one shade of green. A good DSLR can capture all of those nuances, for photos that have more texture and contrast.
Other important factors are ISO performance, which will help you take excellent pictures even in the most challenging lighting conditions. Autofocus isn’t as critical sports or bird photography, because if there’s anything working for you, those mountains aren’t going to move. However, there will be opportunities to capture wildlife and other dynamic subjects, especially if you go to a nature trail or park. In some cases, you’ll also want to intentionally include animals–like a flock of birds flying over a beach–into your landscape composition. In these scenarios, you need ISO and Focus work together to create truly stunning shots.
From a practical perspective, any DSLR you take outdoors regularly should have good weather-proofing. You will take pictures in damp, rainy, snowy, and dusty environments, and you and your camera should be ready for that.
Top Pick for Landscape Photography: Nikon D7200
If you’re looking for a powerful DSLR that gives good value for money, try the Nikon D7200. Released in 2015, it was one of the first Nikon cameras that combined performance with convenience. You have the high image resolution, auto-focus speed and accuracy, the full range of controls over ISO and shutter speed, and other creative freedom given by a DSLR. But, you also have the ability to point, click and then share your images through the built-in WIFI and Near Field Communication.
Even if it’s not a new model, the Nikon D7200 is still highly recommended by professional photographers—mainly because of its powerful s24.2 MP CMOS image sensor and EXPEED 4 image processing. With this kind of power, you can get all the details and tones in the landscape. The shadows, textures, and subtle color changes that make nature photography so fascinating are fully captured. In one Nikon D700 review, one photographer said: “This resolution is so sharp it could hurt your eyes.”
You achieve this image quality even in low light conditions. The Nikon has an ISO of up to 25,600–that’s pretty good for its price range. For very poor lighting you have the option to shoot in black and white and push the ISO to 102,400. In one camera test, a photographer took a picture at 5,000 ISO and cropped at 80%, and found no image noise.
Another good feature of the Nikon D7200 is the live view format. As you tweak the many of the manual controls, you’ll be able to precisely see the end result. This is a great option for beginner landscape photographers who are still getting a feel of the best settings for different kinds of environments. However even pros like being able to have full control over each shot, and this is one reason why they like to bring this camera to their outdoor shoots.
Lastly, the Nikon D7200 is weatherproof. Ptographers have brought it to deserts, marshes, rainforests and snowy mountain ranges. Rest assured that this camera is tough, and ready to face the elements with you.
Now, let’s look at the different ways you can use your DSLR to capture the best landscape images.
Everything looks more beautiful when the sun is low in the sky. Even portrait photographers love this gentle light, which acts like a natural ring light. For landscape photography, the particular position of the sun casts a warm red light all over the environment. Even the most ordinary, everyday scenes look more dramatic.
To maximize this golden hour, use the Nikon D7200’s manual settings to set white balance to about 6000 Kelvin.
Pick A Good Focal Point
The focal point is usually the first thing a person notices when he or she looks at a picture. It’s the strongest element in the picture, and with good composition, it leads the eye to look at the other details. Without a focal point, a picture looks boring and bland. There is literally nothing that grabs your attention.
Your focal point can be a single, strong element like a tree. Or it can be more subtle, relying mainly on the play of light and shadow or a strong color contrast.
As for where your focal point should be, that’s part of creative freedom and expression. However, many photographers avoid placing it directly in the center, applying the Rule of Thirds instead. Mentally divide the frame into three horizontal and vertical sections (like a tic tac toe grid). Place your subject in any point of intersection.
Set Aperture To Sharpen The Image
One of the secrets to taking great landscape photos is to maximize the depth of field, especially if you want to capture a storng image in the foreground, but still bring out the details in the background. To do this, select a small aperture (about f/16) and a low ISO setting.
Keep It Simple
You can try to capture the full landscape in one sweeping panoramic view. But don’t overlook other potential photo opportunities. Try to focus on one element, and approach from different angles to see how it affects the shadows, lead-in lines, or background. Zoom in on some objects to capture the texture and color. For example, while photographing mountains, you want to capture both the majestic row of peaks and the play of shadows against a particular pile of rocks.
Do Your Research
Before heading out on a nature photography trip, find out as much as you can about your destination. What is the usual angle of the sun at this time of year? What flowers are in bloom, and where are you most likely to find them? Are there any spots where wildlife tends to gather and what time of the day are they usually out and about?
Once you’re there, do talk to the locals. They can give you interesting inside information that may not be found in websites or guidebooks. You’ll be able to take photos of places that not many photographers know about—which already gives you the edge!
Play With Side-Lighting
When your stand comes behind your shoulder, your photos are more likely to look flat. That’s because you lose all the shadows that could add visual interest and drama. Try changing your position so that your light source is from the side. The natural fall of the shadows will bring the areas’ different shapes and forms, and may even create interesting patterns that are photo-worthy in and of itself.
If you want to try experimenting with shadow effects, take pictures either early in the morning or late at night. In these situations, the Nikon D7200’s features really come out. It can perform well in even the challenging light conditions of dawn and dusk, captures different tonalities, and gives sharper shadow contrast.
The Sky Is Not The Limit
Don’t get trapped by the thinking that landscape photos need to have a sky in the background. If the sky doesn’t actually add value or beauty to the photo, or if it happens to be very gray and overcast, then crop out it altogether. Focus on the landscape details instead. To get brighter and crisper landscape details, try shielding the lens from the sky. You will notice that some of the colors become more intense, because you’ve blocked out the brightness of the sky.
Or, you can choose subjects that actually better in these weather conditions. Forests, waterfalls and beach scenes can actually look better in softer light, when the sky is slightly overcast. You can also work with the mood—adjusting settings, or adding filters, to intentionally make the photo look darker and more dramatic.
Explore New Land(Scapes)
Perhaps the most critical element in powerful landscape photography is not the camera, not the tricks, but the curiosity of the photographer. Even if other people have seen the same scenes hundreds of times, your creativity and vision can literally let them look at it “in a different light.” With a versatile camera like the Nikon D7200, you have so many creative possibilities at your fingertips. Change your settings, change your position and angle, try shooting at different times of the day. Your camera is powerful enough to capture everything in vivid detail, but nothing is more powerful than your own imagination as a photographer.