Landscape in Norway - ©Kristien Cambron
Norway landscape, captured with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens ©Christian Cambron (https://www.facebook.com/kristien.cambron)
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Landscape Photography: 12 Tips to Add Impact to Your Shots

Landscape photography is among the most popular genres for both amateurs and professionals. With all the spectacular images out there, creating photos that stand out can be a challenge. We’ve compiled this list of straightforward tips to help you produce images that demand attention.

1. Tell your viewers a story.

Let’s start off with one of the most important principles in any kind of photography. The difference between a snapshot and an amazing photograph is what they convey to an audience. Your landscape photos should be about more than just pretty scenery.

Approach each shot with the goal of telling your viewers what motivated you to photograph the scene. Was it the quiet stillness of a snow-covered meadow? The thunder of a raging river? The stark solitude of a fogbound lake? Try to convey the things you can’t see in the image.

Starting with this concept in mind will get you off on the right foot for the more specific tips we’re about to give you.

2. Pay attention to dynamics.

Notice how the Joshua Tree stands out and your eye is drawn from left to right and toward the horizon in this image. Can you identify the elements of composition that create the dynamics?

This is another general concept that will make all the difference in your landscape shots. The term, “dynamic” in this context refers to movement, as opposed to “static”, meaning still. Put simply, static images are boring.

Obviously, your photo can’t move or it would be a video. With some planning, however, you can give your viewers the sense of being drawn into, through, or even -on rare occasions – out of your photo. You can also use several simple techniques to help something in your scene appear to be in motion.

Many of the “rules” of visual composition are designed specifically to add dynamics. The Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Convergence, Leading Space and Diagonal Composition are just a few examples. That’s how important this concept is. Strive for it in your landscape photos.

Make an effort to break away from the “tourist shot” that shows a beautiful scene with no particular point of interest.

3. Have a focal point.

Alright, it’s time to start being more specific. Each of your photos should have a focal point. In this case, we’re not talking about where you focus your lens, but where you want your viewers’ eyes to be drawn. For instance, in the previous image, the Joshua Tree immediately becomes a focal point.

This is one of the most common omissions by beginning landscape shooters. Make an effort to break away from the “tourist shot” that shows a beautiful scene with no particular point of interest. Without a focal point, you’ll find your eyes wandering around an image. The inevitable result is a lack of connection to the viewer.

This is also the basis of most of those rules of composition we mentioned. They’re worthless without something to apply them to. Look for a point of interest and get your audience there.

4. Know where to focus.

Irix lens depth of field and hyperfocal scales
©Dana O. Crandell

Since we brought up focusing in the last tip, now is a good time to discuss where you should be focusing for landscape photography.

In most cases, you’re going to want to maximize your depth of field in a landscape image. There are exceptions, but for now, we want to stress that there’s more to depth of field than your aperture setting.

Getting the maximum sharpness in a photo from front to back is a matter of focusing in the right spot for the focal length of your lens and your current aperture setting. This spot is know as the hyperfocal distance and you can learn all about it in this tutorial.

What you’ll also learn in the tutorial linked above is that Irix lenses are manufactured with a hyperfocal scale that makes finding the right spot as simple as lining up a focusing mark on the lens barrel. It’s one of the features that’s made our 15mm f/2.4 a favorite of professional landscape photographers around the world.

5. Use thirds – or don’t.

Landscape photo with Joshua tree in the foreground.
The Rule of Thirds, convergence, leading space and overlapping perspective all contribute to the dynamics of this simple landscape image.

You probably knew that the Rule of Thirds was going to be somewhere in this post. (Some of you are probably rolling your eyes because it’s here.)

For those who don’t know, this rule of composition is one of the most used and some would say the most overused. The fact is, though, it’s one of the most effective ways to add dynamics to your photos as well as avoid pitfalls like cutting an image in half. It’s especially effective in landscape photography.

Put simply, using this rule amounts to dividing the scene into thirds vertically and horizontally with imaginary lines. You can then place elements at the intersection of those lines or along the lines. Horizon placement is a common application.

Whether you’re unfamiliar with it or sick to death of it, don’t rule out the Rule of Thirds in your landscape compositions. Consider it, then decide whether it works.

6. Check the lines.

Lines in your landscape photo composition may be very subtle. While the path in this image is obvious, the convergence of the implied lines of the bases of the trees also helps add depth and lead the eye upward. The low camera angle also causes the lines of the tree trunks to converge, adding perspective. Captured with the Irix 15mm. ©Dustin Abbott (dustinabbot.net)

Lines are often one of the easiest elements of composition to find in a landscape. Once you’ve learned to see them, they’re more prevalent than you may know. You may find our tutorial on The Concept of Line: an Introduction to Using Lines in Photographic Composition helpful.

Leading lines, converging lines and others are powerful tools in landscape photo composition. Because you’ll normally be shooting landscapes with a wide field of view, the orientation of the lines in a scene may also have great impact on your image. Check out this quick lesson to learn how: Wide Angle Composition: Vertical and Horizontal Lines

7. Keep things straight.

Tilted horizons are a definite problem in landscape photography. So are vertical surfaces that are out of plumb. (If your verticals are converging or diverging, try to make sure they do so evenly.) Keep your camera level and keep an eye on the vertical lines when shooting at a high or low camera angle.

The issues above are mild in comparison to barrel, pincushion or mustache distortion. In other words, curves where straight lines should be might be nice effects in some genres, but they’re rarely desirable in landscape photos. 

The rectilinear profile of the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens is one of its most important features for landscape work. It’s proven to be one of the most distortion-free super-wide angle lenses on the market

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Barrel Distortion Profile
Irix 15mm f/2.4 Barrel Distortion Profile

Stormy weather can add drama and tension to your photos.

8. Brave the weather.

Landscape in Norway - ©Kristien Cambron
Our featured image, this Norway landscape, was made much more dramatic by the dark clouds and lighting provided by an approaching storm. Captured with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.
©Kristien Cambron (https://www.facebook.com/kristien.cambron)

Clear, sunny skies are always nice. Unfortunately, they’re often a boring backdrop for landscape photography.

Stormy weather can add drama and tension to your photos. The play of sunlight on clouds can provide colors and tones you can’t capture any other way. Snow changes the landscape in wonderful ways. Rain can add interest and offer new creative possibilities.

Don’t wait for good weather. Make sure you and your gear are protected and get out there in the less-than-perfect conditions. You might find they’re perfect after all!

9. Work the Golden Hours.

Some people believe that Golden Hour landscape photos are overdone. We disagree.

"Cofete Gold" ©Riccardo Mantero
“Cofete Gold” ©Riccardo Mantero

The warm light provided by our atmosphere’s natural filter just after sunrise and just before sunset is something that can’t be matched. What’s more, each new day and each new landscape offers a unique experience for you to show your viewers.

Plan your excursions to give you time to take advantage of these lighting conditions. Remember to look in the direction opposite the sun to get the most out of it.

10. Capture motion.

A Neutral Density filter lengthened the exposure for this image, adding motion blur to the water and clouds. The wide angle of the Irix 15mm added perspective to the blur of the clouds, for a very strong impression of both motion and depth. ©Chad Umberger, cufotos.com

We mentioned dynamics earlier and that your still photos can’t display movement. It is possible, however, to give a strong impression of motion. Used properly, that’s one way to add impact to your landscape shots.

Moving water, of course, is one subject that provides great opportunities for adding a little bit of motion blur. Moving clouds and other things pushed by the wind, like foliage, are other possibilities.

Obviously, capturing motion blur will mean lowering your shutter speed. In many cases, the exposure length doesn’t have to be drastic. Even so, in the daylight hours, an ND filter may be really helpful and a tripod will be a necessity.

Irix USA has a great selection of top-quality ND filters, in both circular and rectangular GND. These and the IFH-100 Filter Holder are a perfect match for the 15mm f/2.4 lens.

Irix Edge 100 Filter Holder Rear View Irix Hard GND Filter
Irix Threaded ND Filters Irix IFH-100 Filter Holder Irix GND Filters

11. Wait until dark.

Landscape photography with the Milky Way. Captured with the Irix 15mm on a Pentax K1. ©Stefano Perrone ( https://www.facebook.com/stefano.perrone.58 )

Why limit yourself to daytime landscapes? The landscape is still there at night and you can add a while new dimension to your photos with the night sky above it!

Another great way to capture motion is to let Earth’s rotation do the job. We’re talking about star trails, of course. You may not realize it, but they combine very nicely and easily with landscape photography at night. Extend your shoot into the night and capture something really special!

This unusual star trail image was created by stacking 290, 30-second exposures with the Irix 15mm on a Canon 6D MkII. ©Jamie Seidel, Uh82NVMy Photography

You won’t need a lot of specialized equipment for star trails. A tripod, a wide-angle lens and a way to lock the shutter open for several seconds at a time is enough. For really spectacular effects, you can take several long exposures and use software to stack and process them. Here’s a quick tutorial that will help you get started: Star Trails and Time-Lapse: Two Shoots in One

Captured with the Irix 15mm on a Pentax K1. ©Stefano Perrone
( https://www.facebook.com/stefano.perrone.58 )

How about adding the Milky Way? It’s not as difficult as you might think and you can use the same equipment listed above! Here’s a post to help you get the most out of your efforts, especially when including the landscape: Create Sharper Milky Way Photos with Image Stacking and Irix Lenses.

With its incredible optics, fast f/2.4 aperture, click-stop at infinity and focus lock, the Irix 15mm really shines for landscape/astrophotograhy, too!

12. Don’t forget the vertical view.

Mars and the Milky Way over a lake, captured in vertical aspect with the Irix 15mm f/2.4
©Dana O. Crandell

A common mistake among novice landscape photographers is to get “stuck in horizontal”. That’s normal; our vision is oriented in “landscape view”. Often, however, a vertical shot will be more suitable for a particular scene.

There are dozens of reasons to switch to a vertical aspect ratio. Waterfalls, redwood trees, roads, canyons – the list is never-ending. The point is, don’t forget to think about how a shot will look in portrait orientation. Go ahead and shoot it both ways!

That’s NOT all, folks!

This list of tips is far from complete. As photographers, the members of the Irix USA team are always on the lookout for new (and old) ideas and methods to improve our images. Thanks to an amazing and ever-growing team of Irix shooters, we’re always finding more.

We’d love to hear your favorite landscape photography tip. Leave us a comment! Maybe we’ll include it in our next list! Happy shooting!

Written by Dana Crandell

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