Regardless of whether you are a novice or a professional, finding the ideal landscape photography settings is crucial for getting those idyllic shots.
Today, digital mirrorless and DSLR cameras come packed full of modes and settings that make it easy for anyone with a bit of experience to capture beautiful landscape photos.
Despite the wide array of dials, nobs, and programmable features on a camera, each scene presents itself with a unique challenge, and sticking to one setting might not work best. If you want to take the highest quality landscapes, the setup is key. Knowing the right landscape photography settings can make the difference between a great shot and something mediocre.
In this article, I’ll walk you through what settings you can use and what are some of the ‘set and forget’ options for landscape photography.
Landscape Photography Settings
Here are some of the main settings you should master if you want to improve your landscape photography. Make sure you practice each of them one by one.
Don’t make the mistake of wanting to get the perfect shot from the beginning. Learn each setting step-by-step. Each time you take a photo practice one setting and incrementally add new techniques.
This way you won’t put too much stress on yourself and learning the right camera settings for landscape photography will be much easier.
Focusing Your Camera
When talking about landscape photography, we talk about sharp images, and camera focus has to be spot-on to achieve maximum sharpness. While shooting landscapes, you’ll have to consider your composition as a whole, and pay attention to elements in the foreground, middle ground, and background. Make sure they’re all in focus.
It is advisable to start with autofocus instead of manual. If you don’t have previous experience with manual autofocus on a mirrorless or DSLR’s optical viewfinder, you shouldn’t use it for now. Autofocus is simply the way to go.
Single Point Autofocus AF-S
Use AF-S for your landscape shots. Landscapes are stationary, so you don’t need to continuously track a moving subject. The single point autofocus lets you choose your focus point and when you press the shutter button halfway the camera will focus on that point. Press the button all the way and you’ll take the photo.
As a rule of thumb in landscape photography, you should focus at a distance of about 1/3 into the scene to find your hyperfocal distance and have everything in focus. When you’ve practiced enough you can learn the focus stacking technique which is a bit more advanced.
Landscape Photography Settings: Exposure
One of the most important aspects in landscape photography is the exposure of your photo. It determines the brightness of your final image.
Three main settings influence the exposure,
- Shutter speed: This is the amount of time your camera sensor is exposed to the light when you are taking a picture. A rule of thumb is to select your shutter speed after you decide what aperture you are going to be shooting with. A longer shutter speed increases the exposure and creates motion blur in moving objects. A slow shutter speed darkens the image and freezes objects in-motion.
- ISO: This setting helps to increase the brightness in an image. Raising the ISO value means increasing the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. You can achieve a sharper photo by using the camera’s base ISO and taking in more light via shutter speed if needed. the higher the ISO value the more digital noise will be present on your image, reducing the overall quality.
- Aperture: This is the single most essential setting in landscape photography. It affects both exposure and depth of field. The goal of landscape photography is to achieve as much depth of field with lossless detail. Sharpness is key. It is a delicate task, and the ideal way to achieve this balance is by using an f-stop between f/8 to f/16 for day time shots. At night time you have to use wider apertures for more light and balance the exposure with shutter speed and ISO.
These tree settings form the so-called exposure triangle.
Your camera measures the brightness of the scene through a method called metering. We have a full article related to camera metering modes that you can read later, but in short, here’s what you need to know.
Landscape scenes are not evenly lit and metering modes help you have more control over the exposure. Generally, cameras have three modes, center-weighted, evaluative/matrix, and spot.
- Center-weighted metering mode: this mode will try to set the overall brightness to make sure that the center is well exposed.
- Evaluative/Matrix metering mode: This is usually the camera default choice and it works in many situations thanks to good internal algorithms in modern cameras.
- Spot metering mode: mainly used by pro shooters since it gives you great control. It focuses on a tiny portion of the image and gives precise information on what advanced technique to use (eg.: bracketing).
Read the full article: Understanding camera metering modes.
Camera Shooting Modes
While a lot of the auto modes and the various presets in modern mirrorless and DSLRs can be quite useful, it is recommended that you choose a mode where you can manually adjust the aperture of the picture.
The shooting modes available are:
- Aperture priority
- Shutter priority
- Program mode
- Manual mode
I rarely recommend choosing full manual mode. Aperture priority mode is my favorite choice when shooting landscapes. It’s a semi-auto mode that allows you to change the aperture and let the camera decide the shutter speed. Changing the aperture you can control the depth-of-field and by keeping an eye on the shutter speed you’ll know if you need to set your camera on a tripod and capture a long exposure.
Always remember to shoot pictures in RAW format so that you can adjust the white balance and tint in Lightroom. However, keeping a consistent white balance allows you to notice the changes in lighting.
Camera Settings for Landscape Photography: The Histogram
This feature helps you figure out what parts of the picture are under or overexposed. It shows the areas in a graph format.
Modern cameras also have a setting called ‘blinkies’ or ‘highlights’, which acts as a more understandable version of the histogram. Using both can help you adjust for the scene and get the best possible shot.
Read also: Desert Landscape Photography
Sunrise and Sunset Settings
As beautiful as sunrises and sunsets look, they are also incredibly hard to capture on landscape mode. To accurately capture these scenes, you should be aware that auto white balance does not work correctly, and the dynamic range during these shots are incredible.
To compensate, you should not use auto white balance and instead use the daylight white balance preset. You should also shoot the picture in RAW format for some post-processing magic.
Landscape photography presents itself with limitless opportunities. Each scene is different, and sometimes, even the same scene can produce different results, depending on the time of day.
Mastering landscape photography settings might be a tough task; however, you now have a starting point. So all you need to do is go out there and take as many pictures as you can!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.