What is Landscape Photography? Your Complete Guide

Aspiring landscape photographer? From taking those awe-inspiring photos, to sharing your work and making money, our comprehensive guide is full of tips and tricks.

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Have you ever looked at the stunning photos from National Geographic and wanted to capture these exquisite nature images? Landscape photography captures the beauty of the great outdoors. A great landscape photograph can convey great emotions and make the viewer immerse themselves into the scenery. 

For many photographers, they love capturing landscapes and nature. You don’t need a model, props, or any people in the shot. There are many pros to getting into landscape photography, including the peaceful and meditative quality of your subject matter and having the potential of incorporating travel into your work. Looking to add landscape photography into your online portfolio? In this guide, you’ll find everything from taking a great landscape photo, to how you might end up selling your work.

What is Landscape Photography?

Simply put, landscape photography captures the beauty of nature and the outdoors. These photographs bring the viewers into the scenery and perfectly captures the setting, mood, and feeling in the location. 

Whether you’re capturing a panorama or wide-angle of a mountain, or a close detail of a patch of beautiful grass, landscape photography shows the photographer's connection with nature. The photographs make you feel what the photographers are feeling when they are at the location. 

The definition of landscape photography can be quite broad. Mountains and oceans, nature and urban—these can all be considered landscape photography. The two types of landscape photography we are all probably most familiar with are nature and urban, from wide shots to close ups, both are popular environments for landscape photographs.

Types of Landscape Photograph

There are a few types of landscape photography to get familiar with, but let us back up even further by asking what the definition of landscape is in the first place.

Nature Photography

Nature is the scene most commonly associated with landscape photography. From earth to sky, desert to the Milky Way, the sky really is the limit when considering the natural scene you are wanting to capture, and nature photography absolutely can fall under a type of landscape photography. 

Urban Photography

For lack of a better definition, urban photography concerns itself with parts of the world that are man made, but it can still absolutely classify as landscape photography. Structures such as buildings, roads, sculpture, architecture as a whole, are common subjects for photographers to utilize when composing their images. Often times, photographers may refer to this as architectural urban landscape. 

What Makes a Good Landscape Photo?

“There are no forms in nature. Nature is a vast, chaotic collection of shapes. You as an artist create configurations out of chaos.” - Ansel Adams, famous black and white landscape photographer

It's just about impossible to replicate the experience of seeing a dramatic landscape, but if you have the skill, the time, and the gear, you can get pretty close. Let's start with composing the image.

Composition

Locating and composing a landscape photo are easily the most important considerations here. Unlike product or portrait photography, you can't move your subject, you must move yourself to find the right vantage points.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is helpful when a photographer is considering their landscape, it's a great way to place the horizon within the frame (upper or lower third?), creating a natural balance for the viewer.

Leading Lines

Leading lines will add interest to your pictures as well as guide the viewer to the subject of the shot or into the vanishing point.  Really consider your environment and look to find natural horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines in it to create more depth and interest for the viewer of your photograph.

Light

Light can be a friend or an enemy. Unlike photographers working in studios, landscape photographers don't usually have control of their lighting, however, utilizing the natural light can lead to absolutely stunning images. Landscape photographers can take advantage of hard (mid-day light that casts interesting shadows and contrast) and soft light (like those seen at golden hour).

In almost any genre of photography, sunset and sunrise aka golden hour, is a magical time to take photos. That being said, waiting for or missing your shot can be frustrating, especially when you're short on time, or in a rough environment. Utilize the time you have by studying up on golden hour shooting, then pick an app that caters to landscape photographers, from weather and light measurement, to depth of field (DOF) calculations.

Weather

Certain types of weather, when captured right, can transform a photo from static to dynamic. Paying attention to changing conditions, being flexible with your time, and organized with your equipment so you can head out at a moment’s notice will give you an edge. Having access to the right gear for rough conditions (for your equipment and for you) is important, as stormy weather might be your best friend.

TIP: We’re in an attention economy. Don’t shoot the same view of a famous vista, someone has likely seen it a number of times on their feed already. Instead, take the time to find and compose a unique shot that’s true to your style. Something you find compelling. 

Who are Some Famous Nature and Urban Landscape Photographers?

We couldn't talk about famous landscape photographers without bringing up Ansel Adams. This artist was famous for his dramatic wide-angle black and white landscapes. Ansel Adams used sharp focus and full tonal range to capture nature and was deeply involved with environmental activism through conservation and used his photography to expand the American National Parks system, among other things.

Speaking of environmental activism, Edward Burtynsky is a large format photographer known for documenting sprawling industrial landscapes and calling to attention the impacts of human influence. If you're keen on exploring environmental footprint, take a look at some of this famous Canadian's work for inspiration.

While some might argue that macro or portrait photography is a genre unto itself, close up photos in nature could absolutely still classify within landscape photography, as demonstrated by the early female pioneer photographer Imogen Cunningham. She concerned herself primarily with the bold, gestural forms of the natural world.

Which Camera is Best for Landscape Photography?

DSLRs, point-and-shoot, and film cameras are all capable of taking breathtaking landscape images. Keeping in mind your experience level and budget, be sure you're considering the following features when choosing the best camera for landscape photography that can make a big difference to photographing landscapes:

  • Megapixels: go for high-resolution so you can be sure to capture every detail

  • Dynamic range: find one with a wide DR so you can capture more details and spend less time in your camera settings

  • Full frame sensor: not a necessity, but cameras with one will provide stellar image quality

  • Weather sealing and durability: try to find a camera that can withstand the elements and the wear and tear that comes with location scouting

What is the Best Lens for Landscape Photography?

In short, wide-angle lenses. Landscape photographers suggest anything 30 mm and below, however, if you're capturing far off distance, telephoto lenses (85mm to 300mm +) are another option to consider. Beginner photographer doing some dabbling? A standard lens (18-85mm) would absolutely work too. Something to consider, the narrower the lens, the wider and flatter the photo will appear.

Personal preference and style also come into play, so don't be intimidated by the options. Compare your own past photography and other image rich pages to help you along the decision making process. From Canon and Nikon to Sony and Sigma, choose from a selection of great lenses for landscape photography that can truly bring your style to life.

Do I Need a Tripod for Landscape Photography?

It depends. If you want the option to shoot long exposures, use slower shutter speeds and higher apertures, a tripod will ensure you have the option to get the best detail. After choosing your camera and lens, consider tripods based on your needs. Do you prefer lightweight carbon or portable models for, or would you settle for the standard metal kind? Cost, ease of use are conversations to have with yourself. Check out this list for reviews of the best tripods for landscape photography.

Ready to complete your gear kit? From protecting against the elements and keeping your equipment powered up, to finding the right density filter, level up with these landscape photography accessories.

Can I Make Money with Landscape Photography?

The short answer: yes! The way photographers make money has been shifting for years, but that shouldn't turn you off.

Firstly, social media and a website are arguably necessities for landscape photographers to gain notoriety, share their work, and be digitally introduced to clients. You can use your social media platform as an outlet to attract potential clients. Perhaps your landscape photography may be the secret to growing your followers on social media.

Now, if you already have a solid or growing portfolio you are sharing online, check out the ways photographers are selling their work.

1) Stock Sites

Stock Sites such as Getty, Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe and more are sites to all consider. When doing your research, look for royalty rates and potential exclusivity rights. You’ll also want to take a look at how you can create stock photography that sells. You can make small adjustments and post-production edits to create stock images that work well for the public to use.

2) Sell Prints

Prints are a great way to digitally showcase and hopefully sell your work. Plus, eliminating the gallery or buyer means you don't get hit with a commission fee.

3) Commissions or Assignments

Publishers, tourism bureaus and ad agencies are some places worth looking into if you want to make money as a landscape photographer. When you have a portfolio to share (agencies and bureaus) or an idea or body of work to pitch (publishers), this is ideal when you can start your reach-outs. Once you've bagged an assignment or commission, here are some budgeting considerations to ponder when quoting on a job.

If you're budgeting a quote for a potential commission, consider the following:

  • Your hourly, day or project rate

  • Gear costs (the camera, lens, tripod and accessories mentioned above)

  • Travel time

  • Location access e.g. national park fee

  • Licensing fees, per image

  • Editing or post-processing fee, per image 

4) Contests

Contests are a great way to gain notoriety. On top of that, many photo contests involve a monetary component. Enter as many as you can, just be wary of accumulating entry fees. Photo Contest Guru is a great one-stop-shop for upcoming contests, deadlines, and requirements.

Landscape photography can be a great addition to your photography business. If you’re a new photographer just starting your career, you may also want to explore this niche to build your landscape photography portfolio. Building your business will take time but there are lots of great potential for landscape photography.  

 

More resources to improve your landscape photography skills:

18 Landscape Photography Portfolios to Inspire You

How to Build a Landscape Photography Portfolio Website

The 23 Best Photography Apps for Landscapes