Landscape Photography: Learn the Basics of Photographing Nature

Photographing nature means never running out of gorgeous subject matter to shoot. Here’s your guide to getting started in landscape photography today.

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If you're a nature lover who's also into photography, landscape photography is an awesome way to combine the two and create some seriously memorable images. These fantastic shots of our beautiful earth make for amazing material for your landscape portfolio website. Whether you're a photography beginner or a seasoned pro, nature offers an endless array of landscapes for photographers to draw inspiration. You don't even have to travel far to do it: the same landscape can offer a wide range of different nature photographs depending on the season, time of day, and weather and light conditions.

So, how can you actually get started doing nature photography? Read to find out what you need to know to start snapping the great outdoors.

What is Nature Photography?

Nature photography is also often referred to as landscape photography, although it's more accurate to consider it a subset of nature photography. While this category broadly includes wildlife photography and other types of close-up outdoor photography, landscape photography is all about bringing the viewer into the world you are capturing with your camera. It can certainly include other subjects, such as flowers and animals, but from a vantage point that captures the broader setting.

How To Photograph Landscapes

While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to nature photography, there are a few tips and techniques that you can implement if you want to take nature photos that really stand out. As with all types of photography, your skills as a nature photographer, wildlife photographer, or landscape photographer will improve the more you get out there and flex your photography muscles.

Try implementing some of these tips the next time you head outside with your camera:

Play With Depth and Layers

When experimenting with landscape photography, incorporating different elements in your shot will keep the picture interesting. You can do this by creating a sense of depth and positioning yourself so that the photo has different layers. For example, you could shoot a mountain head-on, or you could shoot it from a vantage that includes some other elements, such as a flower field or stream leading to the main subject, in the foreground.

By using this tip, your photos will have more visual interest and complexity. The key to creating depth in your landscape nature photos is shooting at a small aperture to make sure the whole picture is sharp. Go to your camera settings for aperture, also known as the f-stop, and make sure it's set to a number of 16 or higher. Below this, you may end up with part of the picture being blurred.

Include Movement

Another way to make your nature photos more interesting is to capture movement. If you're shooting around moving water, set your shutter speed to a long setting, like two seconds, and you'll get a cool dramatic effect that evokes speed. To do this you'll have to use a tripod, and we'll get into more detail on the type of gear you'll need for nature photography later in the article.

If you're lucky enough to be shooting in a part of the world with active wildlife, you can try these techniques to capture animal movement in the shot.

Capture Reflections

No moving body of water? No problem! Still, water can make for some amazing nature photos too, doubling the scene in the reflection. You won't be able to capture a reflection at any time of day, however. To do this, avoid harsh light and shoot either shortly after dawn or before dusk to get the best reflections. This way, you'll also get the beautiful warm evening light or the serene and cool color palette of the morning.

Play With Silhouettes

Incorporate some silhouette photography into your landscape shooting sessions. There are lots of creative ways to do this, from silhouetting animals against an evening sky to doing some urban landscape photography and scoping out the perfect skyline to shoot. No matter your subject, a good rule of thumb with this type of photography is that the more distinct the subject is, the better.

For example, if you're capturing the silhouette of a dog, the photo will turn out much better if the dog is in profile so that you can get an ice crisp silhouette than if they're facing you. A tree with a distinct shape will likely look better than a bunch of dense trees, which may just come out a dark blob in your final photo.

To capture a silhouette photo, you'll need the light to be coming towards you from behind your subject. For this reason, shooting when the sun is low tends to work best.

Shoot at Different Times of Day

As you've probably gathered by now, each time of day offers its own unique color temperature and lighting conditions that allow for different types of photos. An image taken at the same location with the same equipment can look very different in the morning, at high noon, in the evening, and at night. That's one of the fun parts of landscape photography and nature photos more broadly: you're not in a controlled studio setting, so you can never be sure what you're going to get. The element of discovery and surprise makes it all the more rewarding. 

Choose Different Subjects

When you think of landscape photography, photos of famous national parks and wide open spaces probably are conjured in your mind. However, you don't have to live in a natural wonderland to capture stunning landscape images. Sometimes the best photos are of unexpected subjects, so search for scenes that are available to you. It may be a local park or wild area, or it could even be a cityscape close to your home.

Remember the Rules of Composition

Sure, rules may be made to be broken, but it's a good idea to master them first before you come up with creative ways to break them. The same general photography composition tips and techniques that apply elsewhere are also valid when it comes to nature photography. A few rules that will help you compose nicely balance and visually appealing images include:

  • the rule of thirds, or placing points of interest in your image along the thirds of your frame

  • leading lines, or featuring line shapes such as roads to draw the eye toward your main subject

  • symmetry, or maintaining symmetrical balance in the image

While there are plenty of great nature photos that break one or more of these rules, there's a reason these composition tips come up again and again. Our eyes tend to be pleased by balanced and well-composed photos, so beginners are best off making sure they compose their subjects according to these techniques.

What is the Best Camera for Nature Photography?

While the tips and techniques we just discussed will take you far, it also helps to have the right gear for the job. You don't necessarily need to spend a fortune to capture fantastic landscape photos, but a few key pieces of equipment, in addition to a good camera, will certainly help.

So, what should you look for when choosing a camera? The features to look for include:

  • A large sensor for more detailed images.

  • A wide dynamic range. This refers to the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of an image, resulting in a better ability to handle different lighting conditions.

  • A high ISO range allowing you to shoot in low light. This is particularly important for nighttime photography and astrophotography.

  • A live view display, making composition easier.

  • Weather sealing, allowing you to shoot in wet conditions.

Some great choices include:

Nikon D850, $2999.95

If you've got the budget, this option has an extremely high quality sensor and can even shoot 4K and 8K time-lapse sequences, allowing you to bring your nature photos to life.

Canon EOS 6D II, $1399.00

You don't have to pay top dollar for an excellent full-frame camera: this option is more affordable, while still featuring an excellent sensor, weather sealing, and a relatively light build making it easier to carry around with you.

Sony a600, $549.99

If you want a super-light, quick-focusing, sharp and affordable option, the Sony a6000 is a favorite for a reason. Even though they've released newer bodies, this remains a top seller and a great choice for landscape photographers.

A few other gear items to invest in include:

  • A wide angle lens, for capturing wide landscapes. A zoom lens can also be a nice, versatile option to have in your kit.

  • Polarizing filters, which darken the sky slightly and bring out the contrast between the color of the sky and the colors of the clouds. You can do this in Photoshop post processing as well, but you may like the effect and ease of using a filter.

  • A tripod, which is an absolute must for landscape photography, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without worrying about a shaky photo.

  • Beanbags, which will help you stabilize your tripod and shoot at different angles.

  • A lens hood, to avoid lens flare

What Should I Include in my Nature Photography Portfolio?

Once you've taken all those awesome nature photos, it's time to put them together and present them in an online portfolio. But how do you decide what to include?

While a photography portfolio is a must for any serious photographer, you don't necessarily want to just throw every photograph you've ever taken up. It's important to be a bit selective about which photos to include.

Try choosing one or two images of each subject you've shot, rather than a ton of photos from each session. Identify the very best of the bunch, and put that one up.

Consider limiting the number of pictures to 20 or so, so as to not overwhelm your visitors. If including a large number of photos, make sure you choose a website builder with templates that make it easy to create distinct galleries, so that you can neatly organize them in a way that won't make viewers feel like there is too much content to sift through.

Where Can I Sell My Nature Photography?

Why not make some money with those landscape shots you've been taking? A great way to earn passive income from your photography is to set up an online store. Adding an eCommerce component to your online portfolio will make it easy for you to sell prints of your favorite shots. Since landscape photography is so well suited to interior decoration, it's a perfect choice for an online print store.

You can also submit your photography to nature magazines and travel magazines for consideration.

Finally, selling your images to stock photography websites is another great way to earn extra money from your landscape photography.

One of the best parts about nature photography is that you'll never get bored. It's always changing, so your subject is always new. Time to get out there and start building that top notch landscape photography portfolio!

Looking for more landscape photography portfolio inspo? Check these out:

18 Landscape Photographers Who Will Inspire You To Get Outside

Is Landscape Photography the Secret to More Instagram Followers?

10 Awesome Landscape Photography Tips