4. Set up your camera
The camera settings you need for landscapes are pretty simple. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode so you can control the depth of field while the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed for you. With the aperture set to f/16 for a large depth of field, set the ISO to 100 for the best image quality. With the metering mode set to Evaluative/Matrix, the camera will read light from all areas of the scene to calculate a correct exposure. If required, use exposure compensation to lighten or darken the exposure as necessary.
With settings like these plus the possibility of filters being attached to the lens, there’s a high possibility that the shutter speed will be slow. If you find it drops below 1/125 sec, attach your camera to a tripod and use a remote release to fire the shutter without touching the camera. This combination will help to avoid camera shake – a type of blur in your photos created by tiny camera movements when shooting at slow shutter speeds.
5. Maximise sharpness
Maximising the overall image sharpness and depth of field relies on using both a narrow aperture and the correct focusing technique. Even with a narrow aperture such as f/16, if you focus on the wrong part of the scene, the foreground or background could still be out of focus.
The best way to focus for landscapes is to switch the camera and lens to manual focus, and rotate the lens’ focusing ring to focus on the right part of the frame. You need to identify the position in the scene that’s one third of the distance towards the horizon, and focus roughly at this point. This piece of advice is sometimes confused with focusing one third of the way up the frame, which is incorrect: make sure you’re looking at the depth of the scene.
Once you’ve identified this point, either look through the viewfinder or use Live View on your rear display while slowly rotating the focus ring. When the image looks sharp at the right point, stop and take a shot. Zoom into the image on the LCD screen and check that it’s sharp from the front, all the way to the back of the shot. If it’s sharp in the foreground but not in the background, you’ll need to set the focus further back, and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to keep adjusting the focus until you achieve sharpness throughout the scene.
6. Polarise the light
Polarising filters are one of the most versatile accessories in the photographer’s arsenal. Not only do they help to deepen blue skies, remove a degree of glare, reduce reflections and increase colour saturation, but they can also be used as a limited neutral-density filter because they reduce light entering the lens by one or two stops.
7. Extend time with NDs
Neutral-density filters are designed to reduce the amount of light that can enter the lens, which means you can use slower shutter speeds than you would normally. This makes creative blurring of water and clouds possible. NDs are often available in 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 6-, 10- and even 15-stop light-blocking densities.
8. Capture sky detail
Neutral-density graduated filters – known as ND grads for short – are essential landscape filters that allow you to reduce the amount of light that enters at the top of the frame. They then graduate to no effect at all at the bottom, leaving this area completely unaffected. This means that you can achieve the otherwise tricky job of capturing a perfectly exposed bright sky and dark foreground in a single shot.
9. Wait for the blue hour
The sun has gone down and it’s getting dark, so time to head home, right? Absolutely not! Twilight brings with it a number of opportunities, but one you may want to hang around for is known as the ‘blue hour’. It’s a period of time (not necessarily an hour), after sunset and the better-known ‘golden hour’ period have passed, where predominantly blue and violet wavelengths of light are reaching the Earth. While the sky may still contain flashes of red or orange, the ground will be bathed in soft blue light – and the result is totally cool.
10. Inject a touch of drama
An overcast day may not provide a colourful sunrise or sunset, but what it can do is give you a full day of shooting. As long as the sky isn’t an endless expanse of grey and detail is present in the clouds, you can shoot incredibly moody images. And, of course, if the sun does happen to break through for a moment, it will look amazing.