The 7 Key Components of a Great Landscape Photo

We all know a good landscape photo when we see one. But what it is that makes a great landscape photo so great? In this video, photographer Doug McKinlay explains the seven key components of the best landscape photos:

1. Great Depth of Field

DoF in landscape images

Great landscape photos have great depth of field.

The easiest way to get a corner to corner sharp landscape photo is to use a wide angle lens. Lenses like the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L are renowned for their sharpness that produces stunning landscape photos. With a lens such as this, the ideal aperture you should be shooting at is between f/8 and f/11.

2. Focal Point

A good focal point is imperative to a good landscape photo. As McKinlay points out,

“Without a focal point your landscape pictures run the risk of turning into nothing but vast expanses of nothingness.”

Focal point in landscape photos

Use a focal point in your landscape images.

Pick anything in the frame that you feel is a good point of interest and use that as your focal point.

3. Sky

Some photographers believe that shooting on clear days is a necessity for great landscape images. In fact the opposite is true. Often inclement weather brings out the best images.

Using the sky in your landscape photos

The sky is a key component of your landscape images.

The sky can be a key component of your landscape photos, too. You might choose a dominant sky or a dominant foreground depending on the scene and the conditions. But you can also try to incorporate reflections into your images.

Using reflections in your landscape images

Reflections can sometime produce very powerful images.

As McKinlay points out,

“Watch for reflections. Under the right conditions they can make very powerful pictures.”

Finally, by all means keep the horizon line straight. This is a cardinal mistake made by amateurs.

4. Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines

The rule of thirds simply states that if your image can be divided into nine equal rectangles, then placing the key element of the image on one of the four intersecting points makes for a better composition.

Also watch out for the horizon line. Place it at either two thirds or one third of the way up, depending on whether the foreground or the sky is more interesting.

Use of linear lines in landscape photos

Leading lines draw the viewer into an image.

The role played by leading lines in your photos is to draw the viewer into a picture. At the end of the day that’s what you want, isn’t it?

5. The Golden Hour

Golden hour light

The best light to shoot in occurs during the golden hour.

Shoot when most landscape photographers shoot: an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. These times of the day make up what is known as the golden hour. To shoot at the golden hour you will need be at the location of your choice at least an hour ahead. It will give you enough time to set up, take some test shots, and get your exposure settings just right.

6. Filters

graduated neutral density filters

Filters are essential tools in the landscape photographer’s arsenal.

Ever since photographers have been intrigued by the outdoors, they have also faced the problem of balancing an exposure with bright sky and dark foreground. Thus, out of pure necessity, the neutral density (ND) filter was discovered. A graduated ND filter has a delineation from clear to dark, which makes it possible to balance an exposure of a bright sky and dark foreground.

The other filter that every landscape photographer must have is a circular polarizer (C-PL). Designed to cut down glare and reflections, these filters make it possible to get richer and truer color and cut down on unnecessary reflections in your images.

Use of solid ND filters in landscape photography

Solid ND filters allow you to slow down the shutter and capture really long exposures.

The third filter that McKinlay recommends is a solid ND filter. This one’s used for more creative long exposures, sometimes in collaboration with a C-PL. This allows for those creamy waterfall or seascape scenes that you see so often.

Note that a tripod is a must have tool for using most of the filters discussed above.

7. Room for Improvement

The final element of a great landscape photo is room for improvement. As McKinlay puts it,

“The key to which is innovation, persistence, and learning from your mistakes. If you don’t learn from your mistakes you will never improve. So embrace them and analyze them.”

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One response to “The 7 Key Components of a Great Landscape Photo”

  1. Ian Ford says:

    If every cast caught a fish there’d be no sport and, like fishing, photography is a great excuse to just get out and enjoy nature

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