How to shoot breathtaking landscape photos without spending a lot of money!

I have always wanted to take spectacular landscape/nature photographs, but the images were not coming out like the ones I was seeing in the magazines.  Of course, there is the godfather of landscape photography, Ansel Adams, but there are others, like Michael Kenna, Sebastião Salgado, and others who have captures breathtaking landscape photography. I wanted to capture images that were spectacular.  But, I was missing something. Clearly, I was not doing it right. Was it my gear? Was it my technique? Was it editing?

Maybe you are like me and want to take amazing landscape photos that you would be proud to print and hang over your fireplace or in a prominent place in your home. But, they simply don’t come out like you hoped.  Maybe, like me, you are simply not doing it right.

There are actually simple steps to taking strong landscape photos! You don’t need expensive gear, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money traveling to exotic places.  Now, if you have the money to buy top-of-the-line gear and can travel to Iceland next weekend, by all means, go for it!  The simple steps here are are drawn from my research and experiences getting it completely wrong!

The first step to taking great landscape photos is to put yourself in front of great landscapes.  The likelihood of talking amazing photos increases the more proactive you are about finding great landscapes. I spend a considerable amount of time researching and planning places to photograph.

On the flip-side of this is that you don’t have to travel to exotic places to find studding places to photograph. I found myself getting discouraged when I would see amazing photographs in far-away places. But, there are great places to photograph near my home, and I don’t have to spend a ton of money to shoot them! For example, below I talk about a trip I took to Tallulah Gorge.  I stayed at a family member’s home near Tallulah Gorge.  I paid for a parking fee, guided hike fee, and lunch.  All together, my trip cost me $30.  And, I got some great photos that I had printed and hang in my man-cave.

The second thing you have to remember about taking great landscape pictures is you have to have the right light. It is all about the right light. There are two times per day and two types of light during each time that are great for landscape photography. Perhaps you have heard of the “blue hour” and the “golden hour” of photography (I’ve linked these two types of light for you).  These are the two types of light that are ideal for landscape photography. To get those landscape photos that really “pop,” you have to get up early or wait until sunset to get the right light to take great photos. The first mistake I was making was trying to photograph landscapes in the wrong light. I honestly thought this was not a big deal until I went out during the golden and blue hours and started shooting during those times.

Recently, I went to Tallulah Gorge State Park in Northeast Georgia to take pictures of the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi River. I was up an hour and a half before sunrise to get to the park entrance.  I arrived at 7 a.m. and was at my first shooting location at 7:30 a.m.  Sunrise was at 7:42 a.m.  I started shooting immediately.  The sunrise was spectacular as the sun rose over the canyon. Here is a photo I took of the sunrise over the canyon. Notice how the light gives wonderful color to both the canyon and the fall leaves.  I would not have gotten this beautiful light if I had waited to start taking pictures until later in the morning. I took this photo during at the end of morning, “blue hour” and the beginning of morning “golden hour.”

The third step to taking great landscape photos is shooting with the right gear, not necessarily the most expensive gear.  Here is my gear for the photo I linked in the previous paragraph:

  • Canon EOS Rebel t3i
  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens

  • An old, but steady, tripod
  • An external shutter release
  • Circular Polarizer Filter

Notice that none of this gear is neither expensive nor sexy.  It is a starter kit, but it has everything that I need to take good photos!

The fourth essential element for taking awesome landscape photos is the right camera settings for landscape photography. Again, this is not necessarily difficult.  You do, however, have to be disciplined to set up your camera the right way.

  • ISO 100 – You want to eliminate as much noise as possible.  For landscape, you want to be shooting on a tripod, so 100 is the best setting.
  • Shoot in RAW.
  • Start with evaluative metering and move to spot metering depending on your your position relative to the shot.
  • Set your scene to neutral.
  • Set your white balance to the type of light.  Don’t use “auto white balance.”
  • f/14 – f/22 – There seems to be a difference of opinion about where, exactly, you want to set your aperture. For some, the most important thing is a long depth of field, so they set their aperture to f/22.  At the shoot I referred to above, I shot at f/22.  There are others, however, who want a sharper and less-noisy image; they insist that f/14 is the lowest aperture setting from which to shoot.
  • I always use and external shutter release, similar to the one linked here.
  • Also, I always shoot a bracketed set of exposures so I can edit the photo with the correct exposure but also have the option of combining the bracketed set into an HDR photo if the first photo doesn’t come out right.

It may seem like this is a lot to think about, but, as I practice, these steps become second-nature for me. Also, it is simply not expensive to find breath-taking venues and capture extraordinary images.  I’d love to see some of yours!



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