Have you ever taken a photo of a magnificent view, only to find out that the image doesn’t look nearly as good as in real life? While all of us have experienced that at some point, the iPhone is nevertheless an amazing camera for landscape photography. In this article you’re going to learn how to take landscape photos that look just as well – if not better – than the actual view.
One of the things that separates great photography from the rest is that the photographer really cares about what is shown in the photos. After all, if you don’t care about what they show, why would anyone else care? I really love the outdoors, and many of the photos you see in this tutorial where taken in places that are near and dear to my heart.
That’s me taking the photo above.
The Right Mindset
Before we get into all the advanced landscape photography techniques, you have to understand that the views that look great in real life will often look terrible in photos if you’re not careful about the way you shoot them. For a long time my travel photos were very poor because I was so awed by the views that I forgot to focus on how I captured them.
Eventually I realized that in order to take really great landscape photos I had to treat this genre seriously and stop looking at landscapes as a sightseeing objects and start approaching them as a serious iPhone photographer. The following tips and techniques will teach you everything you need to know to undergo a similar transition yourself.
Focus on the Foreground
Perhaps the most common landscape photography mistake is only focusing on distant subjects such as large mountains in the background. This makes sense in real life – who cares about trees and rocks in the foreground when there are majestic mountains in the background?
It’s the small things in the foreground that add character to your landscape photos and really make them stand out. In real life the majestic mountain in the background was far more impressive than one of the many trees in this field, but it’s the small tree that really defines this photo.
This photo shows interesting subjects in the foreground (the tress and orange sand), the middle ground (the large orange rock) and the background (the river extending into the distance), which makes it more engaging than a flat photo where all the subjects are on the same plane.
Balance The Photo Diagonally
Composition is an absolutely crucial aspect of all types of photography including landscape photography. While the basic composition guidelines and my tips for square compositions also apply for landscape photos, it’s essential that you use the diagonal principle when composing your landscape photos.
The diagonal principle suggests that you position the important subjects of your photo diagonally from each other to keep the photo balanced both horizontally and vertically. If you don’t follow the diagonal principle some parts of the photo will get all the visual weight, which will make the rest of the image feel empty.
This photo is a perfect example of the diagonal principle and it also illustrates the importance of a good foreground. While the large rock in the background is the main subject of the photo, the small rock at the bottom left is equally important as it keeps the image balanced against the large orange rock at top right.
Even better, the river also runs through the scene diagonally. Your eyes follow the course of the river far upstream making you focus on the foreground, the middle ground and the background simultaneously, which creates a rich visual experience in multiple dimensions. This unique combination makes me want to revisit this photo time and time again.
Get The Right Gear
You don’t need any gear to get started with landscape photography. However, if you want to get serious about landscape photography there are a few essential accessories that are really worth carrying around.
Me and my landscape photography gear.
First, you really need a tripod if you want to get serious with HDR and long exposure photography. Forget about the cheap miniature tripods that can easily fit in your pocket. Even if they could support your iPhone on slippery surfaces, they don’t give you the flexibility to adjust the height and angle to get the composition right.
And here’s the photo I was taking in the photo above.
You need a serious tripod that you can use on any surface and that stays perfectly still for long exposure photography. I use Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with Manfrotto 804RC2 tripod head, which provide great stability and give plenty of options for getting the composition and framing exactly right.
You also need to attach your iPhone to the tripod. While there are many different tripod mounts on the market, nothing beats Glif+ in terms of how well the phone is attached. With Glif+ I can carry the tripod around with the iPhone attached and facing down – I don’t think that’s possible with any other tripod mount. Glif+ is available for iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5/5S.
HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, is a photography technique that combines multiple different exposures of the same photo into one perfectly exposed photo. HDR is particularly useful for landscape photography. When I shoot with the native Camera app I always leave HDR for landscape photography.
The native Camera app has a relatively weak HDR effect – in some cases it’s not even possible to tell the difference between HDR and non-HDR versions of the same photo. For this reason I often use ProHDR which creates a stronger HDR effect.
The one downside of ProHDR is capture time – it can take up to 10 seconds to take a photo with ProHDR, and you want to keep the iPhone still at that time, which is why you really need a tripod. Since HDR combines multiple photos into one, you also don’t want to have any movement in the scene.
ProHDR also has a tendency to oversaturate photos, which could be a good or bad thing depending on the photo. To show you what I mean, check out the following unedited point-and-shoot camera photo of me taking a photo.
And compare it to an unedited ProHDR photo.
In this case the oversaturation worked out quite well, but it may not always look good. In case oversaturation is a problem, there’s a saturation slider immediately after the photo is captured, and you can always change it later. You could also use VividHDR for a less saturated HDR effect.
Take Long Exposure Photos
Many of the most beautiful landscapes have water in them, and whenever there’s moving water there’s a great potential for taking beautiful long exposure photos. Waterfalls are the most common example of long exposure photography, and they do look great.
In long exposure photography the shutter stays open longer which blurs out any movement inside the scene as seen in the photo above. You can incorporate long exposure in any landscape photos that show movement of water like the following photo that I took with olloclip telephoto lens.
Unfortunately Apple doesn’t allow true long exposure photography on the iPhone – app developers even don’t have any control over how long the shutter stays open. However, apps can simulate long exposure digitally by combining multiple sequentially taken photos.
The app that I use is called Slow Shutter Cam. Before you start using this app you should select the highest possible picture quality (8MP on newer iPhones) and enable the volume shutter in app settings. You can also change capture settings under the shutter icon, which allow you to change capture time, blur strength and capture mode (use Motion Blur for landscape photos).
You want to keep the iPhone perfectly still at the time of the capture, otherwise your entire image will become blurred. If your tripod isn’t stable, use the volume buttons on your Apple headphones to avoid moving the iPhone when pressing the shutter.
Editing Landscape Photos
While some landscape shooting techniques are pretty advanced, the editing process is usually fairly simple, especially if the photo already looks great the way it was captured. With that said, almost all landscape photos can be improved with simple Tune Image adjustments in Snapseed. Check out my Snapseed photo editing tutorial for more details.
But I Live In A City…
Many of the photos you see on this page were taken in little-known places in Latvian countryside, but I don’t want that to discourage those of you who live in the city. I do prefer to shoot in a natural setting because I love the outdoors, but you can also take wonderful landscape photos inside the city.
The photo above was captured in a tiny park in the middle of Utrecht, the Netherlands. There are landscape photography opportunities in any area, you just have to pay attention to your surroundings. You don’t need to go to a national park to take beautiful landscape photos.