How To Take Great Landscape Photos With Your iPhone

Posted by:

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.

IMG_4499

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. 

P1050484

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.

IMG_0452

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?

IMG_3029

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.

IMG_3401

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.

IMG_2039

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.

IMG_4430

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.

P1050463

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.

IMG_8754

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.

Use HDR

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 X which creates a stronger HDR effect.

IMG_4260

The one downside of ProHDR X  is capture time – depending on your iPhone model it could take a few seconds to take a photo with ProHDR X, 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 X 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.

P1050535

And compare it to an unedited ProHDR X photo.

IMG_2993

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.

IMG_3482

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.

IMG_4492

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).

IMG_3097

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.

IMG_4193

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.

IMG_2459

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.

If you also want to take great photos with your iPhone, please join 11,273 subscribers who receive our free iPhone photography email tips that you won’t find anywhere on this blog.

  • Cary Gossett

    Exceptional and well written. Thank you!

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thank you Cary!

    • Abutterflyeagle

      I also wanted you to add to the conversation that I take photos with my iPhone 4 and I print them out through a professional printing company and have sold many. There is a market for it and people cannot believe the pics are from my iphone

    • Abutterflyeagle

      I’m sorry I wanted to add dang typos lol

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Nice! Where can we see your photos?

  • fayemcg .

    Lots of good information. Beautiful photos too!

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thanks, happy you like it!

  • MyThoughtsAreMine

    Thanks for such a great article and tips. Glad you use the same awesome app for slow shutter work. Great images man!

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Dioraman

    I agree, this is a well written article. Personally, I had stopped using proHDR after I came across VividHDR. VividHDR takes photos faster and the results look more natural.
    Well done Emil.

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thanks! I’ve been experimenting with VividHDR but I’m not that happy with the user interface and how you can never tell if the photo has been saved. Also, the natural HDR look is a little plain at times but I don’t like the other looks in the app.

  • Dave Rothschild

    Great article Emil. A subject very dear to my heart:)

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thanks Dave, happy to hear that from a great landscaper like you!

  • Fadhil Husin

    Thanks for article Emil. Taking landscape photo using iphone is quite challenging for me before. This article gives me the information needed to take good landscape photo. Keep is coming.

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Happy to hear that Fadhil!

      Make sure you apply the things you learned, that’s the only way to really get better at photography.

  • http://twitter.com/AinMungil Ain Mungil

    Halo, Emil…

    Weee, I’m so happy to find this site since I’m so new to iphoneography. Very useful site. Thank you so much for sharing great tips and tutorials.

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thank you Ain! Let me know if you have any questions!

  • http://www.about.me/hynecheck Hynek Hampl

    Hi Emil,
    great article, as always.
    I tried Pro HDR (just free version) and I really like how it handles the photo. My question is, what output resolution have the paid version? Because in free version it adds watermark of course), but the photo quality is awful compared to the photo from iOS camera app. Also resolution is 478×636 pixels. Not to mention that the app isn’t optimized for iOS 7 and iPhone 5/5s display. And any chance you could send me link to one of the image in this post in full resolution? :)
    Nice pictures btw.

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Don’t use the free version. The paid one saves photos in full resolution, there’s no watermark, and there are no quality issues. Also, the paid version is updated for iPhone 5/5S.

    • http://www.about.me/hynecheck Hynek Hampl

      I just wanted to try it before buying the paid version (I always do that if possible) and well…this scared me. Thanks a lot, now I have no worries and will buy it, can’t wait to test it in forest, thanks again Emil :)

  • http://freddyttoroblesfotografia.com/ Freddy Robles

    many thanks for this blog, agree, i’m a street shooter and iphoneography also so this tips are very useful, many thanks broh

    • http://iPhonePhotographySchool.com/ Kate Wesson

      So glad you found these tips useful Freddy! :)

  • Fabian Heß

    Great article. Looking at Pro HDR on the app store, I see there’s a new version for iOS 8 called “Pro HDR X”. However, the comments seem the app is not as good as the previous version, so I was wondering if anyone has experience with the new app and the “old” one.

    • Fabian Heß

      Just looked at the US app store, the reviews there are much better than in the german app store (I’m from Germany). I think I’ll give Pro HDR X a try, I often run into situations where I want to take HDR photos especially with landscape photography, but also situations with high contrasts.

  • Linda Hudnall

    Hi Emil. have you taken any videos with the iPhone 5s i have done some and when I download them to my laptop windows 7. and play them back all the videos are sideways. I there a n app to make them play correctly?