This last week’s Instagram photography tutorial was all about outdoor and landscape photography. There are several tips around how to improve your outdoor photography and I’m compiling them all here. My first love of photography started out in nature. Some of my fondest memories are waking up early for sunrise, setting out on a hike, and catching that early golden light.
Over the past years, I’ve focused on exploring outdoor destinations that truly are wonderful for landscape photography. Some of my favorite trips have been in Europe, to places like the Dolomites and the mountains of Slovenia. I still remember that early morning in Alpe di Siusi like it was yesterday in the Dolomites. We had woke up at the crack of dawn, drove out to a parking lot, and hiked thirty minutes in the pitch black. We arrived at our location and watched the sun slowly come out over the mountains. The valley in front, speckled with rustic winter cabins, was drenched in a glowy light like I haven’t seen before.
It’s these memories that will stay with you for a lifetime. So when it comes to capturing them, it’s important to be prepared. These are my 9 tips for improving your outdoor photography, the things to do ahead of arriving.
9 Tips for Improving Your Outdoor Photography
1. Shoot during golden hour.
My number one tip for getting those golden, dreamy moments in nature is shooting at golden hour. It’s that moment right after sunrise and right before sunset. Suddenly the sun rays become filtered and incredibly golden. It brings the scene to life. The water glistens, the peaks glow, and all of this together creates a dynamic landscape. When I travel, I plan out all of my locations based on sunrise and sunset photography. I like to keep in mind how many nights and mornings I’ll need to get the shot.
2. Know your location.
My second tip is being prepared ahead of time by doing research. Scout it out on Google Maps, get exact coordinates, and know the best time to shoot. I’ll search for destinations with the words “sunset” or “sunrise” so I can see when the light hits it. I know that certain destinations are better in the morning vs. the night, so it’s good to know these things. I try to do these things in advance as it means that when it comes time to photograph, that is all I have to focus on. I save my maps offline too since some locations are remote.
3. Have the right gear.
It’s important to show up with the right gear to photograph a location. A few thoughts around the camera and lenses for outdoor photography:
Camera body: I’d recommend a full-frame DLSR or Mirrorless system. I’m personally a huge fan of Sony and recommend with confidence the Sony A7 RIII. I love this body for multiple reasons. For another alternative at a lower price point, the Sony A711 is a great option as well.
Camera Lenses: I like to have a zoom lens on me for when I’m outdoors. This year, my 24-70mm lens was upgraded to the f/2.8 and I have never been happier. A 24-70mm is wonderful for landscapes if you plan to have a lot in the foreground. You’ll also want another zoom lens if you plan to shoot peaks that are far away. The 70-200mm is good for this.
You can find my full travel photography gear list here as well.
4. Keep your ISO low when possible.
ISO is always a tough one to manage, especially in low light. My rule of thumb is not to be over 400, so I try to stay around 200-400. If I have to cheat my ISO up, it means that it’s time to pull out the tripod which I’ll talk about below.
5. Always bring a tripod.
Above I mentioned that keeping your ISO low is important to reduce noise, but what happens if it’s low light? Bring a tripod! I always travel with one and it’s helpful for making sure that you can have a slow shutter speed. The tripod is also great if you want to composite images in photoshop. These are three great tripod options for travel:
- Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section
- Manfrotto Befree Advanced Tripod MKBFRLA4BK-BH Befree Travel Tripod
- Neewer Carbon Fiber 66 inches/168 centimeters Camera Tripod Monopod
6. Set your camera to a mid-range aperture.
Ever wondered why a photo isn’t super crisp? You need to have the aperture set appropriately. I like to be around f/8-f/11 for having clarity in a landscape image. This range is ideal for the perspective and ensures for the photo to be in focus.
7. Be prepared to go twice.
I talked about how light changes a place, and the difference between sunrise and sunset can be incredible. I’ve done this a few times, like that trip to Slovenia where one location was visited twice for photography. If I have the time, it’s always worth it to go twice and sometimes you have to if the weather is not good on the first try.
8. Change your point of view.
Climb up the hill, get lower to the ground, add something in the foreground — these are all great ways to changing your point of view. You may see something new that catches your eye, so I love to move around a bit when I’m outdoors photographing a location.
9. The rule of thirds is great for composition.
I like to keep the rule of thirds as a frame of reference for the composition. It helps make sure the photo is balanced. One other thing to look out for is that your horizon is straight. My number one tip is to turn on your grid lines when photographing so you can see the rule of thirds and make sure lines are straight. One other thing to mention: rules are meant for breaking so if the composition makes more sense when it’s not the rule of thirds than that is okay!