5 tips for photographing landscapes with your DSLR

Finding a great landscape either close to home or on your travels is the obvious first step to snapping a great outdoor shot, but a great backdrop doesn’t guarantee a memorable photo. Using David’s Navy SEAL training in Louisiana video as our example, here are five tips to get you well on your way to great outdoor shooting.

Use depth of field

When shooting at the oil rig, where David’s intense training session took place, the first approach of his daughter Erin, who photographed the adventure, was to ensure that as much of the scene was in focus as possible. She achieved this by choosing a small aperture setting (a larger number), because the smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field your shots will achieve. This means that the main subject could be in focus in the foreground, while the rest of the troops and scenery remain sharp in the background. The aperture is the space that light passes through the lens into the camera, and you can adjust it by opening it or closing it depending on your goals and the light of day. Smaller apertures mean less light is hitting your digital image sensor, so on a cloudy shoot in the Bayou, David would have had to compensate by either increasing the ISO or lengthening the shutter speed, or both. If you’re using the Canon 70D camera, as David’s daughter did, you’ll have the option to use a landscape setting, but try playing around with the settings yourself to obtain your desired outdoor shot.

Mind your lines

During David’s training session, not all shots could be taken up close to the action, so when capturing subjects interacting with the landscape at a distance, Erin had to think of how she was leading the viewer’s eye with each picture. The best way to achieve this is to provide viewers with lines that lead them into the image. Lines give an image depth and scale, and they’re a point of interest in and of themselves, as they create patterns within your shot. When shooting with your DSLR, you can put a grid on the LCD screen to visualize where lines in your image may be. The Vari-angle LCD monitor of the Canon 70D used at this shoot allowed Erin to operate from a number of angles and positions to obtain crisp focus instantly across a wide shooting area. And when composing in Live View mode, she could preview the image, exposure, and chosen effects before shooting. Using the screen as a viewfinder is especially useful when you’re utilizing the grid view to find your lines.

Embrace movement in your shots

It’s common to think of landscape photography in calm, passive, and serene environments, but at this shoot the landscape was rarely still. With the movement of the trainees across the image, it was sometimes ideal to use a longer shutter speed to show the blur of movement against a still backdrop. This meant allowing more light to hit the camera’s sensor, requiring a smaller aperture or the use of one of the in-camera filters to keep the image from becoming too washed out. Other times, when motion blur was not the goal, using the 70D’s 7.0fps continuous shooting mode was perfect for freezing the action in place. Canon’s quick shutter speed ensures instant response, allowing a rapidly moving scene to be captured moment by moment in perfect clarity.

Consider the sky

Many landscape photos have a dominant foreground, but you should also consider using the sky to keep your landscapes interesting. The sky can be filled with the drama of colours and fascinating cloud formations, in which case you should place the horizon lower in your photos. Filters can be useful here as well. For example, the polarizing filter can add colour and contrast to the sky hanging over the foreground. But if the sky during your shoot is bland and overcast, as it was during David’s training session, don’t let it dominate your shots—instead, place the horizon in the upper third of your image.

Change your perspective

If the best option is to focus on the foreground, try changing your perspective when shooting to give variance to your shots. One of the best images from the shoot in Louisiana happened when Erin climbed to the top of the oil rig and captured images of David from above as he was repelling down the side of a tower. With the subject in focus in the foreground and the ground populated with people way down below, the photo conveyed a great sense of depth and scale, showing how high the repelling subject was while also covering the sprawling landscape in the background.