8 Rules for Taking a Perfect Landscape Photo

We live in a photo economy. Instagram. Pinterest. Selfies. Songs about selfies.

Hikers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts are no different. Climb the highest mountain. Snap a photo. Reach a break on the trail with a sweeping view. Click. Coasting on a trail on a mountain bike. Let me take a selfie.

If photos are today’s currency (not to mention the best way to remember the nirvana-inducing moments of your outdoor adventures), then you can’t afford to take subpar shots. Here’s how to photograph a landscape.

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Steve Lagreca, a longtime hiker, backpacker, and former Scout leader, has loved hiking since the 1960s. With a career in the tech industry, he couldn’t always get his hiking boots on the trails. To remind himself of nature’s beauty, Lagreca hung photos of national parks around his home. Houseguests would marvel at the images they saw and would ask Lagreca if he was the photographer.

“I would hang my head,” Lagreca says, “and think, ‘Some day, ‘I’ll be good enough to hang my own photos on the wall.’” Today, he’s left tech and is a commercial photographer with his head held high. Langreca’s motto scribed on his website: “Wanderlust for the out-of-doors; photographing the best trails and road trips.”

We tapped Lagreca (@swtrekker) for tips on photographing landscapes.

1. Everything must be sharp.

“For landscapes, everything - from the foreground to infinity - should be in focus,” says Lagreca. To do that, first turn your camera to landscape mode, typically denoted with a mountain-shaped icon. This tells most cameras to focus on infinity.

2. Find a focal point.

Most camera’s automatic mode will focus on the closest object in the frame. That’s not well-suited for capturing a landscape shot that should be focused from up close to infinity. Instead, switch your camera to single point focus and follow this rule of thumb: “Focus your lens at one-third of the total distance from the closest foreground object to the farthest object--often the horizon,” Lagreca says. For more info on this rule, check out these guidelines.

3. Add an element to the foreground.

The foreground subject doesn’t have to be extraordinary. “But it is important,” says Lagreca. “A photograph is much more interesting with a foreground subject, and it helps provide scale.” Mountains, for example, feel more majestic when compared to another object in the front of your shot. So BYOO. “Bring Your Own Object” for the foreground, such as a friend, bike or backpack.

4l You have the most control over the foreground.

So take advantage of that fact, Lagreca says. Clean the area in front of you of any debris or litter. Sounds obvious, but Lagreca calls this the “empty water bottle” problem. “You can be so mesmerized by the background that you don’t notice the litter in the front,” he says.

5. There can be “too much sky.”

“Avoid placing the horizon in the middle of the photo,” says Lagreca. Doing so breaks the “Rule of Thirds.” Instead, take this advice: If the sky is exciting, like a beautiful sunrise, let it take up two-thirds of your photo. If it is a dull sky, like an overcast, then give the sky only one-third of the photo.

6. Chase the light.

The “golden hour” for landscape photography occurs twice a day: shortly after sunrise and before sunset. This is when daylight is redder and softer than the high sun at midday. That noon sun can wash out the image, creating strong highlights and harsh shadows.

Ideally, keep your back to the sun when taking the shot. This puts the sunlight on the subject matter and not beaming into your camera. Of course, to make this happen, you will have to time your trip. “Since you can’t reorient a landscape you may have to change the start time of your hike,” says Lagreca.

7. But adventure waits for no man.

Lagreca knows you can’t schedule every second of your hike perfectly. So while the sun is important, remember this: “Never wait for the perfect conditions. Take the shot now,” he says. You’d be amazed at what you can do to rescue or enhance a photo with free photo editing tools.

8. After you take the shot, take a few steps to your right - or left.

Then take another shot.”Half the time, you will like the second shot, taken at this different angle, better. You’ll discover something new to love or notice something you didn’t like in the first,” says Lagreca.

Of course, this is all good advice if you own a camera, preferably a digital SLR. What about those using their cameras on their smartphones? Check out Lagreca‘s advice for smartphone camera users here.