The Best Camera Settings for Landscape Photography

To argue that there is one way to setup your camera to take the best possible landscape photograph would be silly. Conditions are always changing and no scene is ever the same as another. However, I would argue that there are certain things you can do with your camera to give yourself the best chance of capturing a noteworthy image. Below I’m going to walk through a few keys to a good landscape image, and the settings needed to achieve these keys. I’ll use the image below as an example and reference for these few keys.

Light rays on a small tree in the middle of a waterfall.
This image isn’t perfect, but it captures a few keys in creating a high quality landscape image.

The first key, and perhaps the most obvious, is image quality. It’s important to produce a high quality image, regardless of the camera you are using. One of the greatest contributors to image quality is the ISO used when taking the image. A low ISO will produce a higher quality image than a high ISO. By image quality I’m really talking about the amount of grain seen in the image. An image taken at a higher ISO will have a larger amount of grain, especially noticeable in the darker areas of the image. Modern cameras have improved dramatically in their ability to handle higher ISO values, but it is always recommended to keep the ISO as low as possible. If you’re wondering why you can’t always have your ISO set to the lowest possible value (depends on the camera but maybe something like 50, 64, or 100) then you should head over and check out the article I wrote about camera basics and the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. So, for me, that’s really the first key. Keep the ISO as low as possible, and you’re on your way to creating a high quality landscape image.

The second key for me is kind of a pair, focus and sharpness. Well aren’t those the same thing? Kind of but not really. Just because something is in focus, doesn’t mean it is as sharp as possible. When an image is really sharp you can notice those crisp edges and lines. The majority of the time in landscape photography, you want the entire image to be sharp and in focus. This is very different from portrait photography where you often have the subject in focus and the background blurred (bokeh). To achieve maximum focus and sharpness you must understand your lens, and potentially understand post-processing focusing techniques. One of the basics to focusing is understanding aperture size and its relationship with depth of field. As the aperture is closed (the f number gets higher) the depth of field is greatly increased. This means that you can get a much greater portion of your image in focus. In some cases a closed aperture is enough get all elements of your image in focus, but in some cases a foreground element may be too close to the lens and cause it to be out of focus. Here is less about the optimal camera settings, and more about imploring the use of focus-stacking. I won’t get into focus-stacking here, as that’s plenty to talk about on its own. With the focusing portion of the settings set, it’s important to consider sharpness. Most lenses will have kind of an optimal zone where they are more sharp. I took the image above at f11, knowing that this stopped down aperture would give me a great depth of field and that f11 on this particular lens is extremely sharp. As a general rule, lenses are less sharp at their extremes. For example, the lens I used above has an aperture range of f2.8 to f22. While it’s a great lens and fairly sharp throughout, there will be a slight drop off in sharpness near the extremes. Understanding these two elements will allow you to get the correct setting for your aperture.

For me, the last crucial setting is shutter speed. This has less of a correct answer than ISO and aperture. Shutter speed will really depend on what you’re trying to capture. In situations where there is little movement in a scene, shutter speed is fairly irrelevant. In these situations you will just use the shutter speed as a way to exposure compensate for ISO and aperture. In situations where there is a lot of movement in a scene it will really depend if you want that movement to be frozen with a fast shutter speed or blurred with a slower shutter speed. For me, I usually like things like leaves to be tack sharp with a fast shutter speed, and things like water to be slightly blurred with a slower shutter speed. It’s really a matter of preference. However, in some situations an image will require a fast shutter speed and a slow shutter speed. This can get tricky in trying to blend shutter speeds in post, but be patient and try your best to be creative and capture your vision in the field.

The last tip I’ll leave is to use a shutter delay. Even on a tripod, there will be some minor camera shake when you push the shutter. This can ruin the sharpness of a great image, so be sure to take your time, use a shutter delay, and capture that great shot. Other settings like white balance are less crucial as they can easily be corrected in post. It’s obviously great to get it right in camera, but definitely less crucial.

I hope some of these tips were useful in helping you capture your next great landscape image. Above all I think it’s important to remain patient, take your time, and get it right while you’re there. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article, I really do appreciate it. I’ll talk to you all next Tuesday!



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