Basic camera setting for landscape photography

Hi everyone, in this post we will learn how to configure  basic camera settings for landscape photography.

1.Aperture in Landscape photography

Aperture is the opening you can see if you look through a lens. Think of aperture as the pupil in your eye. The pupil is small in strong light but opens up as the light gets less. Similar to the pupil the aperture opening can be adjusted to allow more or less light to enter the camera. It is obvious the bigger the opening is, the more light hits the
camera sensor.

Aperture is measured in f-stops. It is somehow confusing as the lower the f-number is, the bigger the opening is. As already mentioned the aperture is important for the Depth of Field. The Depth of Field is how much of the image is in focus in front of and behind the selected focus point. The smaller the opening is (bigger f-number) the more Depth of Field. At Í22 more of your picture will be in focus compared to f4 at the same focus distance.

In landscape photography where you in most situations want as much as possible of the scene in focus, aperture is an important setting to understand. If the light condition allows the aperture is often set in the range of fn-fi6 for maximum Depth of Field. The opposite is the case in portrait photography. When photographing a portrait it is often desired to blur the background while keeping the person in sharp focus. To achieve this, a wide aperture is used (low f-number).

The aperture scale typically looks like in the figure below. The f-stop range differs from lens to lens. Between each of the numbers shown here, it is one f-stop difference. On digital cameras, it is common to use the one-half-stop scale or the one-third-stop scale for more accurate adjustments. From a learning perspective, I will keep it simple and use only one-stop scales here.

camera setting for landscape photography 1
camera setting for landscape photography 1

For example, if you change your aperture from f8 to fn you will need the double amount of light to keep the same exposure. Similar if you change from f8 to f5.6 you will need half the amount of light to keep the same exposure.

2.Shutter speed  in Landscape photography

While the aperture sits inside the lens, the shutter is a mechanism inside the camera. You can think of the shutter as a curtain you can close and open. The shutter is either fully closed or fully open. When the shutter is closed, no light hits the camera sensor. When it is open light enter through the lens and expose the sensor – a picture is made. The way the shutter controls how much light is hitting the sensor is by adjusting for how long time it is open.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. A shutter speed of 1/125S means one one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth of a second. This is a very short time. As a comparison the blink of an eye takes about 1/3S. However in photography terms 1/125S is a relatively “long” time. Some cameras are capable of incredible short shutter speeds as fast as i/8ooos. Shutter speeds longer than a second is measured as whole seconds. By adjusting the shutter speed you can blur or freeze movement.

camera setting for landscape photography 2
camera setting for landscape photography 2

As with aperture the difference between each number in the table above is one f-stop. If you increase the shutter speed from 1/125S to 1/250S you will need to double the amount of light to get the same exposure. The same if you decrease the shutter speed from 1/125S to i/6os you will need half the amount of light for the same exposure value.

The longest shutter speed you can set on most cameras is 30 seconds. But it doesn’t stop there. There is another setting named B (bulb). With this setting, you can open the shutter for as long as you want. If you need longer shutter speeds for creative effects or in extreme low light conditions like night photography, you will have to use Bulb mode.

You will need a cable release or remote shutter control in Bulb mode and the camera on a tripod. Wrong use of shutter speed is one of the reasons if your photos are blurry. The blur caused by choosing a wrong shutter speed is called motion blur. Motion blur appears when the camera, the subject or both are moving during exposure.

How long shutter speed to use dependents on several factors such as the lights conditions, the focal length, if the subject move or not and how steady your camera is during the exposure.

Creative use of shutter speed

One last important factor is the creative use of shutter speed. In some situations, you purposely want the subject to move. Waterfalls with the white cotton looking water are examples of using long shutter speed. Unless you intentionally want to create an illusion of movement, you should use as short shutter speed as the light conditions allows.
In landscape photography more than in most other genres of photography, the subject is not moving much. Because of the static subject movement is not so much of an issue. Camera movement however is the most critical factor. This is why you will see most serious landscape photographers always using a tripod.

3.ISO in Landscape Photography

With the ISO you can adjust how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. The more you increase the ISO the less light you need to get a proper exposure. Every digital camera has a base ISO. It is possible to increase the ISO electronically from its base level.

camera setting for landscape photography 3
camera setting for landscape photography 3

The drawback with increased ISO is the introduction of sensor noise (grain). How much noise varies from camera to camera. It is in low light situations you will need to increase the ISO. But some noise is better than not getting the picture at all.

In the scale above it is one f-stop between each value. If you increase the ISO from 100 to 200, you only need half the amount of light to keep the same exposure. On most digital cameras the ISO is in the range of 50 to 6400. To ensure the best possible image quality you want to keep the ISO on the lowest possible setting in most situations.

4.Exposure in Landscape Photography

Exposure is often the most challenging part for many beginner photographers. It is fundamental to understand how you get a proper exposure (not too light or too dark photo). When you learn how aperture, shutter and ISO work together, you have come a long way in getting better photos. You also need to know how the camera light meter works. The light meter can be tricked in some situations. In these situations you must overrule what the camera have decided. Most cameras have an Exposure compensation setting for this purpose.

Exposure Value (EY)

Exposure value is a way to express the combination of aperture and shutter speed. A camera setting with an aperture of fi6 and a shutter speed of 1/125S represents a given Exposure Value (EV). ISO is not a part of the EV equation. Other combinations of aperture and shutter speed will give the same EV. An aperture of fn and a shutter speed of 1/250S will result in the same EV as an aperture of f22 and a shutter speed of i/6os.

“Correct” Exposure Value (EV)

What is a “correct EV”? It is to some extent subjective and depending on the scene. Some photographers like the photos to have a slightly dark feel to them while others like the photos brighter. That’s totally OK and is the artistic freedom of the photographer. But most of us like the photos to look as similar as possible to what we saw.

You have most likely experienced both too bright and too dark images unintended. The reason for this “bad” exposure is aperture or shutter is set to wrong values according to the light conditions. Your camera did a wrong measurement because you allowed it to or you chose the wrong settings yourself.

“Creative Correct” Exposure Value (EV)

The “creative correct EV” is when you take control of the camera because you have decided to create a particular effect in your photo. One example is when you freeze motion. You can “freeze” the water in a waterfall so you can actually zoom in to the photo and look at the individual water drops. Another creative effect is the opposite when you blur water and make it silky white. You will not be able to create these effects unless you take your camera out of Auto mode and make the settings manually. Why? Because the camera don’t know how you want the photo to look like.

5.Exposure triangle in landscape photography

You have now learned about exposure and what aperture, shutter speed and ISO is. Now let us see how these three settings links together. A common way to look upon this is by using the exposure triangle.

What the exposure triangle shows us is there is a relation between the settings. If you increase one of the parameters with l-stop, you have to decrease one of the other two with l-stop to get the same exposure.

In most situations it is the aperture and shutter speed settings you will change. Changing aperture and shutter speed will have an impact on how your images look. ISO is a setting you don’t change unless the light is limited. You should keep the ISO at the base level.

camera setting for landscape photography 4
camera setting for landscape photography 4

It is the lens on your camera that dictate how light sensitive your system is. It is a significant difference between a lens with f2.8 and f5.6 as the widest aperture. It is two full stops between these two lenses.

Let us look at two examples with two different lenses. In this example you want to freeze the movement of a waterfall. To do this, you need a shutter speed of l/iooos. The light is dim, so you need to increase the ISO to 400.

Most cameras will have no problem with an ISO of 400 and still maintain good image quality with no noise. With the most light-sensitive lens, you find an aperture of f2.8 will give the correct exposure for this scene.

With the other not so light-sensitive lens you can see, there is no way you can keep a shutter speed of l/iooos to get the same exposure. There is no f2.8 on this lens. The best you can do with this lens is a shutter speed of 1/250S. But 1/250S is not fast enough to freeze the water. What do you do?

camera setting for landscape photography 5
camera setting for landscape photography 5

The two things you can do are to add more light or increase the ISO. The first is obviously not an option in landscape photography. So you have to increase the ISO. By increasing the ISO two stops -from 400 to 1600, you can keep the shutter speed at l/iooos with an aperture of f5.6. At ISO 1600 there is always a risk you will see noise in your images if you use a Point and Shoot camera with a small sensor.


Above is ultimate guide about camera setting of landscape photography, hope that you can improve you skill with our guide.

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