Best Camera Settings for Landscape Photography

Alex Schult
Apr 28, 2017 · 9 min read

It’s no wonder that landscape photography is so popular…

For starters, it’s an accessible given that we’re surrounded by landscapes big and small that we can photograph.

It also doesn’t really require any special gear — you can take high-quality landscape photos with nothing more than your smartphone.

And compared to other types of photography, landscapes are relatively “easy” to master. By that I mean a stone cold beginning photographer will likely have an easier time learning landscape photography than, say, portrait photography.

Having said that, it’s not as simple as pointing your camera at something pretty and pressing the shutter button.

I’ve put together a few suggestions to help you get better landscape photos. Follow along and see what you can do to take your landscapes to the next level.

Sunrises and Sunsets

Getting an ideal shot of a sunrise or sunset is probably one of the most complicated landscape photography tasks.

Not only do you have to consider how to capture the gorgeous colors of the moment, but you also have very challenging lighting conditions to consider. That is, the sky is very bright and the landscape is very dark.

The first issue — getting all that great color to pop — is the simpler of the two tasks.

Mastering White Balance

Your camera has various white balance settings, including auto white balance (AWB). When set to AWB, the camera essentially makes its best guess about how the colors should look.

In many situations, this works out okay. But when photographing a sunrise or sunset, AWB does a poor job of rendering the colors because its job is to remove color casts. That means that AWB actually minimizes the colors of the sunrise or sunset — that’s not what you want!

Get around this by switching your camera to the daylight white balance preset.

The daylight white balance preset has a very subtle warming effect. Since sunrises and sunsets are usually dominated by warmer tones, this will enhance those tones ever so slightly.

If your camera doesn’t have a daylight preset, you can also use the shade or cloudy presets. Each has a more significant warming effect than the daylight setting and will accentuate the warm tones present in the sunrise or sunset.

See how these changes to white balance impact a landscape photo in the video above from Professional Photography Tips.

Overcoming Dynamic Range

The larger problem when shooting sunrise and sunset photos is that there is an incredible dynamic range — the range of light values in the image.

As noted earlier, the sky is quite bright at sunrise or sunset, but the landscape is very dark. Often the difference between these areas of brightness and shadow is too much for the camera to handle.

The result is usually an image that’s well-exposed for the sky, but with a dark landscape (as seen above), or an image that’s well-exposed for the landscape with a very overexposed sky.

There are a couple of ways to handle this situation:

  • Get a meter reading off the brightest area of the foreground landscape and shoot in RAW. This results in a photo that’s close enough to a sky and foreground that’s well-exposed that you can recover any lost details when you process the image.
  • Use a reverse neutral density filter to even out the dynamic range. These filters have very little filtering power on the bottom so that the landscape is brightened up. At the top is more filtering power to bring down the brightness of the sky. And in the middle is the strongest filtering power, because at sunrise and sunset, the brightest area of the photo is at the horizon.

There’s another way, though, that’s a bit more involved but produces excellent results.

Take two shots of the exact same scene, one that’s exposed for the sky and another that’s exposed for the foreground (a process called bracketing). In post-processing, blend the exposures for a final image that’s well-exposed throughout.

Any of the above methods will get you a much-improved final image, but I personally find that blending exposures is the best. See how to do that in the video above from First Man Photography.

Suggested Camera Settings

Every sunrise and sunset is different, so there will be a bit of trial and error when it comes to dialing in the settings that get you the best result. It will also take a lot of practice over the years to perfect your approach.

However, by dialing in the settings outlined below, you at least have a starting point from which to experiment each time you go out to shoot:

  • Exposure mode: Manual
  • Drive mode: Single shot
  • Aperture: f/11
  • ISO: 100
  • Shutter speed: Varies
  • White balance: Daylight, shade, or cloudy

You’ll notice that the shutter speed varies.

You’ll need to set the shutter speed according to the lighting for each specific sunrise or sunset. As noted above, this will take some trial and error, but with practice, you’ll develop an understanding of where to begin with the shutter speed so you can perfect it from there.

But beware!

If you’re shooting handheld, ensure that the shutter speed isn’t too slow. If it is, you could induce camera shake. A good rule of thumb is that if the shutter speed is slower than 1/30th seconds, put the camera on a tripod or boost the ISO so you can use a faster shutter speed.

Indicating Motion

There are instances in landscape photography when using a long exposure to show motion enhances the impact of the shot.

Blurring the motion of a waterfall or river comes to mind, as does blurring the movement of clouds or stars, as seen in the image above.

The most important camera setting when capturing motion is shutter speed.

As a result, shutter speed should be the first exposure setting that you select. Then choose an aperture and ISO value to get a well-exposed shot.

Suggested Camera Settings

Again, these settings are just a rough guide for where you should start. You’ll need to do some fine-tuning based on the specific shooting conditions.

  • Exposure mode: Manual
  • Drive mode: Single shot
  • Aperture: f/16
  • ISO: 50 or 100
  • Shutter speed: 1/4th seconds
  • White balance: Varies

There are a few caveats with these suggested settings.

First, if you have a camera remote, single shot is the ideal drive mode. If you don’t have a camera remote, use your camera’s self-timer. Set a timer of at least 2–3 seconds, that way any vibrations you cause by pressing the shutter button will dissipate by the time the shutter fires.

Second, the shutter speed used will depend on the speed of the motion you wish to capture. For example, a fast-moving waterfall might only need a 1/4th seconds shutter speed to get good blur. But a slow-moving creek might require one second or more to get a blurry effect.

Lastly, the white balance setting you use will depend on the lighting. If it’s near sunrise or sunset, try daylight, shade, or cloudy as discussed earlier. If it’s during the daytime, in broad daylight, AWB might do the trick. If it’s shady or cloudy, give the shady and cloudy presets a try.

Mastering Depth of Field

One of the most central components of landscape photography is getting the depth of field right.

If we’re to define depth of field, it’s simply the area of an image that’s in focus.

Typically, landscapes benefit from a very deep depth of field, that way everything in the scene from the foreground to the background is in sharp focus.

In the image above, notice how everything from the rocks to the flowers to the distant mountains is all in focus. That’s due to the deep depth of field.

The depth of field is impacted by a variety of factors. You can explore that topic in depth in this guide.

To simplify things, as long as you use a wide-angle lens, set a small aperture (i.e. f/11 or smaller), and set your focus point about one-third of the way into the image, your depth of field should be more than sufficient for sharpness of focus from front to back.

Suggested Camera Settings

The key to maximizing depth of field is to use aperture priority mode (A or AV on your camera’s dial).

Aperture priority mode prioritizes aperture so that when you set the aperture to the desired setting, the camera automatically chooses a shutter speed to get a good exposure. That’s advantageous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you only have to worry about one exposure setting as opposed to all three when you shoot in manual mode.

You can learn more about aperture priority mode in this tutorial if you’re unfamiliar with it.

  • Exposure mode: Aperture Priority
  • Drive mode: Single shot
  • Aperture: f/8
  • ISO: 100
  • Shutter speed: Determined by the camera
  • White balance: Varies
  • Focus mode: Manual

The trick here is to use manual focus and set your focal point at one-third up from the bottom of the frame, as shown in the video above.

The reason this focusing technique works is because depth of field extends further behind the point of focus than in front of it. By setting your focal point at the one-third point, you’ll get good focus in front and extending behind that point for a sharp image from front to back.

Wrapping It Up

The great thing about landscape photography is that there are so many varied landscapes for us to explore and photograph.

The problem, of course, is knowing where to begin with our camera settings to get the best shot possible.

Though not every landscape will fall into the categories outlined above, at least you now have a starting point.

Re-read this guide if need be, grab your gear, and head outside to practice these techniques. I think you’ll see a marked improvement in the photos you take!

Do you lack the depth of knowledge or the skill level needed to replicate the incredible landscape shots you see the pros posting online every single day?

Take our Landscape Photography Course and join the photographers who have fast tracked their learning by mastering the art of taking awe-worthy landscape shots in just a matter of days.

Originally published at on April 28, 2017.

Alex Schult

Written by

Founder behind, which aims to inspire, connect and educate those who love photography.


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