There are all kinds of settings that you can use when photographing, and sometimes it’s easy to forget or overlook something important. Shooting with the wrong settings will seriously hurt your chances of getting the great photos that you’re after, so it’s important to take a moment and make sure you’re using the right settings.
In this article, we’ll look at 9 specific settings that are relevant to landscape and nature photographers.
1. Shooting in Auto Mode
Auto mode is the quick and easy way to take a photograph, but if you hope to create high-quality landscape images, you will need to get out of auto mode. While manual mode gives you the most control, it can be a little overwhelming if you’ve always shot in auto mode. Aperture priority is easier than shooting in full manual, but it still gives you a lot of control. If you’re intimidated by shooting in manual mode, try aperture priority instead, and after a while, you can try manual mode once you are comfortable.
Shooting in shutter priority mode is a good option for situations where the shutter speed will have a drastic impact on the photograph. For example, if you want to give a waterfall a bit of a blurred look, you can use shutter priority mode to slow down the shutter speed a little. Or if you are photographing wildlife and you want to freeze the action and prevent any blur, you can use shutter priority for a faster shutter speed.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to use the different modes, we have a few articles that can help.
- Intro to Manual Mode and When to Use It
- Why Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode
- Optimizing Exposure: Shutter Speed
2. Using the Wrong Shutter Speed
The shutter speed can have a big impact on some of your photos, specifically any scene that includes movement. If you’re taking a photograph of a distant mountain range, you might overlook the tall grass that is blowing in the foreground. If the shutter speed isn’t fast enough, the blowing grass will be blurry in your photo.
But there are times when you’ll want to blur the movement, and a slower shutter speed is ideal: flowing water, movement in the clouds (long exposure), light trails from cars, etc.
As you prepare for a photograph, think about any elements in the scene that may be moving. Do you want to freeze the action to produce a sharp photo, or do you want to blur the motion? Your answer will determine whether you should use a fast or a slow shutter speed.
3. Using Too Small of an Aperture
In landscape photography, typically you’ll want everything to be in focus. We know that smaller apertures (higher f-stop numbers) put more of the scene in focus. As a result, you may decide to use the smallest aperture available with your lens, such as f/22.
In reality, most lenses will produce sharper photos somewhere between f/11 – f/16, as compared to f/22. If you want to get the sharpest photos possible, you should test your lenses to find the exact apertures that produce the sharpest images.
4. High ISO
The ISO setting will impact the amount of noise or grain in a photo. While there is a time and place for noise or grain, in general, you’ll want to minimize the noise in your landscape photos. Because of this, you’ll want to keep the ISO setting as low as possible.
If you’re shooting in auto mode, you’ll have no control over the ISO setting. If you’re shooting in aperture priority or shutter priority, you can set the ISO or you can let the camera determine the ISO. Obviously, I recommend setting the ISO so that you can avoid unnecessary noise in your photos.
When you’re using aperture priority, set the aperture and the ISO and only let the camera dictate the shutter speed. When you are using shutter priority, set the shutter speed and ISO and only allow the camera to determine the aperture.
In some cases, a high ISO may not create enough noise that is noticeable at first glance, but when you create larger prints or view the image at 100% you will notice the noise.
5. Forgetting to Turn Image Stabilization On/Off
If your lens has an Image Stabilization (Canon) or Vibration Reduction (Nikon) option, you’ll want to turn it on when you are shooting handheld and off when you are using a tripod. The image stabilization can actually reduce the sharpness when you are using a tripod.
Because you’ll be switching back and forth, it’s easy to forget this setting. Try to get in the habit of checking the setting, or else you’re likely to find that you have it in the wrong state at times.
6. Forgetting to Switch from Auto/Manual Focus
Likewise, most lenses will allow you to switch between manual and auto focus. In most cases, you’ll probably want to use auto focus, but there are times when manual focus may be necessary. Be sure to check the lens before photographing, or you may get a blurry photo that is out of focus.
→ Related reading: Three Shooting Situations When You Should Be Using Manual Focus
7. Forgetting to Clear Exposure Compensation
There may be times when you are using your camera’s exposure compensation functionality to get photos lighter or darker. If you use aperture priority or shutter priority, adjusting the exposure compensation can be really helpful for getting photos that are properly exposed.
However, it’s easy to forget that you’ve made an adjustment and then all of your photos can be too light or too dark because the exposure compensation is still set without you realizing it. It’s always helpful to check and make sure that exposure compensation is turned off before you start shooting (unless you want it to be set). I’ve had many times when my photos were too bright or too dark, only to realize that I had forgotten to turn off the exposure compensation.
→ Related reading: Add Your Little Something Extra with Exposure Compensation
8. Not Bracketing (When Needed)
Bracketing exposures can be a very effective way to ensure that you get a properly exposed photo. It can also be extremely helpful when you want to merge multiple exposures together to create an HDR image.
Most cameras also make it very easy to automatically fire off several bracketed exposure. All you need to do is adjust the setting and you’ll have bracketed exposures that you can use later.
I don’t recommend that you always shoot with exposure bracketing, because you’ll wind up with far more photos that you need to go through, but when there are very dark shadows and bright highlights in the same scene, it’s a good idea to bracket your exposures.
→ Related reading: Intro to Exposure Bracketing & Tips for Terrific Photos
9. Forgetting to Turn a Circular Polarizer
This one isn’t exactly a setting on your camera, but it goes along with all of the others that have been mentioned so far, so I decided to include it.
A circular polarlizer can be a very valuable tool for landscape and nature photography. The polarizer can reduce glare from water or wet rocks, increase contrast in skies, and produce more vibrant colors. But, in order for it to work, you’ll need to rotate the polarizer at the end of your lens until it has the desired effect. It’s a common mistake to forget to adjust the polarizer, which means that it won’t be working as well as it could.
For more details, see Tips for Using Polarizers Effectively.
When you’re shooting, keep these settings in mind and you’ll be in a better position to get the photos that you want.
Photo license link: Pixabay License