9 min read

13 Types of Landscape Photography

9 min read

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Understanding the challenges of the different types of landscape photography can help you get spectacular images

If you’re going somewhere, you’re going to take pictures of the landscape. But, did you know there are different types of landscape photography? It’s true, and each type comes with its own challenges.

To help you understand landscape photography better, we’re going to discuss the 13 types of landscape photography you should master to take home great memories. You’ll notice that some of the types relate to the location (i.e., the ocean) and others relate to the photographic technique you’re using, such as a panoramic shot. Still others relate to the time of day (i.e., sunrise photography). There’s a lot to cover, so, without further ado, let’s begin: 

1. Seascape Photography

The seascape, and water in general, offers one of the better locations to get stunning images. By contrasting the water with something in the foreground–such as a dramatic landscape–you show both the calm and the aggressive actions of nature, and the transition from earth to sea.

Good seascape photographs capture the interplay between the calm and aggressive forces of nature

You also have many creative options, such as using longer shutter times to blur the action of the water. Or, you could use a filter to cut out glare or help average out the difference between the sky and the sea. Really, you’re only limited by your own creativity when taking images of the sea.

You’ll also want to understand camera settings for photographing the water. You’ll need to understand the impact of different aperture, shutter, and ISO settings on the available light and the motion of the water. You can use your camera metering modes to help you get the perfect exposure.

It may also help to think about the images you want and the type of light that will be available. For example, if you know you want a sunrise or sunset shot then you can prepare in advance for those light conditions.

2. Mountain Photography

Mountain landscape photography is another favorite. But, one of the challenges with this type of landscape is that you and your gear may have to hike for a distance to get the images you want. That means you’ll want to minimize the gear you have to bring. You’ll need at least one good lens, a lightweight tripod, and you’ll want to bring extra batteries and memory cards.

Mountain landscape photography is a type that requires you prepare for carrying your gear into rugged areas

A good, affordable workhorse lens for mountain photography is a 50mm f/1.8G. Nikon makes one that’s lightweight and very versatile. It produces extremely sharp images, and has a focal length that allows you to get creative with your images. You can photograph minute details of a tree, for example, or wider shots of the surrounding landscape.

3. Forest Photography

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and that’s the challenge for the forest landscape photographer. There’s a lot going on in a forest, but when you start to think about the lines created by the trees and the play of the light in the forest, you can get some pretty spectacular shots.

For example, you can use the interplay of light and shadows to create various moods. As the light shines through the leaves of the trees, you get many interesting patterns, and if you take advantage of those, you will be rewarded with some stunning images.

Use the lines of the trees and the interplay of light and shadow to capture stunning images in the forest

Another tip is seek out contrast and color. For example, the bright colors of changing leaves in the fall. You can also get dramatic images by photographing the trail through the woods, and using the shadows to your advantage.

4. Cloudscape Photography

As far photography niches go, this one’s kind of an acquired taste, but by exploring the vastness of the sky, you can capture some wondrous images. To do that, you’ll definitely need your tripod, and a shutter release cable will help as well so that you don’t even have to touch the camera to take the shot. If you don’t have one, you can always set your camera’s timer to automatically take the shot after 2 seconds.

Cloudscapes are one of the types of landscape photography that is a unique niche

You’ll also probably want a polarizing filter to help improve the contrast between the clouds. You’ll also want to have a good understanding of the different, and somewhat unique, light conditions when photographing clouds. You might have, for example, the sun shining out from behind a cloud and creating both rays of light as well as powerful, vivid colors. To capture those kinds of conditions, you’ll likely want to set your camera to aperture priority mode, use an f stop between f/11 and f/32 to get a larger depth of field, and use a wide angle lens. This will let you make the best of the lighting conditions and capture those nuances as well.

5. Astrophotography

Astrophotography is growing in interest, but it definitely presents challenges. To photography this type of landscape, you’ll definitely need a tripod and shutter release cable since any level of camera shake will blur your image.

You’ll also want to frame the night sky with a dramatic foreground. If you don’t have some spectacular landscape scenery to put in the foreground, you can use your own silhouette.

Framing the night sky with a dramatic foreground can allow you to capture spectacular astrophotography landscape images

You’ll  also definitely need a good understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings, because you will certainly be working in reduced light settings. And, you’ll need to adjust your focus.

If you want clear stars, you’ll need a shutter speed of 15 seconds or less. You’ll need to open your aperture as wide as possible (i.e., the lowest f stop setting), and your ISO setting will need to be as high as possible without adding more noise. It will need to be 6,400 or higher if you’re looking to capture the cloudy appearance of the Milky Way, for example. And, to improve the clarity of the images, set your focus as far out as it will go, and then step it back just a bit.

6. Panorama Photography

Some call this wide format photography, and it is a common technique for landscape photography. The idea here is that you’re taking several photographs and stitching them together. It can produce incredible images, but the challenge is to get the photographs just right in your camera.

To get great panoramic landscape photographs, you need to hold the camera level so the images stitch together in all the right places

Your camera may have a setting that allows you to start with one photograph and then move left or right to capture the images that will be stitched together. The trick is to keep your camera level as you move it right or left. If you lift it up, even just a little, the landscape won’t come together at the right place in the final image.

7. Time Lapse Photography

Time lapse photography is fun, but also technically challenging. One tip is to set the time interval on the images to match the action.

For fast-moving objects like cars or clouds that are moving fast, the interval between images should only be 1 or 2 seconds, but if it’s something slow moving like a flower blooming or a construction site, the interval may need to be several minutes or even hours.

Another tip is to shoot in manual mode in order to keep the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture settings the same. As long as there are no major changes in the light conditions, this will work fine, and you won’t have a flicker caused by changing exposure settings.

You’ll also want to lock down your focus, so it remains unchanged from image to image, and you should shoot in RAW, because it will give you more latitude in post-processing. Finally, be sure you have several fully charged batteries and plenty of memory. 

8. Long Exposure Photography

This is a technique that can create beautiful, dramatic images, and it’s relatively simple to do. These are the kinds of images that have effects such as blurred water or light trails.

A ND filter will allow you to keep the aperture open longer so you can capture incredible long exposure landscape images

For long exposure photography, you’ll need patience, a tripod, a shutter release cable, and you might want a Neutral Density filter (ND filter). The tripod and shutter release cable will allow you to prevent any vibration–for these shots, you’ll have the shutter open for longer than 60 seconds. The ND filter stops light from reaching the camera sensor, which will allow you to keep your aperture open longer.

As you can imagine, planning your shoot beforehand is also essential. You’ll want to make sure you have a good location where you can position your camera, and you’ll want to check that the weather will cooperate with your plan.

9. Star Trail Photography

This is another type of long exposure photography, but it’s in a class all its own. Star trails produce the type of photographs where you see the stars forming a circle in the sky.

Star trail photography is one of the types of long exposure photography in landscapes

To get these spectacular types of photos, you’ll at least need the following items:

  • A tripod–again, you have to prevent camera shake; 
  • A shutter release cable–same as above, to prevent camera shake; 
  • A camera with a manual mode so that you can independently adjust the exposure settings; 
  • A camera timer, which is essential–you have to be able to set the intervals for multiple long exposure images; 
  • Fully charged batteries–you’ll be shooting images for between 30 minutes and 3 hours; 
  • Wide angle lens–this is actually optional, but it helps a lot, because it will help you get images of more of the night sky.

10. Sunrise/Sunset Photography

Since the sun is the main subject in sunset / sunrise photography, it creates its own set of challenges. The sun rising or setting also creates spectacular colors in the sky, but since you’re also photographing the sun, the contrast between its brightness and the rest of the scene makes it hard to get good exposures.

In this case, you’ll want a high aperture setting, a mid-range ISO setting, and you’ll have to determine the shutter speed with your light meter. When it reads 0, the exposure is correct. It also helps to bracket your shots with slightly different exposure settings, and broaden your subject matter to include more scenery.

11. Night Photography

As with astrophotography, your challenge here will be the low light conditions. You’ll need a more open aperture, high ISO settings, and longer shutter speeds. But, you can shoot a number of different scenes, some of which might provide you with some artificial sources of light. One example is shooting an urban cityscape or street photography at night.

12. Representational Photography

Regardless of which landscape photography type you’re interested in, you’ll want to consider if you want your images to be representational or abstract. Representational images are also called straight or descriptive photography. The goal is to give your viewers a realistic representation of the scene. You need to take care with your exposure settings so that you capture realistic colors and scenes.

13. Abstract Photography

If you’d like to get more creative with your images, abstract landscape photography is one way to do just that. With this type of photography, the goal is more to stimulate a strong emotion in the viewer. You might do this by capturing various textures, tones, colors, and lines that create a specific mood.

Patterns and colors in water make great abstract landscape photography subjects

Some of the styles discussed above, such as star trail photography, lend themselves well to creating abstract images. You can also look for irregular patterns in structures like an iceberg or a rock wall to find inspiration for great abstract landscape photographs.

Each of the types of landscape photography we’ve discussed present their own challenges and rewards. To capture stunning images, regardless of the type of landscape photography you choose to pursue, you need to understand how to use your camera’s settings. This is important since there won’t be time to learn about them on the fly, and you might not get a second chance at the image. Understanding ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings is key.

You’ll also need to plan for the types of shots you hope to get. If you’re traveling to an area known for its great sunsets, you should take the time to plan your shot. Where will you set your camera? Do you anticipate other people being there as well? How will you make sure you can get a clear image? It’s a good idea to do a little research before you go.

Finally, you’ll need to plan on taking the right equipment. At a minimum, you need a good, versatile lens, like a 50mm lens, and you might also need a wide angle, zoom, or a telephoto lens for landscapes. You’ll also need a tripod, and to get those clear shots, it’s worth the investment to get a shutter release cable.

By learning the basics about your settings, researching the areas you’ll be visiting, and considering carefully the images you want to get, you can come home with photographs you will treasure for a lifetime.

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Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.
Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.

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