Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
“What’s your recommended camera settings for Landscape Photography, what settings should I use for waterfalls, what ISO should I use”… those and many more questions I get on daily basis and answering is always a challenge.
The thing is; there is no right answer here, it all depends on what you want to achieve. I am sorry if I am disappointing you 🙂
FIrst of all you need to understand the three pillars of Photography: aperture, shutter speed and ISO… and how these things work together. Everything else is secondary!
ISO I always set as low as possible. I use Canon and the base ISO for canon is 100. Canon has “low” ISO settings on some cameras which takes it down to ISO 50 but I don’t recommend using that. If you are shooting handheld your ISO settings might have to be higher, but when in Landscape Photography you should always use a tripod, so generally you just slow down the shutter speed as needed.
There are however scenarios you have to raise the ISO, and that’s really not a big deal anymore because modern cameras have excellent light sensitivity. For example on this lupine field. It looks like an absolutely calm night but in fact is was very windy. We were there around sunset so it was a little dark. What I wanted was to have the Lupines sharp, so I could not use slow shutter speed, and I wanted the image to be sharp from near to far (deep depth of field) so I could not have the lens wide open at f2,8. My solution was to raise the ISO to 1600 and set the aperture at f11. That made it possible to set the shutter speed fast enough for sharp Lupine. The focus is on the Lupines in the front, and If you are not too close with your camera it should give you deep enough depth of field.
If I would have wanted even more depth of field I would have to focus stack… but that’s another story for another blog.
Aperture / f-stop
I have heard all kinds of explanations what the “right” aperture is, but I don’t think you can generalise about aperture. It has everything to do with what you are shooting and what you want. The simplest explanation is: Low F-stop number like 1,4-5,6 will give you shallow depth of field, for example your subject will be in focus and the background will be blurred like this photo of The Arctic Tern, taken at f5,6.
F11 and up will give you deeper depth of field… the higher the f-stop the deeper the depth of field, like this waterfall taken at f16, so the foreground and the background are in focus…but you always focus on the foreground… in this case the stones.
So pick your aperture depending on what you are doing and experiment! Set up the camera on a tripod and try a few f-stops to see the difference and then pick the one you like.
You can think of shutter speed (the length of time the camera shutter is open) as a way to either freezing or blurring motion.
With slow shutter speed like on the waterfall image the water is blurred, indicating motion… this was a 2 second exposure.
With fast shutter speed you can freeze motion like on the above image of the Arctic Tern. The shutter speed there is 1/1600 sec and is enough to freeze the motion of the fast moving wings of the Tern.
Learn how and why you use various Aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings and know it by heart. Without the constant need of thinking about technical stuff like that you can direct your energy on what really matters… the Composition and light.
I hope this brings you a little closer to what settings I recommend for Landscape Photography, even if I really did not answer the question with one magic setting… because there is no such setting.