The My Pentax interactive learning academy has been designed for use on tablet and desktop.

Logout

scenic shots made easy

landscape

Get some top tips on how to embrace landscape photography with your Pentax DSLR – there’s loads to try outdoors

Introduction

If you want to shoot better landscapes, this module will show you how to do it. Before long you’ll have the basics nailed, because in the following techniques, there’s information on the technical aspects, like which shooting modes to use and what settings are required, as well as how to focus for the sharpest pictures. And if you’re a more experienced landscape photographer, you’ll also find out how to improve the results you’re getting, pushing your creative side and seeing how to achieve certain distinctive styles of landscape photo. What’s more you’ll discover lots of special features on the latest Pentax DSLRs and lenses that can help you achieve better landscape shots, such as live view functions, swivelling monitors, GPS tracking and Pixel Shift Resolution.

  • midday light
  • dusk light

how do i find the best light for landscapes?

When it comes to landscape lighting, there’s really no substitute for effort; you can master all the camera settings, but it’s being there when the light is right that really pays off, and that’s usually the ‘golden’ hours around dawn and dusk. At these times, the low sun lights up the world in the most amazing ways, filling the scene with warmth, contrast and detail or even giving you a pleasing sunset. Controlling the exposure at these times can be difficult, as there are lots of highlights and shadows, but try shooting with your Pentax DSLR’s HDR mode on and you’ll balance the dark and the light.

  • show grid
  • hide grid

how can i compose for better shots?

In landscape photography, composition is paramount, so you need to think through your framing carefully and make sure there’s a pleasing construction to the image. To help, try switching on your Pentax DSLR’s Live View mode and using the Grid Display. The grid is split into thirds, and is based on the classical Rule of Thirds method of composition where you can line up parts of the scene near the guides and their intersections for a better balance. This works whether the camera is in a horizontal or vertical position, so mix things up and see which better suits the subject.

Do I need a tripod for landscapes?

Not always, but a tripod can certainly improve landscapes in many ways. Not only does it help keep the camera still and therefore improve image sharpness, but some special Pentax DSLR features like Pixel Shift Resolution (see the Detail section for more) rely on keeping the camera still. Using a tripod also slows down your shooting, allowing you to refine your framing, and makes it easier to shoot from low angles so your picture has more foreground detail. With the camera on a tripod you can also use the electronic level function to make sure your horizons are dead straight.

  • 12mm
  • 15mm
  • 18mm

what are the best lenses for scenics?

To make the most of the scenery you’re going to need the right kind of lens, and while the wide-angle end of a typical 18-55mm kit lens will pack in a decent view, it’s a good idea to look wider still if you want to capture more of the view. A lens like the SMC Pentax-DA 12-24mm F4 ED AL IF provides a wide 99° field-of-view at 12mm, and being a zoom gives an excellent level of versatility. For space-saving in your backpack there’s also the HD Pentax-DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited lens, with its tough aluminium body small size and High Definition (HD) coating to improve image quality.

Can I still shoot if the weather is poor?

Even if the weather is wet, don’t give up on shooting as rolling clouds and rain can add special light and drama to your scenes, making your pictures unique. To help you shoot in the rain and get these atmospheric effects – the Pentax K-3, K-3 II, K-S2 and many K mount lenses are protected against the elements with weather sealing. Battery grips and flashes are protected, too. Their weather sealing also deters sand and dust, so you can shoot at the beach or in dusty, arid locations. And though the K-3, K-3 II and KS-2 have a metal chassis for extra protection, they’re still light.

what exposure mode for landscapes?

Many successful landscapes rely on creating a very large depth-of-field, which means that the scene is sharply focused from near to far, and therefore filled with detail. Generating this amount of depth in the image is achieved by using very small apertures (the hole in the lens), like f/16 or f/22, and the way to make sure you get these is to shoot in aperture-priority mode (Av), rather than the Auto (Green) or Program modes, which will decide the settings for you. Switch to Av mode using the mode dial, and dial in the highest f/number using the E-dial on the rear of the camera.

  • show focus points
  • hide focus points

where should i focus in the scene?

Where you focus is very important when it comes to maximising depth-of-field and therefore increasing detail. To get the most sharpness possible, try to focus around ⅓ of the way into the scene; this works because, whichever aperture you’re using, the depth-of-field extends around ⅔ further than the point at which you focus. If in doubt, focus on the foreground by selecting the Single AF mode (AF.S) and Select area (SEL 1), then position the AF point over where you want to focus and half-press the shutter button to lock the sharpest point there.

before
after

how can i improve sharpness?

The small apertures required to maximise depth-of-field let in little light, so shutter speed falls and camera shake can creep into shots, so take care to keep the camera on a tripod. If you want an extra dose of sharpness, investigate the mirror lock-up mode (MUP) on the K-3 and K-3 II and use a remote control to fire the shutter, or use the self-timer mode. The former means that there’s no image-softening vibration from the action of the mirror box as it moves. Helpfully, it’s accessible along with the other drive modes. The K-3 II’s Pixel Shift Resolution mode also increases details (more on that later!).

how can pixel shift resolution help?

The Pentax K-3 II’s sensor has several important features when it comes to maximising image quality and one of them is Pixel Shift Resolution. This mode uses the in-body Shake Reduction (SR) mechanism to move the image sensor at single pixel increments, capturing four separate images, which are combined into a single high-definition picture, increasing resolving power and reducing false colour. Another way of improving sharpness is to switch on the Diffraction Correction function in the Shooting menu’s Lens Corrections section, which will improve the rendering of fine detail.

  • good exposure
  • bad exposure

how does raw mode help landscapes?

Increasing image detail isn’t just about sharpness, it’s also down to how well exposed your picture is, because if the shadow or highlight areas are too light or too dark, there won’t be anything visible in them. Shooting in Raw image quality mode helps in this regard, letting you easily fine-tune exposures after the event. Pentax DSLRs have a dedicated Raw button on the body, so you can switch into that mode fast when required. And Raw files can be processed in the camera, so that you spend less time in front of the computer and more time shooting.

what are long exposures?

Most landscapes are shot using small apertures (high f/numbers) to increase depth-of-field. This in turn cuts down the amount of light entering the camera, and the shutter speed slows down to compensate, giving you a correctly exposed scene. Pictures with slow shutter speeds are called long exposures, and the slower the speed, the more the moving subjects will be recorded as a blur. This is particularly noticeable in locations with lots of moving water, like rivers, waterfalls or the seashore. If it’s a windy day you can also see movement in clouds and in foliage, and it’s a great way to add interest to your landscape shots.

how do I control the movement?

The length of the exposure you use depends on the speed of the subject and how much you want it to blur. So, while less than a second may be enough to soften the motion of waves, several seconds might blur them so much they lose their energy. If you want to create movement in stiller conditions, comparatively longer shutter speeds are required. If you want to set a precise shutter speed, like 0.5sec or 5secs, use shutter-priority (Tv) mode, and dial it in. The aperture will then compensate, but if it blinks it means you won’t get a good exposure, because there’s not enough light.

how does ISO AFFECT MY SHUTTER SPEED?

To help speed up or slow down exposures you can also use your DSLR’s ISO sensitivity. If you’re shooting in aperture-priority mode, as most landscapers are, raising the ISO setting will increase the shutter speed as the camera becomes more sensitive to light. This is useful if there’s too much movement in the picture (you could also use a lower f/number, but this will affect the depth-of-field, so isn’t preferable). If you want to slow the shutter, you can lower the ISO. Helpfully the K-3 and K-3 II have a dedicated ISO button on the body, so you can get to the perfect setting fast.

what filters can help me control light?

If the light in the scene is too strong for a long exposure, try using a Neutral Density (ND) filter. This is essentially a light-blocking filter, and the less light getting into the camera the longer the exposure can be. ND filters (not to be confused with graduated NDs, which only cover part of the scene) come in different strengths and you can stack them together to increase the effect allowing long exposure in the middle of the day. Some very long exposures can reduce image quality, so make sure you have the Slow Shutter Speed NR setting turned on in the Shooting menu.

  • without astrotracer
  • with astrotracer

how do i shoot landscapes at night?

If you’ve got a clear night you can include stars in your composition. There are two main ways to do this, either keeping the stars as still and sharp as possible or allowing them to blur into streaks of light. For the former you normally need to combine a high ISO setting like ISO 3200, a wide aperture like f/2 and an exposure of 15-20 seconds. However, on the K-3 II there’s an Astrotracer mode, which uses GPS data to move the sensor and track the stars. This means brighter skies at smaller apertures and lowers ISOs; switch on GPS, turn to Bulb mode then find Astrotracer under the GPS menu.

how do i shoot a telephoto landscape?

Although wide-angle lenses are the natural choice for broad landscape views, cropping in on the subject using a telephoto lens also works well in many locations. A closer crop can simplify a scene and it works beautifully in misty conditions. You can use the long end of a kit zoom like the Pentax SMC DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR, but longer lenses will let you capture more distant details. Like all telephoto shots, it’s a good idea to make sure Shake Reduction is turned on while you do it to ensure a crisp, clear image with no trace of camera shake to soften the details.

what’s intentional camera movement?

For an impressionistic effect, you can blur the whole scene by deliberately moving the camera during an exposure, a process known as intentional camera movement (ICM). But it still needs to be done in a controlled way, panning in a smooth horizontal or vertical motion. To do it, switch your DSLR into shutter-priority mode (Tv) on the Mode dial and select a speed of 1 or 2 seconds. Like other long exposures, if the aperture setting is blinking on screen it means there’s too much light, so you’ll either need to lower the ISO sensitivity, use an ND filter or wait for the light levels to fall.

  • bold monochrome
  • toy camera
  • retro
  • extract colour
  • high contrast
  • shading
  • invert colour
  • unicolour bold

What effects can i get in camera?

Pentax DSLRs have a full suite of Digital Filters designed to put a fresh spin on your landscape shots (or any other kind of image for that matter). For instance you can get old film camera effects using the Retro or Toy Camera modes, control the colours in the scene to make just one of them stand out, or even go straight to stunning black & white with Bold Monochrome. To use one of these effects, hit the Info button and go to Digital Filter, choosing the one you want from the icons. Hit Info again and you can set the strength of the effect so it suits the scene. Easy!

What are multiple exposures?

Pentax DSLRs also feature an easy-to-use Multi-exposure mode, which lets you put an artistic spin on your landscape. These are selectable from the Drive modes menu. A multiple exposure is a style of photography in which you shoot and combine separate scenes in the same image. Using the Drive mode settings, this is achievable with anything from two to 2000 shots and the way the pictures are merged is also highly controllable. It takes some practice to know what works together, but try shooting a strong landscape subject like a lone tree, and combining it with a texture or scattered clouds in the sky for a successful effect.

how do I create a time-lapse effect?

Time-lapse is where the art of photography and moviemaking merge, allowing you to show the passage of water or clouds through a landscape. To do it, you can take many frames using the Interval Shooting mode from the Drive modes menu, and then turn the sequence of shots into a video on your PC, or do it all in camera with the Interval Movie Record setting. The latter is found by turning the Mode dial to Movie and opening the Drive modes. You can record for up to 99 hours in this mode with shots taken at an interval of between two seconds and one hour.

congratulations

you’re now a Pentax landscape photography expert!

find out more about pentax products take me back to my learning homepage