Aperture priority mode (A or AV on your camera dial) - lets you set the aperture and ISO while the camera chooses a shutter speed that is appropriate for the settings you select to get a good exposure. Since aperture is one aspect of controlling depth of field, this mode is often used by landscape photographers.
Shutter priority mode (S or TV on your camera dial) - allows you to select the shutter speed and ISO while the camera selects a matching aperture to get a well-exposed image. Since the shutter controls how movement is portrayed (i.e. if the movement of water is frozen or blurred), shutter priority is often used when photographing rivers, streams, etc.
Program mode (P on your camera dial) - allows you to select the ISO while the camera selects a shutter speed and aperture to match. However, unlike with aperture priority and shutter priority, you can override the selections the camera makes to aperture and shutter speed, making program mode a little more advanced.
For most of us, photography is often a mixed bag - there are days when we just can’t seem to miss and other days when nothing seems to go right. The key is to minimize those bouts of bad days and maximize the chances we get to get it all right.
For enthusiasts and pros, it often goes right more often than not. But for beginners, landscape photography can be a challenge to master, at least initially. Fortunately, there are things that you’re doing right, and we can help you address a couple of things that you aren’t!
The Good - You’re Seeking Help
Let’s start with what’s going right thus far. The fact that you’re reading this is a very good sign because you’re seeking information to improve yourself. This means that you’ve spent at least some amount of time trying your hand at landscape photography and have identified that you need to brush up some of your skills to be better at it. Half the battle is learning the technical and creative aspects of photography. The other half is simply understanding your limits, your weaknesses, and your strengths, such that you can learn new strategies for addressing the skills that are currently lacking.
So, you’ve got a camera, you’ve taken some photos, and you know you want to improve. Those are all good things!
The Bad - You Think You Don’t Need a Tripod
One commonality between all good photos is that they are tack sharp. This is important no matter the subject, but for landscapes, sharpness is particularly needed because of the enormous depth of field (the area of the image that is in focus) that landscape images typically have. Holding your camera in your hand, even at fast shutter speeds, just doesn’t compare to the possibilities available when you mount your camera on a tripod and use a remote to trigger the shutter.
In addition to having images that are sharper, using a tripod allows you to get more creative in terms of the camera settings you use. Rather than always shooting with a fast shutter speed or high ISO to avoid camera shake, you can slow things down with your camera on a tripod. You can try your hand at long exposure photography, use a low ISO and get images that are devoid of digital noise, or take multiple images of the same subject with different focus points or exposures for stacking in post-processing.
And, if you spring for a decent tripod, it will last you years and years so it won’t be a hollow expense. You’ll also have it for use as you pursue other types of photography, whether that’s photos of the family in the backyard or taking photos birds and other wildlife.
The Ugly - You’re Afraid to Leave Full Auto Mode
Shooting in full auto is like a warm, cozy blanket for a lot of beginning photographers. It’s safe and comfortable, and usually does an okay job of getting things right.
The reality is that while full auto is great when you very first begin in photography, the longer you stay in full auto, the more damage it will do. Full auto does nothing to help you learn how to use your camera. Since everything is done on your behalf, you can’t get a feel for how to manipulate settings such that you can take good photos in different situations, like when there is low lighting or a high dynamic range.
This isn’t to say that you need to switch into full manual mode right this instant; in fact, if you’ve never ventured beyond full auto, that would be a mistake. Instead, take baby steps between the two. If you have a DSLR, there are several shooting modes that give you some control while retaining control of other elements:
The moral of the story is that while manual mode is a scary proposition for many photographers, there are steps you can take to get from full auto to full manual. Give aperture priority, shutter priority, and program modes a try so you can practice making changes to the critical settings that impact exposure and image quality. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be making those changes, and the better your images will be as a result.