How To Take A Great Scenic Photograph

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

~ Ansel Adams

Well you usually don’t photograph animals, but you have been reading the blog because it’s so interesting and well written. Right?

So let’s think about how to apply the concepts of good animal photography to your other photographic interests. Perhaps you travel a lot and you are really into photographing local attractions at the places you visit. Or perhaps you love to photograph people and rarely miss an opportunity to take make  images of people at the events you attend.  Or perhaps you are a great nature photographer, or really into wildlife, or how about flowers?

The point is, that whatever you photograph, the skills you need to produce great images are still the same ones you need to make great pet photographs.

So let’s get started. As always, it’s easier to explore the concepts we already know by viewing photographs.

Here’s a scenic image I like, the Boca Raton Resort and Club in Boca Raton, Florida. This is a stationary subject, so I don’t have to worry about movement. I can set my shutter speed to 1/ 60 of a second and let the meter choose the aperture setting.  That means the camera will choose as much depth of field (front to back sharpness) as the light will allow.


The soft light of late afternoon helps to give a bit of interest to the photograph. I can’t control the light, but I can wait as late in the day as possible to catch the slanting rays of the sun which provide this interesting color difference. The building is pink, but not as pink as the left side in the shadows, or as soft yellow as the rest of it still in full sun. I like this interesting contrast. It’s one of the fun things that often happen with our images…an element that can’t be controlled but ends up working anyway.

Hum. There’s a row of cars on the left and right of the building, so I’ll move around a bit and try to frame this up so they aren’t a distraction. But I won’t move too much from the center pathway leading up to the statue because that’s the focal point and the perfection of the design elements is not something I can improve. Keeping it simple is, as always, my main objective.

Now it’s time to make some detailed images. I’ll start with the statue in front of the building. It doesn’t “speak” to me so I quickly move on. Ansel Adams often told his students that whatever they were feeling at the moment of exposure would be translated into the photograph. And it’s true. When I view the statue later on my computer, it’s flat and uninteresting.

But I love the statue of Pan playing his flute. Way cool.


If I move  in closer, I can give the viewer a sense of being right there.


Now I’ll have Scotty beam me up to Michigan so I can photograph a scenic with an entirely different feel. Here’s the Mackinaw Island Lighthouse, taken from several thousand feet in the air.

What about my settings for this one?

Well it’s a scenic image, and I know that I want as much depth of field as possible, so I’ll start by choosing my shutter speed first, just as before. Let’s see, it’s a stationary subject, (not an animal that might move and thus requires a shutter speed of at least 1/250 of a second to freeze the movement), so I can use a slow shutter speed.

I’ll use 1/60 of a second. Right?

Well no, wrong. In this instance, I’m in a plane with a lot of vibration and movement. I want a crisp photograph, so I have to stop my movement by choosing a higher shutter speed than I’d usually choose for a scenic. (The same principle would apply if I was photographing from a bus or a train or a car.) Plus I’m using a long lens (200-300 mm), and I know that the longer the lens, the more I have to compensate for camera shake by setting a higher shutter speed. (The rule of thumb is to increase my shutter speed to the focal length of my lens. So shooting with a 200 mm lens, the shutter speed should be at least 1/250 of a second, with a 300 mm lens, the setting should be at least 1/320 of a second.)

So in this instance, I need a shutter speed of at least 1/500 of a second. It’s a beautiful bright day, so there’s still be plenty of light for a good exposure, and since I am shooting almost straight down, I don’t need a lot of depth because there obviously isn’t much from this vantage point.

Again, I’ll let the meter choose the aperture after I set the shutter speed.

Wow. What a beautiful day to be flying, and I’ve recorded it all to enjoy later. Isn’t that one of the best things about photography? We can pull out past images of our favorite minutes in time and enjoy them all over again.

This is a fun diversion. So next time, we’ll explore a few more of the concepts of great animal photography that apply to your other subjects as well.

Good shooting!