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The 5 Keys to Capturing Beautiful Landscape Footage

Jourdan Aldredge

In this article, we take a look at the keys to success when shooting beautiful landscape footage for your next film or video project.

Whether you’re shooting B-roll for your latest narrative or documentary feature, or looking to get some beautiful shots for your travel vlog — or even shooting footage for royalty-free video sites (like Shutterstock) — landscape footage can be both challenging and fun.

Let’s look at five key practices to help ensure you capture the best and most beautiful landscape footage possible for your next project.

1. Mind the Horizon and Your Composition

The 5 Keys to Capturing Beautiful Landscape Footage — Horizon

Image by GoneWithTheWind.

When setting up your shot, your first composition decision is going to be where to set your horizon line. If you follow the rule of thirds (more on the concept here), you have some options. You can put the horizon on the bottom line if you’d like your viewer to focus on the sky. You can put the horizon on the top if you’d like to focus on the land. You can also put the horizon down the very middle to create symmetry.

Whatever you choose, feel free to experiment. However, unless you’re going for a canted-angle look, be sure your tripod or stand is accurately calibrated to the ground, or your horizon line could look uneven.

Here are some more resources for composition theory and principles:

2. Check the Light and the Clouds

The 5 Keys to Capturing Beautiful Landscape Footage — Light and Clouds

Image by Nadiia Iatsun.

As the greatest light source there is, the sun’s position can drastically change your landscape footage in many ways. For science geeks, it’s fun to note that the sun even affects night shoots. However, during the day, you can use the sun as part of your landscape footage by either shooting with it at your back, or shooting into it. You can also utilize the high noon sun to temporarily shoot without shadows, or use dusk or dawn light to get fantastic new colors.

Also keep an eye out for clouds and try to find ways to incorporate them into your compositions. Shooting time-lapse footage (more on that below) can add great dynamism, and it can add to your framing by creating beautiful counterpoints to the land below.

Check out these articles for some more tips for working with natural, outdoor light:

3. Vary the Focus

From there, you have compositional options for objects in the foreground, middleground, and background. If you’re not familiar with those terms, here’s a great article that breaks down the multiple composition planes. To really utilize all three, consider putting objects in the immediate foreground just barely on the edges of the frames to provide perspective. Find shots that have interesting features in the middleground as well before opening up into the wide background across the horizon and sky.

You can also experiment with depth-of-field and where you set your focus between the foreground, middleground, and background. Add ND filters to help you stop down to get shallower DOF too. You can also try rack-focuses to move the focus across the landscape (here’s a good article on that).

Here are some more cinematography and depth-of-field resources to consider:

4. Find or Create Movement

The 5 Keys to Capturing Beautiful Landscape Footage — Movement

Image by Matt Antonino.

Perhaps the greatest trick you can use for your landscape videography to distinguish it from your regular landscape photography is to add or create movement. You can start by using simple pans and tilts. A pan that starts on an object close in the foreground then reveals the wide landscape in the background is a great approach. It also helps to find movement even in a static frame. A car running down a highway or people moving across the screen will add more visual information for viewers to latch onto.

From there you can add other types of movement utilizing sliders or jibs — or even create movement on your own by using time-lapses including clouds, shadows, and the sun. Check out some more camera movement tips and tricks below.

5. Consider Time-Lapse

Time-lapses are a great way to really capture the majesty of the outdoors. To take a time-lapse, you have a couple of options. First you can simply record footage for 10-12 minutes (or longer), which you can speed up in post. However this takes up a good deal of card and drive space. You can also use an intervalometer to take a series of photos over a set period as well. (Bonus: how to harness cameras like the Canon 5D Mark IV’s built-in intervalometer).

For more time-lapse insights, check out this great video — or some of these articles.

Looking for even more videography tips and tricks? Here are a few more resources to consider:

Cover image by DoublePHOTO studio.

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