6 Tips (and Phone Settings to Change) for Taking Stunning Landscape Photos

6 Tips (and Phone Settings to Change) for Taking Stunning Landscape Photos

Popular phones like the iPhone 13 ProGoogle Pixel 6 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra have incredible cameras that can capture the kind of stunning photos you’d normally expect from pro-level DSLRs with sky-high prices. Even older or more affordable phones like the iPhone 11, OnePlus 9 or Pixel 5 can take beautiful photos that will impress your Instagram followers.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to take landscape photos with your phone, whether you’re heading out into the countryside or deep in the heart of the mountains. While some of the tips apply to recent phones with multiple lens options, many are relevant whether your phone is 3 months or 3 years old, Apple or Android.

Let’s dive in and don’t forget our guide to the best phonesand pass over to us phone photography 101 tutorial for many more photography tips.

Sort your phone camera settings

Your phone is probably capable of taking a cracking landscape photo in its default auto mode, but let’s take things a little further.

If your phone has a “pro” mode that gives you manual control of settings, switch to it. If not, an app like Moment, Lightroom, or MuseCam can take control of settings like ISO, shutter speed, and white balance.


By enabling the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s ProRaw feature, I was able to pull back much more highlight and shadow detail when editing this image.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Importantly, these apps also let you shoot in raw format. Raw images don’t save many of the automatic camera settings that your phone would normally apply to a JPEG image, such as white balance or sharpening. The result is an image that lets you change the white balance, change color tones, and extract detail from the highlights and shadows much more easily—and with less image degradation—than you can with a simple JPEG. I will come back to this more in the editing section below.

Apple’s recent phones, such as the 13 Pro and 12 Pro Max, can use the company’s new ProRaw format, which uses some computational photography techniques like HDR blending, but still generates an easily editable DNG file. Tapping the Raw button on the camera screen will turn on raw recording.

In landscapes, changing white balance is often essential. It’s important to tone down some of the highlights of a clear sky or bring out the shadows in the foreground, and being able to change your white balance after taking the shot gives you a lot more flexibility in your editing ( especially those occasions when, for example, you want to warm up the colors in a beautiful sunset).

The downside to shooting raw is that your images will need some work in an editing app like Lightroom or Snapseed before you can share them. Photographing landscapes is often a slower, more methodical process, and spending time editing is all part of the experience of making a beautiful image.


Time of day is everything in landscape photography. By setting my alarm for 3am, I was able to get to this beautiful place in time for sunrise.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Shoot early, stay out late

Time of day is everything in landscape photography, as the lighting changes completely as the sun moves overhead. The best time of day to catch dramatic light is either at sunrise or sunset. The sun is low in the sky at both times of the day, resulting in directional light and long shadows being cast across the scene.

Midday is typically the worst time to shoot, as the overhead light doesn’t create much shadow detail, resulting in scenes that can look flat and lifeless.

If you have a specific location in mind, it’s worth setting your alarm and getting out early to see what you can capture during the sunrise. If time permits, try going back and shooting the same scene at different times of the day to see when it looks best.

Keep an eye on the weather

Weather plays a huge role in any outdoor photography, but none more so than with landscapes. Different weather conditions will change your scene and completely change its mood, lighting and colors. But don’t assume that bad weather means bad photos.


The moody weather adds a beautiful, ethereal haze to this scene overlooking Edinburgh.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Personally, I like the foreboding, moody atmosphere of a landscape with dark storm clouds blowing overhead. Often the light that comes after a storm can look particularly dramatic. So, even though the walk to your chosen location might be a miserable slog in pouring rain, cheer yourself up by imagining the beautiful photo you might get at the end.

The worst weather for landscapes is that plain, miserable gray sky where there is no texture to the clouds, no interesting light on the land, and no contrast with the scene in front of you.

Keep an eye on your favorite weather app and make the decision based on what is forecast. As long as you’ve packed the right clothes, you can brave the worst of the weather, and if it gets too bad, navigate Google Maps to the nearest bar to set it up with a good drink.

Experiment with your wide and zoom lenses

If your phone has a wide-angle mode, now is the time to try it. If you don’t have a wide mode on your phone by default, you can use additional lenses to get the same effect.


Switching to the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s ultra-wide lens allowed me to keep the small fishing boat on the left and the mooring pole on the right in the frame, making for a much more attractive composition overall.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Super-wide landscapes can be particularly dramatic, as they capture so much of a scene in a single image. Mountain peaks that would otherwise be out of frame are suddenly captured in all their majesty, while beautiful rivers can now be seen in their entirety, winding their way into a scene.

But once you’ve had the thrill of seeing the scene in full, try using the telephoto zoom lenses on your phone to focus on some of the details in it. Look for interesting rock formations, patterns in the landscape, or unusual shapes in the scene — all of which can stand out when you zoom in or cut out other distracting elements.

Concentrate on composition

It’s easy to think that just using as wide an angle as possible is a guarantee for a cool landscape photo, but that’s not the case. In fact, to get the most out of your wide shots, you need to think even more about composition.

Foreground interest

Look for foreground interest in your scenes. Tree stumps, moss covered rocks, even some pretty wildflowers can all be used to draw the viewer’s eye into a scene. When you’re at the top of the hill taking your shot, spend a few minutes looking around for something you can place in your shot to help bring the scene together.


I’ve placed the subject (actually myself) in the right third of the frame here, with the lake in the left third. It naturally draws the viewer’s eye through the scene.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Front lines

Front lines are also wonderful elements of a brilliant landscape composition. Keep your eye out for paths, pretty walls, or other tall elements that meander further into the scene — it’s precisely that meandering perspective that allows your viewer’s eye to follow along a line and into your image.

Straight horizons

If your phone shows grid lines or a leveling tool on the screen, use it to make sure your horizon line is straight. Then make sure you don’t accidentally cut off the top of your subject, whether it’s a mountain, a building, or some trees. Remember, you can do a lot to improve a mediocre image with editing, but you can’t do anything to save bad composition.

Edit your photos

Your picture isn’t finished once you hit that shutter button; a few tweaks in an editing app is all it can take to turn a simple snap into a beautiful work of art.

My favorite editing app is Adobe Lightroom Mobile, but I also get great results from Google’s Snapseed, which you can get for free on Android and iOS. You can look at me roundup of the best editing programswhich includes several options for those of you who like to get a little wild with your editing.


Taken on the Galaxy S10 Plus, this shot of Solomon’s Temple in Buxton, England. is a nice snap, but it’s uninspiring and the rusted drain pipe on the outside of the tower doesn’t look good.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET


With some work in Lightroom to adjust the color balance, darken the sky and foreground and remove the drainpipe, the image has a lot more impact.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I tend to start by adjusting the white balance so the colors look accurate — or to give a warmth boost to a beautiful sunset. This is where raw shooting becomes especially beneficial. I’ll adjust the exposure levels, especially the highlights and shadows, to bring a bright sky a little more under control or to strengthen shadows in the foreground. A little extra contrast can also help add some punch to the scene.

My advice is to make a coffee, sit back and play to your heart’s content with the sliders in your chosen app. Try the different filters and experiment with layering different effects by saving and reimporting your image. Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to edit an image, so have fun playing around — you can always go back to the original image if you don’t like what you came up with.

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