LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

How to shoot landscapes without a tripod

Discover how to capture detailed landscapes and even blur water or clouds when shooting handheld.
Canon Camera
Tripods can be very useful for landscape photography because they keep your camera steady, so you don't have to worry about slow shutter speeds causing shaky pictures, particularly when shooting in low light. However, they can be heavy and awkward to carry, especially if you're going for a long walk. With a modern camera, the right settings and a little ingenuity you can leave the tripod at home the next time you head out to capture a beautiful scene and take a flask of coffee or a snack with you instead.

1. Hold steady and use your body

A landscape photographer looks through the viewfinder of a Canon EOS RP, steadying himself on his knee, to take a shot of rolling fields.

The steadier the camera, the less chance of camera shake – If you're using a slow shutter, hold your breath while taking the shot.

A landscape photographer holds a Canon EOS RP away from his body so the neck strap is taut.

Holding the neck strap taut is a good way to steady your camera.

The way you hold your camera can make all the difference between taking a pin-sharp picture and one that is ruined by camera shake. To hold the camera steady, rest the bottom of the lens in the upturned palm of your left hand and keep your elbow tucked in to your side. This creates a sturdy cradle to support the camera.

You can use your body in other ways to prevent motion blur. Try sitting down and using your knee to support your arm. Alternatively, make use of the neck strap – engage Live View and hold the camera away from your body until the strap is taut, being careful not to strain your neck.

2. Enable stabilisation

A landscape photographer holds a camera above his head to shoot a tree set against rolling clouds.

Engaging lens stabilisation on the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM enables you to shoot handheld at a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds.

Lens stabilisation can help to reduce camera shake by softening the natural movement of your hands, making it easier to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds. Typically, the rule with hand-holding is that it should only be done at speeds equivalent to the focal length or above, for example when using a 50mm lens you shouldn't drop below 1/50 second. But engaging lens stabilisation means you can often go much slower than this. Canon's RF range of lenses, including beginner-friendly lenses such as the Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM and RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM, employ advanced stabilisation that communicates with the mirrorless body, and the larger RF mount allows for greater sensor movement.

3. Find a perch

A Canon EOS RP perched on a fence post.

Setting a two-second timer when using a fence post as a perch gives the camera a moment to settle before the shutter opens.

When you're out and about, it's easy to find platforms and natural perches that will offer a solid base for your camera, allowing you to slow your shutter speed even further. When setting up your camera for a long exposure be aware that mirror bounce in DSLRs (caused by the mirror flipping up to reveal the sensor) can result in camera shake. Set mirror lockup in your camera menu or, if your camera doesn't have this feature, engage Live View. Of course, this isn't an issue with mirrorless bodies such as the EOS RP. The act of pressing the shutter button can cause shake too, so set a two-second timer, use a remote shutter release, or trigger the camera remotely using the Canon Camera Connect app.

4. Move around and experiment

A landscape photographer crouches to capture plants in the early-morning sun.

Freeing your camera from the tripod could spark your creativity by revealing new angles and unique compositions.

A close-up of a delicate plant silhouetted against a low sun.

When shooting handheld, what you lose in stability you make up for in adaptability. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/100 sec, f/16 and ISO100.

There will always be a place for tripods in landscape photography, but sometimes the absence of one can benefit your photography. The job of a tripod is to restrict movement, but when your camera is in your hands, you're free to try different positions, to shoot from different angles and to experiment with your creativity. If you stand in one spot, even if you find foreground interest and frame on the rule of thirds, your images might lack dynamism.

5. Engage Auto ISO

A photographer bends down for a low-angle shot of a piece of driftwood on the shoreline.

The photographer has taken advantage of the freedom of movement allowed by shooting handheld to capture this piece of driftwood from a different angle.

A piece of driftwood on a deserted shoreline. The movement of the waves has been blurred by the long exposure.

This two-second handheld exposure, which has gently blurred the movement of the waves, was possible thanks to the in-body image stabilisation in the Canon EOS R6 working alongside the IS in the Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens. This shot might actually have been harder to achieve with a tripod because water lapping around its legs could have introduced movement. Taken at 35mm, 2 secs, f/7.1 and ISO125.

A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to increase ISO to 1600, but because modern sensors now perform much better in low light, it's possible to produce remarkably clean images, even at these levels. For a simple stock exposure setting, select Manual Mode, Auto ISO and a shutter speed equivalent to the focal length or above. The camera will adapt the ISO to your scene, so you can have confidence when making creative choices with shutter speed and aperture.

Canon's more advanced mirrorless cameras such the EOS R6 feature advanced in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) that works independently or alongside the optical IS in a lens to achieve up to 8 stops of IS, enabling you to take seconds-long exposures without a tripod.

Written by James Paterson

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