Visual composition is the cornerstone of art. It’s the most significant factor in creating compelling paintings, drawings and, as it happens, photographs. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most powerful “rules” of composition as they apply to landscape photography.
Opening Photo: ©Alberto Bouzon (Alberto Bouzón: Fotografías, Alberto Bouzón Fotografía). All rights reserved.
Our featured landscape photograph at the top of this article, employs several of the composition “tricks” we’ve outlined in these tips. See if you can spot them as you read!
First Things First
Okay, that’s not a rule of composition (although it’s not completely off base). It’s just a reference to how we’re going to get the product advertising out of the way before we start.
At Irix USA, we offer 3 focal lengths in our lineup that are ideal for landscapes. They’re available in both still photography and cinematography versions. Pros and amateurs alike are enjoying the quality of our lenses and we’re betting you will, too. What’s more, you’ll appreciate our pricing!
|Still Lenses for Landscapes|
|11mm f/4 Rectilinear||15mm f/2.4 Rectilinear||45mm f/1.4|
|Cinema Lenses for Landscapes|
|11mm T4.3 Rectilinear||15mm T2.6 Rectilinear||45mm T1.5|
For each focal length in our still and Cine lenses, the optical systems are essentially the same. The Cine line features the de-clicked aperture and geared housings required for professional movie making. Click on any of the lenses above to get the details and order yours. You’ll be glad you did!
Alright, now that we’ve delivered the sales pitch, let’s move on to those composition tips!
1. Have a Focal Point
This is undoubtedly the most important rule in any image. In fact, it’s the purpose of many of the tips we’re about to give you.
Landscapes, in particular, can be “busy”, containing many elements within the frame. Without emphasizing one element, you leave your viewers searching and “disconnect” them from the scene. That’s exactly what you don’t want to do.
Powerful images draw the audience in and give them the feeling that they’re part of the scene. By isolating and drawing attention to one element within the frame, you create interaction with the photo and that’s the key to an impactful image.
Find a SINGLE object or location in the frame and then work to draw attention to it. The difference this step makes is astounding.
2. Always Check the Thirds
The “Rule of Thirds” is probably one of the most overused composition tricks in the books. On the other hand, it’s one of the first you’ll learn when you study composition, for several good reasons.
When it comes to placing the subject of your photo, one of the best ways to make it stand out is to divide the scene into thirds horizontally and vertically and locate your focal point at the intersection of a horizontal and vertical division.
You can also use one or more of the imaginary dividing lines to align one or more elements of the composition. The most common element this method is used for is the horizon in a scene. A centered horizon has a tendency to create the impression of two flat pictures that your eyes move between. Moving the horizon to the upper or lower thirds division ties the photo together and lets you emphasize either the sky or ground.
You may also want to consider locating objects in the frame in separate sections created by the grid of imaginary lines. This provides good visual spacing between elements, giving your image a more dynamic appearance.
It’s also important to realize that there are scenes in which this rule won’t impact the image as well as other composition tricks. Don’t be afraid to abandon it when it doesn’t work.
3. Use the Curves in the Landscape
Leading lines are a popular composition trick that everyone knows about. Obviously, the point is to use a line or implied line in the frame to lead a viewer’s eyes to the focal point.
Consider this: If you use a curved line, the viewer’s eyes follow it for a longer time and move across a wider area of the frame. This creates the illusion of more depth and “room to move” within the image.
Even a curve that doesn’t lead to the subject can give a landscape photo a more three-dimensional appearance. Look for curves within your frame and consider the best way to use them.
4. Create Foreground Interest
The foreground of your image can be used as more than just the base of your composition. Try deliberately locating objects in the foreground to give the photo a more tangible feel and a sense of perspective that adds depth.
Foreground interest gives your eyes a place to start, while the rest of the image gives them a place to go. The journey should end up at – you guessed it – the focal point!
5. Create a Frame Within the Frame
Shooting through an opening or a group of objects surrounding part of the scene can be a very effective trick. It creates interest by narrowing the field of view and leading your audience to what you want them to see.
This one is slightly contradictory, in that it may tend to divide the photo into 2 parts – where you “are” and where the focal point is. In order to avoid a complete separation, it’s best not to darken the object(s) framing the scene to a complete silhouette. Try to leave enough detail to give the frame some depth of its own, so there’s movement from the front to the back.
Framing can be accomplished with just about anything, from structures, to trees, to clouds. You can really get creative with this one – just keep the purpose in mind.
6. Build a Triangle
Triangular composition is a trick handed down from the Old Masters. There are many ways to use it, but in effect, it’s a simple matter of arranging elements in the frame so that connecting them with lines would create a triangle.
Obviously, a triangle can be laid out within the frame with any relative dimensions. How you configure it can alter the effects considerably. For instance, a wide, horizontal base in the foreground gives the photo a stable feeling and the location of the top point can greatly affect perspective. Create a leading line by placing 3 objects in a skewed triangle. This works very well with the Rule of Thirds.
This trick also takes advantage of another, more obscure rule: the Rule of Odds. Simply put, an odd number of similar objects in the frame creates visual tension that’s lost when an object is added or removed to make the number even.
7. Maintain Balance
Visual balance is an important aspect of any composition. It isn’t usually difficult to achieve, but it’s often overlooked.
Darker objects, as well as larger objects, have more visual weight. Objects nearer the corners or edges of the frame do, too. There are many factors, but in general, it’s felt more than seen.
There’s an interesting exception to this one. You can deliberately create an imbalanced feeling to instill fear or a sense of danger. You can also use it to imply the power of one element over another. It’s not an effect you’ll want often.
8. Simplify the Scene
There’s an old photography exercise called, “shoot one thing”. It’s a great concept to apply in a landscape photo if you want it to have real impact. Of all the ways to create landscape images that stand out, simplification may be the most effective.
As we mentioned earlier, clutter can easily find its way into a landscape shot. Make an effort to eliminate distractions in a shot and really call attention to that focal point we keep mentioning.
Change focal lengths. Get closer. Get lower. Climb higher. Find a new angle. Spend a little extra time on reducing the number of main elements in the frame. You’ll be glad you did and so will your audience.
Cinemaphotographers can use this list, too!
Movies are art in motion. Professional directors apply the rules of visual composition throughout the movie-making process, and the kind of cinematography that viewers remember will be based on those rules.
That’s a Wrap!
This isn’t a complete list of tips for landscape photography composition. We’ve tried to narrow it down to a few that we believe will make an immediate difference in your photos. There’s a good chance we’ll create another list in the near future – there’s just so much to know about composition!
As always, the Irix USA team would like to invite you to share your landscape (and other) photos captured with our lenses:
Tag @irixusa on Instagram or Facebook.
Post as a message to Irix USA on Facebook Messenger.
Post to the Irix Shooters group on Facebook.
Don’t forget to check out ALL of our lenses and filters at IrixUSA.com!
Thanks, and happy shooting!