I’ve taken photos in over 40 different countries around the world, many of which I’ve traveled to a number of times. Which means I’ve seen and photographed some pretty diverse and amazing landscapes in my time! Landscape photography can be such a beautiful art form, with the shapes, patterns, colours and textures provided by the world simply breath-taking to the naked eye. Frame that in a well-crafted image and you have recorded your individual interpretation for all to enjoy.
Taking great landscape photos means firstly and most importantly, having a great understanding of composition. Landscape photography is one genre where bad composition can ruin a good photo. However, once you’ve learnt the basic rules of composition, don’t be afraid to bend those rules to suit your own style and way of capturing images. In fact, I prefer to think of them as “tools” rather than “rules”. In many cases following general composition guidelines will provide the strongest images, but it is also important to think outside the square and to create your own style.
General guidelines to good composition:
Light. Your eye is usually drawn to the brightest part of the image first. Make sure the bright areas in your image count.
Keep it simple. If there are elements present that don’t add to the image or help tell the story, then leave them out. Crop, change your angle or move.
Rule of thirds. In many cases your image will be strongest when key elements are placed at the intersection of thirds within the frame. These points are often referred to as anchor points. You don’t need to place an object on each point but experiment with positioning your main subject on one of these – getting away from having it centred in the frame – and see how it effects your image.
In general, your horizon will usually look more pleasing when placed either high or low in the image (top or bottom third), with reflections being the exception where a centred horizon will give equal weight to the subject above and the reflection below.
Of course there are exceptions and treat each image on its own merits. Remember photography is a subjective art and everyone has their own preferences. Experiment to find your own style!
Leading lines. The viewer’s eye is naturally drawn along lines within a scene. Look for leading lines in your composition – created by shape, light and texture – and place these in a way that draws the eye into the scene. By carefully positioning these lines you can create a more pleasing image that holds the viewers’ attention longer.
Point of View. Experiment with your angle and point of view. Shooting from high or low may dramatically change the appearance and mood of your image. Don’t take every shot from eye level. Moving a few steps or changing your angle can help you to include something that you desire in your frame or alternatively, to hide it.
Framing. I often look for elements within the scene with which to frame the subject matter. These are generally darker more simple objects which help to draw your eye in to the main subject matter. Of course every situation is different. Effective framing can also help tell a story, setting the scene or introducing the location from which the image is taken. This could be through a doorway, trees, between people or within an environmental boundary.
Another important aspect to Landscape photography is to understand lighting and how light affects your photograph.
Lighting. Front lighting is when the light falls directly onto the subject (ie; the sun is behind you the photographer). This is the easiest situation to work with and whilst providing even tones and bright colours it can lack depth and may not produce the most emotive or creative imagery.
Side lighting helps to provide texture and shape by creating areas of shadow and light. This can be very pleasing in almost any type of photography as it adds extra depth to your images. Side lighting often works best early or late in the day with warm light and long cast shadows, side lighting can be very effective in creating dramatic landscape photos.
Back lighting is when the light is directly behind the subject you are photographing. Although more difficult to work with, this is one of my personal favourite lighting situations to shoot in. I will often use a wide angle lens and include the sun in the image, using a small aperture to capture a sunstar in the scene.
Cloudy days or shooting in the shade provides a soft and even lighting throughout your image. This eliminates harsh shadows and colour saturation will be excellent. On overcast days I generally prefer not to include a plain white sky in my images. I find a blown out white sky will draw your eye away from the subject matter. On the other hand, dramatic storm clouds or what is termed as “bad weather” can provide lots of drama and mood to a scene. If necessary try using graduated neutral density filters to enable a balanced exposure for the sky and foreground subject.
In summary, the unique landscapes of our world offer photographers an amazingly creative palette and opportunity for freedom of expression. Use your desired composition elements, lighting and choice of subject to create beautiful landscape images of the world around you.
All images copyright Chris McLennan.