5 Easy Rules for Great Landscape Photography Composition
Follow Rules of Composition
Some photographers would argue that top-end DSLR or medium format camera and subsequent gear is the most important part of landscape photography, but I would argue that as long as composition rules are followed, any camera and photographer is likely to get a great photo.
Keeping these rules in mind can take your photography from mediocre to pretty special. Now, rules are always made to be broken so consider these tips as trusted guidelines to get the best photograph possible when you are shooting landscapes.
The eye is naturally drawn towards the focal point of a photo. Typically what you will see in a leading line photograph is a beginning of a line at the bottom of the photo leading upwards toward the top. Perhaps the line leads to nowhere which in and of itself is a focal point or maybe the line leads down a fence railing toward an old farm house.
The idea is to get the viewer’s eye to follow along the path that you create for them. Usually we see this with a photo of a road leading upward to the top of the photo. Many times you see this with the road running down the middle. Placing the road to either side of the bottom of the photo leading up and through the middle to the top of the composition is another option.
I have seen it argued that the best composition is to displace the leading line to either side of the photo. Others are quite happy suggesting that the line can go right down the middle of the composition. I can see both sides of the argument and would simply suggest to experiment to figure out which suits your style of photography best.
A diagonal line is another interesting technique on this type composition.
What type of features can be used? Here are a few examples:
Anything that moves the eye from one end of the photo to the other can be a leading line.
Creating symmetrical photographs can be complex composition. The idea is find a balance between your subjects.
The most common means of symmetrical composition is to find a body of water and photograph the reflection of the landscape. In this instance you will have a perfectly symmetrical photo of the landscape with its reflection below.
But a perfect mirror image is not the only means for striking a balance in your composition. Perhaps a balance could be had with a mountain on one side of a photo with a meadow on the other side.
One method of balancing a composition in landscape photography is through the use of a triangle. It could be possible to frame three objects with one positioned to each side and one more central. Obviously the idea is to strike a balance between the three objects.
Balanced composition is not easy in landscape photography but the effort in creating it will make it worthwhile.
Rule of Thirds
Didn’t think we’d forget the ever present ‘rule of thirds’ did you? Of course not. As trite as it almost sounds now the rule still holds firmly in landscape photography composition.
A mediocre landscape photo can become exceptional simply by lining up a horizontal line with the bottom or top line in the rule of thirds grid. It is even suggested that you turn on the grid for doing landscape photography just to get in the habit of visualizing the horizontal lines. Look at the grid and try to position the subject into the area where the grid lines intersect.
Also, the focal point of a photo might look better if it's not placed in the center of the photo. It is far more appealing visually if the subject is offset to the left or right in the photo. Even in the photo below of the rock outcroppings the rule of thirds works because the focus is below the center line of the photo.
Obviously this is not a hard and fast rule as rules are made to be broken. Many photos look great with the subject lined up right in the middle of the frame. However, more times than not sticking to the rule of thirds will serve the photo better.
Frame Your Photo
Framing is a worthwhile composition tip that can bring out certain elements of a photo. Sometimes trying to frame a composition just adds more clutter to the scene. Simplicity is more my style but having a focal point framed through an interesting feature can be neat.
Everybody trots out the classic frame your image with a tree branch composition. That can certainly be interesting though looking for things like archways or through a wide window or something similar could really frame a landscape photo nicely. The below photo of a rock window frame looking outward to more rock outcroppings is a gorgeous composition.
Put Something in the Foreground
Properly introduce a viewer to your landscape photo by having something of interest in the foreground. The beautiful wide expanse of the mountain vista could certainly be good enough but showing a feature like a tree or rocks in the foreground will draw even more attention.
That is not to say the photographer should just collect random clutter in the foreground of the photo. No, that would be distracting. Something of interest in the foreground helps to create a sense of perspective and visual interest in the whole scene. It also helps to add depth to the scene you are trying to present.
Rules in photography are not absolute. Sometimes you just have to photograph the scene in whatever best suits the situation. Keeping in mind these simple rules though can help make a mediocre photo come alive. Landscape photography composition has rules that can be broken but typically following these simple guidelines will help make you photos turn out better.