When I first started landscape photography, I didn’t know much about composition rules. I used to get very excited while photographing wondrous landscapes. I used to think that it would create marvelous photographs. Often once I got home and looked at my images on the computer, I felt underwhelmed.
Mountains would look very small and insignificant compared to real life. Sunsets that looked breathtaking fell flat because there was no main subject in the image. I would notice all the distractions in the image due to my main subject not being prominent enough.
The problem was that my compositions were not very good. To be honest, they were pretty bad. What made it worse was that I would research how to fix my mistakes. However, when out shooting, I could not recall all the specific improvements for every scenario.
Why Use Composition Rules In Your Landscape Photography?
The easiest way to learn something I find is to use the 80/20 rule. Learn 20 percent of the things that you can apply to 80 percent of your situations. By doing this, you can recall and use a few concepts and apply them to the majority of your compositions.
Composition rules are a great way to learn landscape photography concepts, and by learning a few rules when first starting, you can apply them to the majority of your images. Not only are they useful when you are first beginning, but you will also be using most of them for the rest of your photography life.
In this article, you will find some of the most used and essential composition rules for landscape photography. They are pretty easy to understand and to put into practice. Still, they will help you take better landscape photos once mastered.
The Rule Of Thirds
On of the first composition rules most photographers get introduced to is the rule of thirds. The reason for this is most likely because it is both easy to use and creates compelling images. Used by so many photographers that most cameras have an overlay you can use in your viewfinder to help you compose using the rule of thirds.
By dividing your image into three equal parts, you create a grid that helps you compose your image. You should place the main subject on either one of the intersecting points or along one of the lines. By doing this, it will help you create compelling images that are more engaging to the viewer.
It is also common to use either of the horizontal thirds to place the horizon in your image. If you have an interesting sky and want to include more of it, then put the horizon on the lower third line. If the sky is very dull or the foreground is more interesting, then put the sky on the top third line.
Symmetry, by definition, implies that you have identical parts on both sides of an image. Although this definition is correct, it is quite challenging to find in nature. For symmetrical compositions in landscape photography, you will have to relax this definition. Instead, you should look for elements that are similar on both sides of the image.
One of the most obvious ways to include symmetry in nature is through reflection. In almost all cases, this will involve some form of water. Reflection is a great way to elevate your images using symmetry. The flatter the surface of the reflection, the more dramatic the image tends to be.
Something to keep in mind when working with reflections is where to place the horizon. At first, the obvious location would be in the middle of the image, and generally, that would be the best choice. In some instances, it would be better to include more of the foreground or the sky. If the foreground contains interesting elements, then I would include more of those. Keep in mind that those elements should complement or add to the reflection.
Another way to include symmetry in your landscapes is by including man-made structures. Structures like roads, bridges, paths, piers, and buildings can help you achieve symmetry. In some cases, these structures may become the dominant subject. If this is not to your liking, I would suggest not trying to use these structures to achieve symmetry.
Leading lines are any lines in your image that you use to lead the viewer’s eyes into or through the image. They are one of the most compelling elements you can use to help create appealing images. The best use of leading lines is to help guide the viewer’s eyes towards your main subject.
By using leading lines from the foreground to the background, you can create a sense of depth in your image. To increase this effect, use diagonal lines that converge towards a single point. By introducing perspective, you will increase the amount of depth within your image.
Like symmetry discussed above, man-made structures will make great leading lines for your images. Unlike symmetry, leading lines can be found all over nature. With a bit of practice, you will be able to recognize these lines, the more time you spend looking for them.
Filling The Frame
Often one of the most challenging things to do when shooting a large sweeping vista is to understand what not to include in your image. As landscape photographers, we tend to gravitate towards wide-angle lenses to include as much as possible. The problem with wide-angle lenses is that they push everything in your image away from you, making the subject seem smaller than it is.
One of the ways of combating this is to ensure that we are as close as possible to our subject so we can fill the frame with what is essential. When using a wide-angle lens, that will mean physically getting loses to the main subject. Another way of getting closer is by zooming, utilizing a medium or telephoto lens. Keep in mind that both of these options can help to fill the frame, but they will produce very different images. It is essential to choose which one to use based on the desired look you are going for in your photograph.
Filling the frame does not always mean your main subject has to be as big as possible in your image. Instead, you should consider other elements in your image as well. Remove distractions from the corners and edges of your frame and only keep what is essential.
Another thing to consider is negative space and whether to include it in your image. Negative space can add impact to your image, but be aware that negative space is different from empty space. The distinction comes down to intent. Unintended empty space will distract from your image. You can avoid this by filling your frame with the main subjects.
A great way to fill the frame with interesting subjects is by including a foreground element in your composition. Once you have identified your main subject, try and find something interesting that you can place in the foreground of your image. Foreground elements help create depth in your photos and help to draw the viewer’s eye into the frame.
Quite often, you can use foreground elements as a leading line. Using a wide-angle lens will make this effect even more pronounced as they tend to stretch foreground elements adding to those leading lines.
Often you will want to get very close to the foreground element. Pay close attention to your focus as it may be challenging, if not impossible, to get everything in sharp focus when you are so close to a subject. One of the first things you will have to do is close down your aperture to f11 or f16. If you are still not able to achieve a sharp focus from back to front, you can consider using the hyperfocal distance. However, in most cases, you are going to have to resort to focus stacking your images.
Although it is possible to take great images without using these composition rules in your landscape photography, understanding how they work will give you a framework you can use in any situation. Think of them as guidelines you can use to help you create structure and depth in your photographs.
It is also essential to know that it is possible to combine different rules to maximize the impact of your photographs. In most cases, I will choose between the rule of thirds or symmetry, and then combine that with leading lines or adding a foreground element.
Over To You
What is your favorite composition rule, and which rule do you struggle with the most to implement? Let me know in the comments below.