Question: I haven’t shot landscapes for some time and really want to get back into it. I remember there being lots of compositional rules that help produce more interesting images. Can you give me a quick recap?
Answer: If it’s been a while since you photographed a landscape, and you feel a little rusty, recap with our seven compositional tips. Remember though, that these are guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules, so don’t feel you have to stick to them if you have a good reason not to. And, of course, don’t attempt to include all seven at every single location. In reality, it’s likely that
you’ll only need two or three to get a strong and impacting composition.
1. Focal length
Traditionally, landscapes are shot on wide-angle lenses, which enable you to capture a large proportion of the scene from a close-up position, and help create a greater feeling of depth. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sometimes consider other focal lengths that can give equally impressive results. A telephoto lens, for example, will encourage you to shoot from further away, producing a ‘compressed’ perspective where the relative scale of the foreground and background is closer to reality.
Divide the frame into nine imaginary rectangles, then compose the shot so that a well-defined section of the scene fills either three or six of those rectangles. You’ll get a more balanced result, for example, if the sky fills either one or two thirds of the frame, than if the horizon is positioned halfway up. You can also place a vertical subject, like a tree, on one of the two upright lines, or a small single image element, like a rock or a boat, on one of the four points where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect. These are often called powerpoints.
3. Foreground interest
When shooting landscapes it can be easy to get caught up in the vastness of it all and forget about the foreground. But having something of interest in the bottom third of the image can really help to anchor the eye and draw the viewer into the shot. It’s sometimes said that foreground interest is the last thing a photographer thinks about but the first thing a viewer sees.
4. Lead-in lines
Lead-in lines are a great way to draw your viewer into the scene and direct them towards the subject. You can use a fence, a path, a stream, or even a linear cloud formation, so long as whatever you choose directs the eye towards the centre of the frame. It’s generally accepted that lines emanating from the bottom right and left corners of the image are the most effective.
5. Negative space
If the area surrounding your subject is relatively devoid of detail, zoom out a little to include some of this empty space in your shot. Not only will this create a cleaner composition, it can also help you to portray a sense of scale or isolation. Negative space works best when there’s only one main subject, such as a single farmhouse nestled in the middle of a large field.
A photograph will generally appear to have more balance and beauty with an odd number of image elements. So if you have an even number of, say, trees in your shot, it’s best to recompose slightly so there is an odd number instead.
7. Look for symmetry
If your landscape is very symmetrical, with one part of the scene strongly mirroring another, you have the opportunity to add balance and harmony to your shot. Compose so that a line of symmetry runs straight through the middle of the frame. This will mean you’ll need to abandon the rule-of-thirds, but this approach can produce a more eye-catching result.