I’ll always feel lucky that I get to spend most of my time doing landscape photography.
But, I also know how limiting and frustrating the different learning stages can be.
It’s easy to stay engaged and motivated in the early stages of learning any skill. Despite the difficulties involved, the novelty of the activity makes it fun and exciting.
Until you reach a plateau, where you spend weeks or months feeling like you’re not advancing.
The different slumps that happen between learning a new skill and mastering it can be frustrating.
If you’re looking for ways to advance your landscape photography or to get inspired, this post is for you.
In this article, we’ll cover 8 different composition techniques that I’ve learned over the past several years practicing landscape photography. I hope it can serve to help some of you stay motivated and inspired.
1. Cover Parts of Your Landscape
One of the best ways to keep viewers engaged in a photograph is by hiding a section of your image. Humans have an innate tendency to fill in gaps or complete missing information.
By obscuring a portion of your image, you invite them to fill the empty space with their own perspective.
Consider mist, foliage, clouds, and fog. These natural elements can partially obstruct your subjects, leaving your viewer to imagine what’s hiding beneath them.
Overlapping elements in the frame can work similarly, covering a portion of your scene.
You can also deliberately overexpose or underexpose your image as a way to obscure details.
By hiding a section of your image, you create a feeling of wonder. The viewers’ eyes will linger for longer on your image, making your narrative speak more powerfully.
2. Watch the Horizon
Where you place your horizon has a significant impact on the overall aesthetics of your composition, so position it thoughtfully.
The horizon shouldn’t cut through your subject. A common way to avoid this in landscape photography is by shooting from a low vantage point.
Photographing from a low vantage point will place the horizon underneath your subjects.
Positioning your camera helps to eliminate distracting horizons as well as to highlight your subject by making it appear taller and more dominant within the frame.
Also, aim to place your horizon off-center in the image.
Horizons positioned in the center of an image often lack visual tension. Without visual imbalance, the viewer’s eyes’ become static and quickly come to rest.
Positioning your horizon off-center, on the other hand, is not as straightforward and compels the viewers to explore more of what they’re seeing.
By making one area of your image heavier than the rest, you make your composition less predictable and more dynamic.
You can create asymmetry by placing a heavier emphasis on either the foreground (land) or the background (sky).
If you want to place more emphasis on your foreground, align the horizon on the upper half of your frame.
On the other hand, you want to place more emphasis on the sky, or the background then align the horizon on the lower half of your frame.
3. Avoid Placing Bright Objects at the Edges of the Frame
The brightness of objects in an image may not be your first priority as a landscape photographer. But, brightness can make or break a composition and must be managed thoughtfully.
Our eyes are naturally drawn to bright objects. So, it’s crucial to be strategic of your positioning.
In general, you’ll want to place the brightest areas near or on your main subject or focal point.
You’ll also want to avoid having a bright element at the edges of your frame.
For instance, when photographing waterfalls and streams, aim not to have the white water positioned at the edge of the frame.
Many images of waterfalls and streams feature flowing water positioned in the foreground. This is fine, as long as you do not place the flowing water at the edge of your frame. Otherwise, the white water will draw the viewer’s eye outwards and away from your focal point.
When using moving water as a foreground, try taking a few steps back to position the water a little closer to the center of the frame.
In instances when you are unable to do so, consider using post-processing tools to lower the brightness of the white water. To do this, you can use Photoshop sliders such as curves, levels, or tools such as vignette and dodge and burn.
Brightness and color should work to attract your viewer’s eyes towards your main subject, not away from it. So, take care to manage the brightest part of your image in a way that benefits the composition.
4. Rule of Odds
The rule of odds is probably one of the most underrated compositional rules out there. But, though not as popular as other rules of composition, it can make an enormous impact on the success of your image.
According to the rule of odds, having an odd number of elements in a frame is more visually pleasing than having an even number of elements.
The idea behind this rule is that even numbers create symmetry. And as mentioned, symmetrical compositions tend to make an image seem predictable and static.
In contrast, odd numbers create asymmetry, which produces a more engaging and dynamic composition.
Also, even numbers tend to create disunity. Because even numbers can be equally divided into halves, they tend to split the viewer’s attention. This disunity often results in uninteresting images.
Odd numbers, however, can’t be divided cleanly. This creates a composition that seems balanced and cohesive.
It’s important to note that, when people talk about the rule of odds, they are often referring to number three. This is because your subjects are pretty diverse, with five or more subjects in the frame. Hence, more than three subjects nullify the impact created by the rule of odds.
Also, the rule of odds is the most effective when the main subject is placed in the middle. Doing so will give it the desired attention.
Finally, don’t create an odd-numbered image for the sole sake of the rule of odds. Approach the composition with an open mind and include the number of elements that best complement the scene.
5. Vanishing Point
A vanishing point is a point at which two parallel lines converge and vanish on the horizon.
While an image is on a two-dimensional plane, including a vanishing point in your composition is an excellent way to simulate three-dimensionality in your pictures.
When the viewer sees parallel lines coming together, they perceive it as distance. The more these lines converge, the farther away the viewer perceives them to be.
Vanishing points often occur on the horizon, but they can appear anywhere within an image.
There may also be multiple vanishing points in a photo. However, viewers generally can only recognize up to three vanishing points.
The more vanishing points an image has, the more three-dimensional it will seem. You can include additional vanishing points in your composition by adjusting your perspective.
For instance, imagine photographing a cabin amid a lake. Instead of shooting the front of the cabin, try photographing the corner.
The walls on each side slowly diminish at the horizon, creating two vanishing points. Having two vanishing points, instead of one will give the cabin and the image a greater sense of depth.
6. The Best Leading Lines Are Converging Lines
Vanishing points are not only effective at creating a sense of depth, but they can also effectively lead the viewer’s eye to your focal point.
Our eyes inherently follow converging lines to where they meet. This tendency makes converging lines an excellent tool for drawing your viewers’ attention to your subject.
So, you can use vanishing points as a multi-purpose tool to enhance the appearance of your landscape image.
Resource: How to Use Leading Lines in Photography
7. Look For Ways to Apply Scale
It’s challenging to capture a landscape image that accurately portrays the reality of the scene.
You’ve probably had that experience where you stood next to an awe-inspiring landscape and felt that your photo doesn’t do it justice. You want to capture what you see, but it seems impossible to replicate the magnificence of a landscape with your camera.
This experience is especially common when using wide-angle lenses.
Wide-angle lenses can swallow up sweeping landscapes and make them appear insignificant, making it difficult to portray the immensity of a scene in an image.
If you’re struggling with this, your composition will likely benefit from the inclusion of a reference item.
A reference item is an object with a universally known size. Examples include a person, a car, a lighthouse, a boat, or an animal. The viewer can use the reference item to decipher the scale of the scene.
A human figure is one of the most easily recognizable reference items you can use in your landscape images.
We all understand the size of a human figure, and it allows us to take in the scale of a landscape quickly. When a mountain or a forest scene tower over a human figure, the landscape has a mighty, breathtaking appearance.
Additionally, your viewers can relate to a human figure more than any other subject. Placing a person in the frame encourages the viewers to visualize themselves in the scene and dive more deeply into the image.
Other than people, man-made objects, buildings, and structures can work wonderfully as scale references. Consider cars, houses, roads, and other common human-made structures. These structures can add diversity and interest to your image as well as scale.
To incorporate structures around a landscape, you may need to alter your vantage point.
If you’re photographing mountain ranges with a nearby village, see if you can find a way to include both in your composition. Climb up a viewpoint and capture the mountain with the village at the base.
8. Use Repetitive Visual Elements to Highlight Your Focal Point
Our minds tend to seek out patterns and try to decipher its meaning. You can use this instinct to your advantage. Specifically, you can draw emphasis to your focal point by making it an outlier that breaks a pattern.
Objects within a frame can be organized based on characteristics such as shared color, quality, and texture. Then choose a focal point that possesses a different characteristic from the rest of the frame.
The outlier will naturally attract the most attention from your viewer.
When composing a scene, identify the similarities of the elements in a scene and use it to make your focal point stand out.