Landscape Photography Composition Rules You Need to Start Using Today
- Look for vignettes in the larger landscape that might work well as the primary subject of your shot. Elements with interesting shapes, textures, or colors are prime targets.
- If you have a zoom lens, use it. Zooming in helps you crop out unneeded details to focus more on the subject. If you don't have a zoom lens, you'll need to get physically closer to the subject.
- Adhere to the Rule of Thirds. By placing the most interesting elements of the shot to the left or right of center or above or below the horizontal midline, you'll have a more balanced shot. In the image above, note how the vertical line of trees is to the left side of the frame, while the horizontal line of trees is just below the midline. What's more, the crest of the most prominent hill is shifted to the left for a more interesting composition.
- Look for shapes, lines, or colors to add interest to the shot without overwhelming the scene. In the image above, note how the shape of the sand dunes adds visual interest, but without distracting the eye from the palm tree.
- Areas of light and shadow are excellent tools for keeping a landscape interesting, yet simple. The photo above highlights this concept well: the sunlight areas on the top of the dunes adds brightness that contrasts well with the dark form of the palm tree and the darkness in the background.
- Simplify things further by converting your image to black and white. By removing color from the scenario, you'll immediately have a more simplistic composition.
- Frame the shot such that the leading line helps move the viewer's eye towards something. In the image above, note how the path leads directly to the setting sun.
- When using a straight line or a converging line, try to position yourself with a low angle of view, that way the lines are more prominent in the foreground, as was done in the image above.
- When using a curved line, seek a shooting position from above, such that the line has an opportunity to weave through the entirety of the shot.
- Challenge yourself to shoot a vertical shot for every horizontal shot you take.
- Really inspect the landscape to find subjects that benefit from a vertical orientation. In the image above, note how the vertical format allows us to see the rocks in the foreground, which add depth and dimension, as well as the gorgeous colors of the sky, which give the photo added visual punch.
- With today's cameras having such good resolution, don't be afraid to crop your photos in post-processing to change the image to a different format. For example, you might crop a horizontal shot to be vertical or vice versa.
When you look at a landscape photo, you likely know within just a split second if it's a good photo or not.
You might not even be able to fully articulate why it looks good.
In many cases, lighting, sharpness and subject matter help make a good photo.
However, the manner in which the photo is composed is also a crucial element of its success.
There are plenty of compositional rules of photography, too. That means that there are all kinds of ways that you can enhance the look of your landscapes, and take them from being just so-so to being truly eye-catching works of art.
Let's explore a few fundamental landscape photography composition rules that you need to start using today.
Fill the Frame With the Subject
Filling the frame is easy when taking a portrait. All you have to do is frame a close-up, and you're good to go.
Filling the frame when photographing landscapes is a bit more difficult.
After all, when you stand in front of a beautiful, sweeping vista, you want to recreate that for the viewers of your photos.
Unfortunately, when shooting a large landscape, having too much empty real estate in the frame can make your subject look and feel small. And the smaller your subject, the less impactful it will be, not to mention the less it will feel like it does in real life.
The solution is to fill the frame.
How to Fill the Frame
Keep It Simple, Stupid
When I was growing up, my grandpa's favorite phrase was "Keep it simple, stupid."
No matter what we were doing, if things started to go sideways, he'd admonish me to keep it simple.
It's sage advice for a lot of things in life, but it also works well in photography.
Keeping it simple is hard to do, especially in the realm of landscape photography.
When we see a gorgeous scene, it's tempting to incorporate every last detail into the shot.
The problem is that our eyes can be immediately drawn to a strong subject, even in a cluttered environment.
Our cameras, however, can't do that. Instead, we have to help them out by simplifying what their sensors record.
How to Keep It Simple
Editor's Tip: Research and planning are both critical to taking the best landscape photos. Learn more about planning and executing your landscape photo shoots from Mountain Moments.
Use Leading Lines
Leading lines are one of the easiest landscape composition rules to implement, and one of the most effective as well.
Virtually anything can act as a leading line - a fence or a road, footprints in the sand or snow, a line of trees, or a pathway through a forest.
Different types of lines can be used as well - converging lines like railroad tracks that seem to come together in the distance, straight lines that cut across the scene, or even curved lines can be used effectively.
And what all those lines do is help tell the viewer's eye where they should look next.
In some photos, leading lines connect the foreground to the background, giving the photo a better sense of depth.
In other cases, leading lines connect the left and right sides of the shot, helping to give the image a greater sense of balance.
Either way, lines are an important tool for giving viewers a "guided tour" of your image. See how to use leading lines with great results in the video below by Joshua Cripps:
How to Use Leading Lines
Shoot in Horizontal and Vertical Formats
If I had to guess, I'd say that at least 75% of landscape photos taken by beginning photographers are in horizontal format.
Yet, pigeonholing oneself into only shooting wide is a mistake.
Sure, many landscapes are best viewed with a horizontal shot, but often there are unique and interesting views to be had by rotating the camera and shooting vertically.
This is especially the case when the subject matter is tall - a mountain peak, trees, or a waterfall.
Vertical format landscape shots are also ideal for situations in which there are interesting elements in the foreground or you have a sky that's worthy of showing off in the frame. Sometimes, you might even find that there are foreground elements and a gorgeous sky that need to occupy some real estate in your shots, as seen in the image above.
How to Shoot in Horizontal and Vertical Format
With that, you have a few can't-miss landscape photography rules to follow for improved compositions.
Don't worry about memorizing each rule or using each one on every photo you create.
Instead, spend some time getting familiar with each rule so you can more comfortably implement them as needed in your landscape shots.
I'm confident you'll find that with a little practice, you'll start seeing a noticeable, positive improvement in the look and feel of the photos you take.