Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a good photograph, you make it.”
After years of taking photographs including capturing numerous landscapes, I have to agree with Mr. Adams. Some of my best landscape photographs took effort, patience, and great composition. Rarely do I show up at a location, set up the tripod, click the shutter and walk away with an image that will go into my portfolio of images for sale.
Let’s look at the three key elements, of landscape composition.
1. Effort. Before I visit a location I am on the computer using a piece of software called Photographer's Ephemeris. This program allows me to see what time the sun rises and where exactly it will be rising. This allows me to know when the golden hour will occur and where I should be standing to achieve an optimal point of view.
2. Patience. A general rule is that you have to visit a location multiple times to get to know the subtle nuances of it. You will learn how the foreground acts in the golden hour, how the sun kisses the landscape, and you will see how the shadows interact with the scene.
3. Composition. This really is the make or break it part of the whole equation. Landscape photography composition is understanding how we, as humans, see a scene with a naked eye. All too often photographers simply stand, take their photo at eye level, and place the focal point dead center.
A landscape image has three distinct parts, and the photographer that understands these elements will create a photo far superior to others.
First, foreground. The often overlooked important element. The foreground sets the scene and creates the sense of depth. It should be your focal point for your camera. This should be the area where you focus using an aperture around f16 to ensure a maximum area is in focus.
Second, the middle ground. It could be a farmhouse, a horizon or mountain range. The composition rule that is applicable here is the “rule of thirds.” Never place the middle ground in the center, rather towards the bottom of the frame or the top of the frame.
Third, the sky. The sky is also often overlooked as an important element. But think of it this way: if you were not looking through the camera, you would see the whole scene through your eyes-- so why should you attempt to match that with your two dimensional image?
Let’s discuss a real world example and look at the image that accompanies this post. This photo has the elements that create interest; I created this image rather than taking it. The foreground has a curving leading line to a low horizon. It takes the eye into the image. That leading line is further emphasized by the symmetry of the rainbow. It takes the person looking at the image from the bottom to the top of the scene and scales the image. I worked for this image to make sure the sun was shining in the golden hour, and I positioned myself to ensure the road and the rainbow lined up. It has soft golden light, symmetry, and proper landscape photography composition.
You might also enjoy these ten landscape photography tips.