10 Basic Landscape Photography Composition Tips

Composition in landscape photography is of utmost importance for creating amazing photos. It is basically the way we put the objects in our frame to carve out meaningful images. There are many rules of composition like the rule of thirds and centered compositions, but I feel that there are a lot more to that than […]

10 Basic Landscape Photography Composition Tips

Composition in landscape photography is of utmost importance for creating amazing photos. It is basically the way we put the objects in our frame to carve out meaningful images.

There are many rules of composition like the rule of thirds and centered compositions, but I feel that there are a lot more to that than just these rules.

Landscape photography is about perception, it is about how we can depict nature in our own way. Obviously following the rules will give us good images but breaking them will give interesting and different images. Other than rules, I have experienced a lot in composition while shooting landscapes.

Here are my top 10 most important tips for landscape photography composition.

#1. Survey: Give Some Time to the Frame Without the Camera

Give some time to the frame without the camera. Whenever I arrive at a shoot location, I always take out my phone and scan the whole area with its camera. I check for various elements that I can frame and spend quite some time behind it.

In this example from Tumling in the Singalila Range, there were these horses that were having their morning time and the mountains in the background provided good complimentary framing along with the morning haze. The first photo is taken with my Redmi Note 5 smartphone, which I took during preps for the final photo.

#2. Visual Flow: Create Lines (or Curves) That Will Lead to the Focal Point or Towards the Image

Leading lines, as they are called, help in visualizing the way the photo is telling the story. They create a visual flow that leads us either to the main subject, also known as the focal point, or towards the image and not away from it. This helps in keeping the viewers engaged in our images and creates interest in their minds.

Here in the first photo from my hike to Tonglu, the darker branches of the tree and the broken ones on the ground leads our eyes to the tree itself which is the focal point here. In the second example from the Neora Vallery National Park hike, the path itself makes an S-curve and dwindles inside the frame, creating a sense of ambiguity and an interest to know what is there where the path ends.

#3. Layers: Find Layers to Separate Foreground, Midground and Background

Layers are a very useful way of creating stunning compositions. They work the best in mountains but we can use layers in any kind of environment where there are repetitions of similar objects leading to some focal points in the image.

The first photo is taken at Rishyap, where the two layers of mountains are leading us to the peak at the center of the frame. The second example shows another example of mountain layers where sunrays are falling and the mountains will lead the viewer into the image. Notice how in both images the clouds have worked as adding another layer to the composition.

#4. Depth: Create Depth in the Images With Movement

It is a very good way to illustrate long exposure photography where a sense of depth can be created in the moving elements. The direction of flow can be used to create beautiful images with a lot of depth in them.

In both these images, the first one from Rock Gardens Waterfalls in Darjeeling and the second one from Tabakoshi River in Mirik, one can find from where the water flow has started in the frame, thus including the depth factor into it.

#5. Golden Ratio: Make Use of This Concept to Create Unique Images

The golden ratio is a ratio of approximately 1.618 to 1. Read more about the golden ratio and its use in art here. Artists have used the golden ratio and the golden spiral to create stunning artworks for centuries. For photography as well, this is very handy, and in landscape photography, it can help in guiding the viewer’s eyes into the focal point of the image via the supporting elements. I do not use this as much as the other techniques but this is helpful and using this technique has given me one of my favorite images.

This is an image in which I had used the concept of the golden ratio. The rocks in the foreground act as the supporting elements, and the statue in the background is the focal point that is near the narrower end of the spiral.

#6. Balance: Make Sure the Frame Does Not Look Tilted on Any Side

This is one of the most important tips for getting the photos right. We cannot misplace the objects in our frame and put all the objects on one side, it tilts the frame and that does not help in creating visual interest in the image. Balance can be achieved in terms of objects, light as well as color in the image.

In the first image, the boat in the Teesta river is balancing the textures in the shore and the smooth water by creating a focal point by itself. In the second example, the two trees in the Gopaldhara Tea Garden are balancing each other, imagine the frame without either of them, it would look tilted, right? Also, try to imagine the frame without the trees, how would that look like?

#7. Symmetry: Look for Natural Symmetry Like Reflections

This is a unique find if it is found and it creates beautiful landscapes. Such landscapes cannot be even a percent closer to being them without the symmetry. Symmetry in nature can be found in the reflection of natural objects in still water. Can you think of any other areas which give perfect symmetry in nature?

In this image from Talberiya Dam, the horizon, the clouds, and the sky organize perfect symmetry in the dam’s water, creating a completely different image than it would have been without it.

#8. Foreground: Pay Very Close Attention to the Foreground

We need to pay very close attention to the foreground. Foreground objects can create interesting frames and uplift our composition by a huge amount. There can be literally anything in our foreground, but as long as it is compelling, we need to pay proper attention to it and justify its existence in our photo.

Here, in the first photo from Tumling, the bush in the foreground accentuates the image on a whole new level. In the second one from Rishikhola, the rocks in the river and the water flowing through them is creating an interesting foreground for the river in itself and the hills behind.

#9. Scale: Put Humans in the Frame to Create a Sense of Scale

To demonstrate the size and majesty of huge mountains and oceans, we can always put humans (often ourselves with the camera on a tripod) and convey the scale of the composition. It is a compelling method and it creates absolute stunners in minimalistic landscapes.

In both these images, it is me standing on the cliff edges with the camera self-timing the shots on the tripod, and just imagine how the photos would have been without the human elements in them. This minimalistic approach is one of my favorites in landscape photography composition.

#10. Point of View: Change Your Point of View (POV) to Create Interesting Frames

Lastly, we should always focus on changing the way we look at the world through our lenses. Maybe, a frame would have been better if the camera was a bit up in the air or lower at ground level. Changing the point of view increases the chances of creating unknown and uncommon frames which will obviously drag the attention of the viewers much more.

In this last example from Maidan, Kolkata, I had put my camera down on the ground and shot the white Kans Grass in the fall season here; It creates an absolutely different viewpoint right?

Conclusion

So that was it for this blog where I have discussed my top 10 tips for composing great landscape photos anytime, anywhere. I hope you like the blog and will implement at least one of them in your upcoming photo trips.


About the author: Subham Shome is a landscape and travel photographer based in Agarpara Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Shome’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

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Havana Dancer: Photography and Moments of Love

The light in the gutted movie theater is muted and I immediately begin to consider which camera to use, what ISO I can get away with, what is my fastest lens. The dancers we have come to photograph are changing into costume somewhere in the back of the building that serves as their rehearsal hall. […]

Havana Dancer: Photography and Moments of Love

The light in the gutted movie theater is muted and I immediately begin to consider which camera to use, what ISO I can get away with, what is my fastest lens. The dancers we have come to photograph are changing into costume somewhere in the back of the building that serves as their rehearsal hall.

The drummers who will accompany the dance chat and play an occasional riff on their congas or batá drums, smiling at the rhythms. Raices Profundas (Deep Roots) is a Havana dance company committed to preserving the African origins of Cuban dance and music, especially the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria. I have no idea what to expect from the performance.

I arrived in Havana from the US the day before to join a group of photographers who would spend the week photographing Cuban dance companies. I don’t especially like the workshop environment, usually preferring to work alone. But traveling with an organized group was the only way to visit Cuba in 2020, and it also promised to provide access to several dance companies in the city. I am completely new to Cuba, don’t speak a word of Spanish, and have only my enthusiasm for dance photography to carry me along.

The drums begin; complex rhythms that hold the spirit of the Caribbean along with something deeper, farther away, the African influence. Male members of the company, brightly costumed and fierce with swords and sticks in their hands, pantomime battle. The women dance in long skirts and deep, vibrant colors surrounding unbridled feminine energy. I lower the ISO and change my shutter speed to a fifteenth of a second. The resulting images are motion blurred and impressionistic. The individual dancers recede into color and gesture and spirit — capturing these talented performers better, I think, than would a simple portrait.

And then the yellow dress. Worn by a beautiful, black, Cuban dancer, the yellow material gathers a rich light against the blue/grey walls of the old theater. She spins, gathers her full skirt, and releases it as she spins again. The fabric forms arcs and eddies and her dark face floats above the swath of color. I release the shutter again and again. The woman in yellow smiles with a palpable joy in her movement and the rhythm of the drums. And just once, as I glance over the camera and catch her eye, she smiles at me.

Back at the hotel, I download the images. I look again and again at the photographs of the dancer in the yellow dress. I realize that I don’t even know the name of this woman with whom I made such a beautiful image. Separated by distance and language, we came together for only a few moments. A moment was enough.

What is the relationship we have with the people we photograph? We rarely give language to these encounters, sticking instead to f-stops, film types, bokeh. But what happens between us and those we photograph deserves consideration. Some such relationships are long-lived, intimate, imbued with trust and ease that can easily turn dark — the classic muse. Others are momentary and anonymous, even secretive — an image taken quickly on the street. But the woman in the yellow dress and I shared something different. We came together intentionally to make art; she as a performer and I as both creator and audience. In doing so, we found a moment of connection, of recognition.

Someone asked me the other day what makes a good photograph. There are so many ways to answer — composition, technique, execution. But at its core, I think a good photograph is built on a kind of love. When we make a beautiful photograph, maybe we fall in love for a moment with those we photograph. I know I fell in love for a moment in that old theater in Havana on a January afternoon. And maybe great photographs are made when that moment of love is shared.


About the author: E. E. McCollum is a photographer and writer living in the American Southwest. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. McCollum is also the Editor-at-large of Shadow and Light Magazine. You can find more of McCollum’s work on his website. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Header photo is “Havana Dancer ©2020” by E. E. McCollum

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