Have you ever tried to take a picture of a stunning landscape, only to discover that the photo of those beautiful mountains looks flat, boring, and not nearly as beautiful as the real thing? Chances are you need to work on your composition. Here are some handy tips to help you take your composition to the next level, and really make your landscape pictures pop.
- Learn from the masters
Of course you can read about the rule of thirds until your eyes hurt, but the best way to learn if an image is well-composed or not, is by looking at the great compositions made by the masters. Look at photographs from Ansel Adam or Ernst Haas for example, and try to see why their compositions are so great at drawing in the eye.
- Learn from art
One thing I always recommend to anyone asking me about composition, is to go to a museum and spend some hours just staring at the paintings. Van Gogh’s landscapes for example are all so well-composed, we landscape photographers could really learn a thing or two from them… Also look at the way these painters use light to draw your eye to certain parts of the image, and shadows to draw your attention away from others. Try to apply what you see the next time you go out shooting – think of your picture as a painting, and make all the elements appear exactly where you want them to.
- Wait for the right light
Sometimes the sun is on our side and gives us a natural golden spotlight on that one particular mountain, making a boring image look instantly magical. Waiting for a moment like this to occur might not be the fastest or most reliable way to get a great composition going on in your picture, but it can sure help give your landscape photo that extra touch it needs to stand out from the crowd. So, go out to shoot during the golden hours, pray to the sun gods and wait for the perfect lighting to appear. Combine this with your own creativity and a miracle might just occur when you press that shutter release button.
- Look for a foreground, middle ground and background
Making sure your image is made up of a foreground, middle ground and background will prevent it from looking flat. For example, when taking a shot of the ocean, don’t just take a shot of the ocean. Instead, take a shot of a few rocks in front of the ocean, followed by the waves and then a beautiful morning sky. This makes your image way more interesting and will draw the eye in, which will make your landscape engaging and pleasing to the eye.
- Learn the rules
I realise I made fun of the composition rules at point one, but it really doesn’t hurt to spend a little time learning about them. Read up on some composition techniques, do’s and don’ts, try and test them out in a test shoot and see what difference it makes to your landscape photos. Knowing the rules and seeing how they influence your photograph will help you understand what to look for when you’re hunting for the perfect angle or vantage point.
- Forget about the rules
Now that you know the rules and have practiced with them – forget all about them. Rules alone might make for a good landscape photo, but never for a great one. If you’re out there in the elements surrounded by nature and beautiful landscapes, it would be a pity if all you could think about were composition rules. Allow yourself to become inspired and don’t worry if your horizon is in the middle of the frame – if your gut tells you that that’s where it looks best, leave it! Don’t allow any rules to interfere with your creative flow, trust yourself and get the shot the way you feel it looks best.
- Get creative
So once you forgot about all the rules and gained an infinite amount of freedom, use it! You are now free to try out any kind of composition you like, the rules aren’t watching anymore. So use your feet, walk up as close as you can to the foreground of your image or go as far away from your subject as possible. Try a new angle, maybe even turn around completely and see what´s on the other horizon. Lay flat on the floor to get an ant´s perspective, or go crazy and rent an airplane for an hour to see what that mountain looks like to a bird. The sky is the limit, and you can do whatever you want with your landscape picture – it’s yours, after all.