landscape photography rules

12 Fundamental Rules of Landscape Composition

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Isn’t it great to stand at some scenic vista and take in all of the splendor and beauty that the world has to see? Wouldn’t it be even nicer if you had some magical way to save that view for ever so that you could return and see it time after time whenever the mood moved you? Well my friend, with a little planning and equipment you can do precisely that through the magic of digital or film photography. A nice digital single lens reflex camera and some additional lenses and / or filters will allow anyone, even the photographically challenged to be able to save these scenes for posterity with a minimum of effort.

Think of a photograph as something special. Approach it like a screen writer might approach a new play or novel. If the movie or the book is not well set up in terms of composition, the person looking at it will become bored and turn away. It does not matter how good it may be on a technical level. If the photograph you are making does not grab the viewer’s attention then why bother to take it? Your skills are similar to a muscle. The more that you use it the better and stronger it is going to get. So if start by training your eyes to see things differently and you will be well on the way.

Later after the ideas I offer, w e will discuss some of the les of landscape shooting so that you know how they apply to the ideas and you can start formulating your own super shots.

First, remember the rule of thirds as one very important thing for you to keep in mind. It will govern almost every shot that you take and it will make you a better photographer if you master it. This simply states that your human eye looks at a photograph or any scene at all really and it is instantly drawn to areas in the scene or photo that are roughly a third of the way from the top of the image. Or the bottom or left or right for that matter.

This is the rule of thirds and it will help you to improve your photography bay at least one third (pardon the urge to go there, I am sorry.) We will cover this in depth later.

1. A Space on Your Photograph CAN be Empty

Contrary to what most people think, you do not have to cram every spot in your photograph with substance. In fact, some of the most powerful shots I have ever seen or ever taken have been very stark. And if you have an eye towards selling some of your photography to others this is a very good rule. It gives the viewers mind room to wander and fill in the blanks. You main subject can stand out very well when reamed by absolutely nothing.

2 Shapes and Patterns can be Unforgettable

If you take the time to actually train your eyes to search out patterns or odd lines and shapes, you can almost immediately improve you skills as a professional without doing another thing. It gives a more three dimensional quality to your image. Once you find the center of your photograph, the area of attention, try and find some lines or geometric something or other that will lead towards the center of the image. It will then automatically draw the viewer in to what you want them to see.

3. Frame Your Shot without Matting

Almost anyone can shoot the shot once they see it. But if you stop and move around and find another angle you can sometimes take a good shot and turn it into a great one. Look for something in the photo that can frame the main subject. It will help to focus the viewer on the object in the shot that you want them to see. Almost anything can act as a frame for a photo. Perhaps you are looking down a long pathway of trees and something at the other end looks interesting. Frame that subject with the path of trees and you will improve the shot dramatically.

4. Look at the Horizon

One typical mistake that people make when they first point a camera towards the horizon is to fall into the human tap of placing the image squarely in the center and the horizon its self firmly in the center of the frame. Logic tells the brain that this is where we expect to see it so we instinctively snap the shot. The problem is that it then becomes a boring tourist shot instead of a classy art piece. Mix it up and shift things off center and up and down until you fine the composition that screams shoot me. If you don’t find that image then don’t press the shutter.

Let your feelings be the judge. If the land is more interesting then shift the focus down so that you include more scenery. If the clouds and cloud texture is awesome then include more sky in the shot and take advantage of the scene that is presenting its self to you.

5. Include Something that is Alive

A horse or other farm animal, a person, birds. Just about anything that is alive will add interest to the shot and will help to add some form or point of reference for the viewers so that they can understand the size and scale that you are seeing. You can also try buildings or automobiles as a change of view. Remember this is a photo and unless you can give folks some form of concrete idea as to the size of something that they can identify with, they have no clue of this is a grand vita or something you made up in your living room with modeling clay.

6. Avoid Intersecting lines if you Can

It is never a good idea to distract a viewer or to let their eyes fins a reason to wander away from the subject you want them to view. Once you do that there is a strong chance that you will lose them and they will not come back. For that reason you need to look over your scene. You might need to shift your point of view up or down to avoid this happening but it is well worth the time when you do.

7. People are inherently Lonely

And for that reason, if you can create apiece that emphasizes lonely and solitude, there is a great chance that you will have a photo that will stand the tests of time. A lone tree in a field is a great example. If you offset the tree, let a hill ion the background give it a little depth and maybe even get some texture patterns from the fields, a nice blue sky or even angry clouds can easily make this a masterpiece shot.

8. Use Your Brain when you shoot

In other words, look at the scene and don’t just grab the camera and start clicking away like a starving child. Look it over and make sure that there is nothing in the shot that does not need to be there. No unwanted trees or wires or animals. If there are try and find an angle that will eliminate the issues. The rule here is to try and get the shot as close to perfect as you can before your finger drops.

Following these guidelines will help you to get the best shots that you can from the start and avoid hours in Photoshop correcting problems. This will help teach you what to do and every time you follow the tips above or utilize the rules posted below, you will be secretly training yourself to be a better photographer.

9. The Rule of Thirds

As promised above we are going to go in depth on some of the basic rules that have been used in painting and photography for centuries to create great paintings and photos.

This is the most basic rule and one that every successful photographer knows and uses well. What you do is to look through the view finder at the scene and you split it up mentally into vertical and horizontal thirds so that you end up with nine sections of roughly the same size. When you do that and then look at the scene you will find that your will get the most interesting shot if the main subject of the shot is at an area that roughly is at the intersection of at least two of these lines. It will certainly be more visually appealing than it could ever be if you simply put the subject in the center of the shot.

There is no real reason that I can find for why this works but it does indeed work and work well.

Now it does not have to be precise but over time you will learn to come amazingly close with your visual measuring and over time you will become amazingly adept at doing this with precision.

10. The Rule of Lead in Lines and using the S-Curve

You can very easily apply this rule with the rule of thirds to create a very aesthetic and powerful photograph.

In this rule you look over the scene and try to find something in the photograph that looks like a line or curve that will lead the viewer’s gaze to the area of the photo that you, as the photographer want them to see.

Diagonal lines in the photo will bring the viewer to the area where you have placed the main subject of the shot. This technique – unlike some of the others – works phenomenally well with both wide angle and with telephoto lenses. The telephoto will compress the elements together so that the lead in becomes very strong and dramatic in nature. Riverbanks, streams, fences, rocks, roads or buildings can be used quite well as leading lines to garnish this effect.

A wide angle lens will bring you a lot closer to your lead in line object. That means that anything in the foreground will appear much larger and more predominant than it might actually be in real life. This will allow you to use items and objects that might normally be too small to be significant in this use. Things such as a smaller tree branch can even become a very useful tool as a lead in line with a wide angle lens.

Your lead in line can even be crooked, curved or flowing and does not, I repeat it does not have to be straight in order to be effective. The task at hand is to bring the viewer to the place you want them to end up and any thing that will do that effectively is fair game for this rule. However please do whatever you can to make sure that the leading line does not protrude beyond your main subject because of it does, the viewer may quite easily keep on following the line off the photo and miss the entire point of the set up which you are trying to create..

If you practice this well you can make the viewer see exactly what you want them to see. If you can then place the object that you are trying to make them see end up under the rule of thirds then you will have a powerful shot indeed.

11. Creating a Frame within the Photo

We touched on this briefly above but if you can find a situation where you can frame the subject with some natural element in the scene. This could be as simple as a path of trees or even a frame of tree branches that will partially or completely encompass the item that you are looking at in the shot.

By taking the time to find something that will actually frame the subject you are isolating the image and forcing the person to look just at what you are after. Many times this is effective when you have the object in the center of the frame from left to right. But if you drop or raise the angle of the camera so that it falls off center from top to bottom, you can create a lot of visual drama that makes people think about the object in ways they might not have if you simply framed it smack in the center of the shot.

No matter how you look at it, creating a frame around the object that is the center theme of your photograph is almost always a good idea if it can be done safely and realistically. Yes it might take some extra footwork from you. Yes you might have to go to some other areas that are not so easily accessed but the resultant image is almost guaranteed to be a winner.

12. Looking at the Horizon Logically

When you are composing a shot you need to make sure that the whole thing makes sense and that it is not simply boring and routine. In other words keep the main subject out of the center of the frame. Bring things below or above the center of the shot. Apply the rule of thirds and make sure that there is enough foreground or background interest to make the scene work. It is very rare that the background and the foreground are both equally interesting. And if by chance you find such a scene, perhaps you would be better served by shooting a few shots concentrating on the emphasis of the back ground and a few that put the focus on the fore ground. That way you can get the best of both worlds and are able to concentrate your efforts on making sure that everything is covered as completely as it can be before the shutter snaps to capture it.

You do need to balance things out though and make sure that even if you are concentrating on the background as the main subject of the shot that you also include some items of interest in the foreground to give the entire shot some balance and a better sense of depth. Wide angle lenses typically do this the best and they allow you to get closer to the foreground objects to show that depth. If you use a small opening on the lens you will ensure that everything is sharply in focus from the closest item to the one farthest away and that will add the depth and the interest that will give life to your shot and make it easily viewable.

Final Things to Consider

If you follow the suggestions that we ran through at the beginning there is a good chance that your photos may well improve by at least fifty percent. That is because you will be consciously trying to create a great shot as opposed to simply shooting a snap shot. If you use the rules we touched on at the end then you can get another fifty percent boost to your shooting quality and skill.

That means that by simply applying a few ideas that you can become better by leaps and bounds. And if you continue to follow the rules they will become more second nature and that will also improve the over all quality of your photography.

While it is certainly true that adding a great camera and some phenomenal lenses can help to take you on to another level above and beyond where you are. The truth of the matter is that no matter how good your equipment is, unless you know how to operate each and every piece of gear to its full potential you will just be average. And unless you know the cause and effect of each of the examples and all of the basic rules of shooting photographs, you may occasionally still stumble on a great shot. But the ratio of great shots to average will increase with amount of effort and steps that you take to make yourself better at your craft.

The more that you know the more you will want to know and as these things start to happen your photography will improve. Your level of skills and confidence in your ability will increase and you will simply become better at what you have chosen to do.

In the art of photography it is much less about what you are using than it is in how you use it. Your best asset and the most important pieces of equipment that you have are your brain and your eyes. Once you train your eyes to see and you brain to translate what is being seen you are on the verge of greatness. When the skills that you learn allow your brain to take the sights that your eyes see and translate that into a phenomenal photograph then you are well on the way to becoming a master at your chosen craft.

It is not done by smoke and mirrors but rather with hard work and perseverance. You won’t be consistent if you merely point the camera and push the shutter.

There is no substitute for taking the time to learn what you are doing and the cause and effect for everything that we have covered here. It encompasses a lot of trial and error and knowing what is going to happen when you do any given thing.

The only way that you can get better is to practice. A top musician can not get to be in demand if he or she never practices. It is the same with photography. If you look at each and every exposure as a learning opportunity where you have a chance to get better at what you do, then there is a good chance that you are on the right track.

You will get out of photography exactly what you put in to it so the future if what you do with what we are teaching you are entirely in your own hands.

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