Friday, May 16, 2014

Learn Landscape Photography Series: Composition

The rule of thirds is the starting point for almost all compositions. As a landscape photographer it will become second nature very quickly. The rule is basically this, line up the horizon on either the bottom thirds or the top thirds and any prominent subject on the right or left thirds of the scene.

While using the grid lines on the LCD of the camera don't worry too much if they are dead on, if it will cause the loss of an important part of the image. In the photo above I included the top curve of the clouds at the expense of the horizon being at the exact top thirds.

With the rule of thirds in tow it's time to bring the viewer into the landscape. One of my favorite and possibly the easiest to find is leading lines. Think of railroad tracks fading off together into the horizon where the sun is setting. The tracks leading you as the viewer straight to the sunlight. We want to lead the viewer through the scene catching details and subtleties that otherwise may have been missed.

The S-curve though not always apparent is also a great way to lead. Follow the white of the water as it curves it's way to the waterfall. 

Other compositions to look for are windows to shoot through like arches and branches of a tree, inter-crossing layers like you would find in sand dunes, or repeating patterns in rocks or plants fading into the background. Probably the most neglected composition for new photographers is an element of near-far. Something compelling in the foreground of a scene will transform a snapshot into a photograph that has depth.

Once you have the basic composition it's time to use your tripod to balance the near and far in the image as well. There is always a foreground and a background in a photo, but the mid-ground should not be neglected as it plays an important role in adding depth to a scene. By raising the camera the mid-ground gets extended and lowering the camera compresses the mid-ground. For instance at the Bonneville Salt Flats you may want to extend the salt to give it that wide open look and feeling. The opposite side of that is by getting the camera nice and low the mid-ground will become smaller and smaller. If you have nice flowers in foreground with a snow covered mountain in the background, but not much to look at in the middle, lowering the camera will shrink the unimpressive mid-ground.

Note: Using a longer focal range will compress the image even further. By standing farther back and zooming in on the foreground and background subjects, distant objects can be brought back to a proportionate size that were rendered too small by a wider angle lens.

Ultimately finding the best way to frame an image is really about showing your perspective and what you found beautiful about this location you are at. So experiment, explore and find out how to best capture the scene in a way all your own. This is the true artistry of landscape photography.

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