Do you ever feel that your outdoor photos are lacking that ‘wow’ factor? Our landscape photography composition tips will hopefully help you take your images to the next level.
One of the things that can dramatically improve your landscape photography is careful composition. What should you include in the frame, and what should you exclude? It comes naturally for some folks, but the good news is that it can be learned by following a few simple guidelines.
Let’s take a look at how these landscape photography composition tips can help you improve your images. Give them a try, then allow yourself an honest self-critique, learn what to keep an eye out for next time, and repeat!
1: Go Beyond the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is probably one of the first compositional tools we learn as new photographers. It works on the basis that the image is intersected with invisible lines – three across the top, and three across the bottom. This creates a grid, and where the gridlines cross is where the human eye is naturally drawn to objects placed along these lines. Most cameras have an option to place this thirds grid across the image in the viewfinder, so you can work out the best composition according to the rule.
It’s a good rule to use in landscape photography composition, but don’t let it limit you. There are other methods of composition that you can use, and they have some sort of scientific basis that means the eye is drawn to them (I don’t know what the science is, but I do know that it works!).
Try Different Compositional Tools
These are the Golden Spiral, and the Golden Triangle. The Golden Spiral is also known as the Fibonacci Spiral, after the man who invented it. The Golden Spiral looks like a Nautilus shell, and to get the most effective composition you should place the areas of most interest within the smallest area of the spiral. It’s hard to describe, so the best way to understand is to look at it superimposed over an image:
The Golden Triangle is another way of arranging composition to open up the image and draw the eye along diagonal lines. Again, the best way to understand this is to look at an image overlaid with it:
You’ll find that Photoshop and other image editing programs have crop overlays that include the Golden Spiral and the Golden Triangle, as well as others. Use these when cropping an image to give the best composition depending on the overlay you choose.
There are other methods of composition that simplify things further, like the Quadrant System, which divides the image into four equal parts. If you want to delve even deeper into the science, then take a look at this article that takes you beyond mere composition.
One other word of advice: when it comes to landscape photography composition rules, don’t make the mistake of slavishly following them for every shot and disregarding images taken without using them. This sucks all the fun and spontaneity out of photography! Use the rules as a guide, not as sacred law, and don’t be afraid to break them sometimes.
Related reading: 5 Photo Techniques EVERY Beginner Should Know
2: Look for Symmetry
Symmetry is pleasing to the human eye in general, and it works brilliantly in photography too. Look for examples of natural or man-made symmetry in your chosen location for a guaranteed strong composition that draw’s the viewer’s eye into the scene, and/or focuses their attention very clearly.
3: Don’t Forget the Foreground
Good landscape photography composition isn’t always about the large, sweeping vistas of sky, mountains, or oceans. Sometimes, including more foreground elements in these landscapes can add a new dimension to the images. It really makes the viewer feel like they’re “actually standing there”!
A good foreground subject will grab your viewer’s attention, and if you use a wide-angle lens the closer objects will look bigger. Rocks, flowers, vegetation, and other interesting features will guide the eye from the foreground to the background.
4: Have a Clear Subject
Have you ever looked at a photo that was so full of subjects, shapes, lines, and textures, that your eye didn’t know what to look at? ‘Busy’ photographs tend not to keep the viewer’s attention very long, so including a clear subject in your landscape photo goes a long way towards creating a good image.
Decide what you want the viewer to focus on when you choose a composition. Think about the brightness, size, color, and contrast of that subject, and what you want to be the main attraction.
Oppositely, look for any distractions that might draw the viewer’s eye away from the main subject, and try to frame the shot to exclude them! Oftentimes, when you see a perfectly “clean” landscape composition, what you don’t realize is that there is a tree or rock or something else just out of frame.
5: Get Closer to the Ground
For an interesting perspective, get your camera down closer to the ground. This lets you include more foreground without having to crop out the sky or the background. This works brilliantly if the foreground has texture, like sand, and it also works well for photographing moving water.
Sometimes, you can even blur the background of your scene to increase the emphasis on your close-up, low-down subject, however, you can also try your hand at focus stacking, if you’re up for a real landscape photography challenge!
6: Use Reflections
Reflections have always been popular in landscape photography composition, and that’s because they work. Remember that symmetry is pleasing to the human eye? reflections are symmetrical by their very nature. The most common reflections you’ll see are in water, of course, but don’t forget you can use windows or any reflective surface.
Related Reading: 10 Tips for Better Water Reflection Photography
7: Take Time to Look for the Best Composition
It’s tempting to get your camera set up straight away when you reach your location, but sometimes the most obvious composition is not always the best one. If you can, take a little time to explore your location and see if you can come up with different compositions that may be better than the obvious ones. Step back to give your subject some space, or get up-close. Maybe, stand on your tip-toes, or crouch down! You never know when something will align perfectly, or really balance the scene.
It’s worth making a bit of an effort and taking images from different positions, and with different compositions. If you always shoot in landscape, why not try using your camera in portrait orientation sometimes? Or get up higher or down lower to get those different perspectives.
Related Reading: 5 Tips for Better Landscape Photography
Related reading: 20+ Best Landscape Photographers to Follow in 2020
The more you practice composition, the better and more confident you will become. Nowadays I can ‘see’ a composition in my mind before I take the shot. This means I no longer need to crop my images much in post-processing. In the past, I used to take photos and crop the heck out of them to find a good composition before I got the hang of slowing down and composing the shot in my head first.
It also helps to remind yourself not to be constrained by the aspect ratio, or image format, your camera uses by default. Whether your camera captures 2:3 or 3:4 aspect ratio images, don’t forget to visually consider other cropping options, such as the traditional 4:5 aspect, or the popular 1:1 square, and of course, don’t forget that stitching a panorama is also an option, creating a 16:9, or 1:2, or even 1:3 aspect ratio panorama!
I hope you found our 7 landscape photography composition tips useful, and also that you feel inspired to get out with your camera. Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all do, and that’s the only way we improve. The more you shoot, the better you will become, so give perfectionism the boot and have fun while learning!