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How to Master Landscape Photography

How to Master Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is one of the most popular forms of photography, as it is naturally and easily accessible to everyone. Regardless of what kind of equipment you have, you can still optimize your images by using composition guidelines that will be simple to implement on your future hikes and trips. Here are a few tips specially geared towards landscape photography.

Respect the horizon line

In landscape photography, it is important to keep the horizon line straight. Though this is a fundamental rule, it is not always respected, especially when images are taken in a hurry. If your eye doesn’t come with an innate compass, activate the grid on your camera or smartphone. It will serve as a guide and save you considerable time during editing, as you won’t have to straighten all your images.

© Dominique Pwyg / Unsplash

Note here that the horizon line is not straight. The composition is tilted to the right, which disrupts the viewer’s gaze.

With a straight horizon line, it is immediately easier for the viewer to look at the image, as he knows where to direct his gaze.

© Dominique Pwyg / Unsplash

Respect the rule of thirds

The grid that you have previously activated can also be used if you wish to opt for the rule of thirds, a fundamental composition guideline. This rule involves positioning your main subject or important element on one of the thirds lines, often in order to decenter the subject and give more energy to the image.

© Robert Lukeman / Unsplash

Here, the waterfall is not exactly on the thirds line, but its positioning firmly to the right makes it stand out and thus the viewer will more naturally follow its watercourse flowing towards the left.

Provide a sense of scale

In landscape photography, providing a sense of scale is very important, especially when you’re dealing with a spectacular setting. This means adding an element to the scenery. Simple elements such as a house, a building, a silhouette, a tree, an animal, a lamppost, etc., can be enough to give more impact to your landscape image and better convey the feeling of grandeur. You can use the rule of thirds to position this element or you can choose to center it.

© Pietro De Grandi / Unsplash

The boats positioned on different planes immediately provide a notion of scale and accentuate the grandeur of the landscape.

Experiment with different planes

We often visualize photographs of landscapes as very wide shots that provide an overall view of a setting that is too large for our lens. However, you can accentuate this effect by adding an element to the foreground or background and thus naturally play with the depth of field. Such elements are usually positioned around the edges of the image (top, bottom, right or left), and you can then decide whether to focus the element in the foreground or background of the landscape: two different ways of approaching your landscape photo.

©  Thomas Malik / Unsplash
© Tim Foster / Unsplash

Here, the flowers and foliage in the foreground provide a beautiful depth of field and naturally draw the viewer’s gaze to the sharpness of the landscape in the background.

Choose vertical composition

In landscape photography, it is usually more natural to use horizontal composition. This makes sense, since this format allows for more visual content on the right and left of the image. 

However, vertical composition can be just as interesting, especially when your landscape is imposing, such as mountains, which often require more height.

© Federico Bottosm / Unsplash

The vertical composition here lends a lot of power to this image, which is emphasized by the notion of scale provided by the house in the foreground.

Use a tight angle

What about using a tight angle to change things up? Landscape photography is synonymous with wide shots, which are sometimes achieved via wide-angle lenses, but it is also possible to choose a tighter composition and to focus on a specific part of the scenery.

© Etienne Bosiger / Unsplash

Thanks to vertical composition and a tighter angle, the photographer gives us a beautifully detailed shot of the crest of these mountains.

A frame within a frame

Just like a film-within-a film in nature: the landscapes we love to photograph can fit naturally into frames and stand out in a whole new way. Experimenting with these natural frames will require a little observation and attention, but it will allow you to capture some very original images.

© Luca Bravo / Unsplash
© Alexandre Dinaut / Unsplash

These two examples show how you can use natural frames to highlight a landscape. You must pay close attention to your environment in order to use this type of composition and spot the frame-within-a-frame possibility.

Follow the vanishing points

Mother Nature provides us with many natural vanishing points that instinctively draw our gaze. If you have such lines in front of you, then follow them and plan your composition accordingly. This usually involves having the vanishing point go down the center of the image, or from one side of the image to the other.

© James Forbes / Unsplash
© Pine Watt / Unsplash

Here, the long winding branch and the bends of the river form natural vanishing points that were judiciously used in the composition of the images.

In conclusion

Landscape photography follows a few basic guidelines, such as the rule of thirds and the rule of respecting the horizon line. There are also other very simple tips that can help you give more power to your images; whether it’s by adding an element to provide a sense of scale, a foreground in order to play with the depth of field, or opting for vertical composition for a little visual variety, there are many possibilities. Don’t hesitate to combine these tips, but also and especially, it is essential to take the time to observe your surroundings before you hastily snap your shots, in order to come up with the best possible composition.

By Céline Nébor

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