Earlier this month, I kicked off a new series focusing on useful tips for improving your landscape photography skills. You can read it HERE if you are not up to speed…
Let’s begin to look at what makes for a captivating landscape photograph…
If I look at the photos that catch my eye instantly, they usually convey a sense of vastness, a feeling of losing yourself in the beauty of Creation…and they usually make me want to be there. Now, to quantify a list of criteria a photo “must” meet in order to evoke these responses, well that’s nigh impossible. What I can do, is explain my thought process when I am purposely out capturing landscape images…what speaks to me in the scene, and how does it influence the choices I make about focal length, exposure time, and other camera settings?
In this post specifically, I will cover things that I look for specifically when composing my landscape images. What am I looking to include to engage the viewer in the scene?
1. Look for the Lines
Lines in the landscape draw the eye into the depth of the scene, and the correct placement of perceived leading lines can take the image to the next level. Take note of perceived convergence in parallel lines (streaky clouds, roads, rock formations, tree lines, etc) and of diagonal lines which are often strong design elements in various art forms. In the image above, you don’t have to look long and hard to see the “X marks the spot” between the rocks and the cloud formations, drawing your eye to the infinite horizon.
2. Develop the Depth
A photo is a 2-dimensional presentation of a 3-dimensional scene you witnessed. It will always have limitations – but we can overcome that by creating a 3D “feel” in our images, by carefully creating perceived depth through clever placement of foreground elements, midground elements, and background elements. A strong and well placed foreground element can often make the viewer feel like they are standing right where you were when you took the shot, which is ultimately what you want to evoke in your audience…
3. Show the Scale
I have traditionally tried to shy away from including hand-of-man elements in my landscapes, but the reality is that oftentimes this is the only reference that we as human viewers can gravitate to when looking at a painting or photo that gives a sense of scale, in other words, helps you determine how big that rock or tree really was, or how vast the expanse truly is. Of course, it can be a natural element that is fairly easy to recognise in terms of size, like a shrub or a recognisable tree species…it can also be an animal (if you are as into wildlife photography as I am). Nothing says “scale” like having an elephant or a giraffe somewhere in your frame! In the image above, I included my fellow hiker as we descended into a valley while hiking through the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, to show how small this arid place makes you feel as you trudge through there with a heavy backpack and no way out other than through!
4. Cut the Clutter
You can also refer to an earlier post of mine entitled “The Art of Exclusion“…it’s easy to try and include so much of the scene in your frame (especially when using a wide angle lens) that you can clutter your composition and make it hard for anyone viewing the photo to navigate through the scene and appreciate what you were trying to convey. Less usually is more in most genres of photography: pick 3-5 standout features of the landscape and try and figure out a way to include them in such a way that they are prominent, they are placed at strong points in the frame (sometimes this will be centre frame, other times on the rule-of-thirds intersections, etc) and that they allow the viewer to soak up the entire scene by visually anchoring the image.
5. The Sky is not the Limit
A great deal of landscape photography includes the sky. I love including the sky. It allows you to show the variety of weather conditions, cloud formations, and generally gives a great feeling of space and freedom to your photos. But, let’s be honest, for most of us who are not out chasing the epic light and insane weather conditions 362 days of the year, we often need to make due with featureless skies, bland weather and generally “pleasant” conditions (dramatic weather is so much better for landscape photography). Don’t let this dissuade you…there is enough beauty, texture and detail in the actual landscape itself for you to often exclude the sky to a large degree (particularly if there’s not much going on up there to engage your viewer with).
I think I’ll leave you to mull over those for a while.
Any thoughts, builds, comments, requests for topics to cover in future editions of this series? Feel free to put them in the comments field below this post, and I will respond in kind!
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