How to Compose Landscapes
There really are no effective formulas for composing good landscapes. Nonetheless, the general suggestions that follow can probably help you get better ones.
1. Every landscape should have a focal point. This is the center of interest, the part of the picture your eye is drawn to. It can be a distant mountain, the facade of a building, or a clump of trees. Without a focal point, your landscape will likely fall flat.
2. Make sure the subject is big enough. If you use a wide-angle lens, a distant focal point such as a mountain may be too small or the sea may seem to trail off into nothing but water. Your eye seeks a center of interest. If there is none, it will simply wander off to infinity because there is nothing in the picture to hold your attention. A small main subject can express the vastness and grandeur of a scene, but if this isn’t your aim, move closer to the main subject and reframe the shot. If the main subject is still too far away or you can’t get closer, use a longer lens.
3. Let the subject guide your approach. If the main subject area contains people, experiment with placing them nearer or farther from the camera to achieve different-sized images. Some images can be more effective if they look large and overpowering. Small figures emphasize the vastness of a woodland area.
4. Pay attention to subject placement. Impressive or dynamic subjects (for example, the plant in picture on left) can often be centrally placed. Medium-sized landscape images are usually more effective when placed off-center (such as leaves and tree trunks in picture above).
5. Consider framing your subject. Dramatic central subjects generally don’t require framing, but other landscape subjects are usually improved by framing. Without some framing, the main subject at a distance appears lost in the enlarged print or projection. The foremost framing device is foliage. An arch, doorway, or natural rock formation can also serve as a useful frame to lead the viewer’s eye.
6. Keep the frame in focus. In landscape photography, it’s important that both the frame and the subject be sharp. Visually, an out-of-focus frame is usually disturbing and draws attention away from the main subject. If depth of field is insufficient, shift the focus point or stop the lens down.
7. Create the illusion of depth. Giving the feeling of three-dimensional space enhances landscapes. Placing different subjects or framing elements at different planes helps the picture hold the viewer.
8. Use contrasting colors. A subject wearing a bright red, blue, or yellow jacket that’s carefully placed within a landscape can perk up a dullish scene. Usually, such subjects should be kept at a sufficient distance within the picture frame or they will tend to take over and dominate the entire picture.
9. Keep your camera level. Almost all good landscapes are made with the camera held as level as possible. Don’t be tempted to point your lens up too far. If you do, you will create apparent perspective distortion, and objects will appear to be falling over backward. The closer you are to your main subject, the more important this is. Use a shoe-mounted bubble level.