Getting great landscape (and seascape) shots takes more than just the right lens or the proper setup. In fact, the key to amazing landscape photography may actually lie in composition. A landscape photo can have remarkable clarity and ideal lighting, yet still fail short due to poor composition.
Fortunately, the composition of landscape photos is fairly simple. A standard landscape photo has three distinct “lines”: a horizon, a foreground, and an area with the subject. Balancing these lines is crucial if you want to create beautiful landscape images.
To bring these lines into balance, try composing your image according to the following rules of composition:
1. Rule of Thirds
The first and perhaps most basic principle is the rule of thirds. Simply divide your composition into three vertical and three horizontal rows to create a nine square grid. Then, try positioning any points of interest at the intersections of the grid. This arrangement helps to balance the scene and guide the viewer to the photo’s focal points.
For landscapes, it’s best to avoid setting the main subject in the dead center of the grid. Instead, counterbalance it with other elements to show off the full beauty of the scene.
Another way to compose a landscape is to use elements within the scene to frame the subject. Consider the landscape paintings of artists such as Maxfield Parrish, who used boulders and tree branches to frame scenic views. This same effect can be used in landscape photography, too.
You don’t need to have a complete, four-sided frame. A partial frame can achieve the same effect. For example, rocky cliffs could frame a foggy seascape, and a shady forest could frame a snow-capped mountain.
3. Diagonals, Horizontals, and Verticals
Framing and the rule of thirds are two reliable ways to compose a photograph, but they’re not the only options. Returning to the concept of lines in landscape photography, you could play with diagonal, horizontal or vertical lines in your composition. For instance, car tracks could divide a grassy field vertically, bringing beauty into an otherwise unremarkable scene.
You can also layer lines across an image. For example, you could horizontally layer a sunrise, mountains, fog, trees, and a grassy field to create a striking landscape photo. Of course, you would need to find that scene first, but perhaps it’ll be more noticeable if you keep the concept of lines in mind.
R Casey – Untitled
Marco Bergner – Sea of Fog