Tonje Lilleås

Classic composition within landscape photography

When I first started photography, I read everything I could find about classic composition within landscape photography. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of reading material out there. So in this post I want to offer you a quick guide to classic composition within landscape photography. That way you can spend less time reading, and more time out shooting.

The purpose of composing an image

With the way you compose an image you want to set the mood for your viewer. What you choose to emphasize in your composition, will to a great extent decide how your viewer feels when seeing your image. So there’s no doubt a good reason why you’ll find so much written about classic composition within landscape photography.

The purpose of your composition is to lead your viewer through the image in the direction you intend for them to see it. You want to decide where your viewer stops to look closer, where they look next and what parts of the image they return to.


The rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is a guideline for classic composition within landscape photography. By using the rule of thirds you divide your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The general idea is that you place your point(s) of interest close to where the horizontal and vertical lines meet. Following the rule of thirds will help you achieve balance in your image, and giving you a more dynamic image.

Within landscape photography another general guideline is to place your horizon either at the top or bottom horizontal line, as this will give you a better composition than say if you were to place your horizon in the middle of your composition.

Even if the rule of thirds is a simple and great tool to use, you have to read the scene to decide if it’s right for the image you’d like to capture. When capturing a reflection for instance, it’s probably more important that the whole reflection of the subject is included in the image than placing the horizon according to the rule of thirds.


How to use leading lines

You can divide leading lines into four different categories; horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging. But what role do they play in classic composition within landscape photography? And how do you use them successfully?

Leading lines, no matter what kind, are used to draw the viewers eyes through the image in the direction you want them to read your image. In general you want your leading lines to point in the direction of your main subject.
Vertical leading lines are powerful, and may be difficult to use when you compose a landscape image. However in an urban landscape you’ll find them both useful and common. Diagonal leading lines communicate movement and can be used to emphasize depth in a landscape. Converging lines are very effective and strong compositional tools, and you should be careful to place your main subject at the axis of these lines.

When you decide to use a natural leading line, be very careful to place yourself correctly so that the leading line works the way you want it to in your image. Often you’ll have to consider more than one leading line in a composition, so don’t forget the natural horizontal leading line if you’ve found the perfect converging one to include. If the leading lines don’t speak together, the image will often end up messy and out of balance.

Why foreground interest is important

There’s two reasons why you should think about the foreground when you compose a landscape image. First; you can use a strong foreground element to emphasize depth and separation between the different parts of your image. Second; you don’t want a boring foreground to take up valuable space in your image.

So; how do you select an interesting foreground element? Your foreground element(s) shouldn’t overpower or shadow your main subject. Still it needs to be interesting enough to draw the viewers attention, and relate to the main subject in a way that expands or builds on the story you’re already trying to tell.

In classic composition within landscape photography typical elements that can be great to build foreground interest are flowers, rocks, ripples in sand or water, or leading lines like branches or a crack in the ground. Or maybe a trail?


Balance is key

When composing a landscape image we have to think about balance. If you don’t think about balance your image may seem tilted or off (even if your horizon is perfectly straight).

You can achieve balance in an image with thinking about how you place objects in relation to your main subject. If you’re composing with your main subject according to the rule of thirds, and the balance seems off, try placing another less interesting object in the diagonal intersection to achieve balance. Typically larger and brighter objects have more weight in an image, so make sure that the object isn’t larger or brighter than your main subject.

Incorporate scale

Landscapes may seem grand and majestic in front of you when you’re shooting them. When you sit down to edit the images however, you may not see it as anything particularly majestic or impressive. It’s often difficult to convey scale in an image without introducing a familiar object in the composition.

One of the reasons we have so many images of very small people standing in front of very large mountains, rock formations or waterfalls is exactly this; to show the scale. (And off course because we need to show off our yellow jackets).

Incorporating scale into your composition will often be effective when you want your viewer to be impressed with the grandness of the landscape in front of you.


Learning by doing

And that’s it; a very quick guide to classic composition within landscape photography. If you’re like me you probably will head on out to try and capture some landscape images now. And then you get home only to find that your compositions should have been tweaked.

Now you could read on further about the golden ratio or the use of symmetry. Or you could do what’s most effective; analyze your images and figure out what you want to try to do different the next time you head out.
I hope you found this post somewhat valuable. If you did; please consider letting me know by leaving a comment and even subscribing to my blog. Like any other blogger I’m also to be found on Instagram, and I would love it if you’d follow me there.

But most of all I hope that you remember that there’s always more to explore locally.



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